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Viewpoint: Time to reimagine virtual learning


A virtual learning program should focus on inspiring teachers if it expects teachers to inspire students

reimagine-virtual-learningJust over a decade ago, the idea of virtual learning carried with it the potential to revolutionize the education industry. It was a beautiful concept. It offered the ability to serve students in a one-to-one setting, to build intimate relationships with them, and to assist each one in pursuing his or her personal best.

But today, virtual learning faces new skepticism in the wake of subpar results from many programs.

What happened? In short, the implementation of virtual learning was substandard to the original vision. Many factors, both external and internal, were at play to cause this, and I have written about these in my own blog. However, my purpose with this article is not to point out all of the faults that have arisen, but rather to sound the call for reimagining virtual learning programs to make sure they are implemented correctly.

Here are three key steps to this process.

1. Know who you want to serve.

Let’s lay aside the myth that virtual learning programs can be all things to all students and understand this type of learning is for a certain type of student. The student’s background (bullied, gifted, homeschooled) matters less than his or her level of commitment to the learning journey—as well as the support of his or her family.

A successful virtual learning program will focus on attracting students who have the resilience, discipline, perseverance, and desire to put in the work required on a daily basis.

2. Launch with success in mind.

Imagine a new Starbucks announces it will open in your downtown next week. The store prepares to serve thousands of customers the first day by hiring the staff two days prior to opening and rushing them through surface-level training that teaches how to make only 35 percent of the drink selections. Starbucks expects satisfied customers on day one, although the company might not even have a store manager yet, nor will the store be fully staffed. It is a recipe for disaster.

(Next page: More ways to reimagine virtual learning)

A virtual learning program should launch with success as an expectation and properly prepare for that to occur. This means allowing sufficient time between approval and launch for hiring; training staff, teachers, parents, and students; process implementation; policy establishment; and all of the other ingredients required for a school to open.

The foundation for success is built long before the first day of school, and it cannot be built while school is in session; otherwise, the external pressures become too great—and the Band-Aid approach takes over.

3. Invest in teachers.

Even in the world of virtual learning, the teacher/student relationship is still the most critical one. I recently wrote about this in one of my blog posts, but to summarize here: Virtual learning programs must equip, support, and empower teachers to fulfill their roles.

Equip teachers with the proper tools to engage students and interact with them. Support the teachers with the necessary in-depth training and development. Follow this up with ongoing training that extends beyond regular professional development, and support them with resources that will allow them to focus on their role. Then, empower them to guide, to adapt when necessary, and to inspire the students under their care.

In essence, a virtual learning program should focus its attention on inspiring teachers if it expects teachers to inspire their students.

The time for reimagining virtual learning is here. Tweaking what is in existence will not have the desired impact, but we do not need to throw out the concept. Instead, we need to rebuild with a new blueprint.

Houston C. Tucker is owner, founder, and “chief fig” of Figment Consulting, a firm that specializes in building a remarkable experience within online and blended learning. His blog can be found here.

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