virtual education

Student: How a virtual education prepared me for higher ed

Why virtual education can foster a great intellectual learning environment and pave the way to college success, including for home-schooled students.

For home-schooled students like me, the process of earning a high school diploma is a bit more complicated than it is for “traditional” pupils. Those complications extend into the higher education world where some colleges accept home-school diplomas and others require GED® test scores as part of the application process.

For me, those GED requirements weren’t a problem. I used the Virtual High School (VHS), a non-profit global collaborative of schools committed to expanding educational opportunities for students and educators, for the majority of my studies, and those courses helped prepare me above and beyond for the GED.

In fact, I scored above the 90th percentile on all of them.

Nevertheless, before moving into a home-schooled environment during the 10th grade, I attended Orthodox Jewish schools in Los Angeles, with the most recent being Harkham-GAON Academy. We did our secular studies online and our Judaic classes in a traditional format. When I was in 10th grade, the school used VHS for secular studies. Through that experience, I learned that their program offerings were both academic and rigorous in nature, so I decided to continue using it when I left.

The Benefits of Blended

The blended learning I was exposed to while enrolled at Harkham-GAON Academy helped me make a smooth transition over to online learning. I’m a humanities enthusiast and my favorite online courses included AP® World History, AP® Art History, AP® English Literature, and Eastern/Western Philosophy. I applied to 10 different universities, including Barnard College, Washington University in St. Louis, and Franklin & Marshall. I hope to major in English, History, or Asian Studies.

This past year, I signed up for my first VHS’s Online Judaic Studies Consortium (OJSC) course. Through this collaboration, Jewish Day School students take innovative Judaic studies courses from the OJSC catalog, taught by expert faculty from Jewish Day Schools around the country. In comparing the rigor and interest level of my OJSC courses versus those taken in a traditional setting, I would say that the former are definitely up to par.

(Next page: 3 big advantages of a virtual education for higher ed prep)

3 Virtual Education Advantages

And if I were asked to evaluate the online learning program overall, I’d highlight these three advantages:

  • More control over my schedule, work pace, and study environment. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I thrive when I have quiet study and reflection time versus trying to get things done in a group setting. I also like being able to make my own schedule on a week-to-week basis and work at my own pace to accomplish the assignments due each week.
  • Opportunities to collaborate with peers and make new friends. The idea that home-school and virtual learners are isolated from their friends and social opportunities is a misconception. There is definitely a social aspect to online learning. I’ve made some great friends in the information chat rooms that I’ve also been in touch with outside of class.
  • Leveraging my strengths as a very “visual” learner. Because most of the material is presented in a textbook or article format, I can tap into my strong visual learning capabilities and easily engage with and learn from the content. This is a lot easier for me to understand versus a traditional classroom lecture.

In every online course that I took, I participated in discussions and group work. Even though it seems like you’ll never get to know the other 30 people during the course of the semester, the truth is that you really do come away with a greater sense of everyone’s personal perspectives and voices on specific topics.

When working on group projects, my classmates and I collaborated for a minimum of two to three weeks, using messaging applications to discuss those projects, divvy up the duties, and critique and comment on one another’s work. It really felt like a traditional school group project.

Self-discipline and good time management skills are two of the primary requirements for online learning success. I have used other platforms (both as a home-schooled student and at my previous high school), and I have to say that these offering are some of the better programs out there right now.

I also thought the other kids who were in my classes were of a really high caliber. Even in my non-AP® and honors classes, the ones who were interested and motivated truly helped create a great classroom environment.

The online teachers also played a key role in helping their students succeed online. My teachers were truly interested and not just babysitting and grading my work; they also actively participated in the classroom, and helped everyone dig deeper.

Cumulatively, online learning really fosters a great intellectual learning environment and has really elevated by college-readiness.

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