How to start a successful virtual learning program

Buy-in is critical to a virtual learning program's success.

Virtual learning can help districts address many needs, such as filling a gap between courses a school offers and courses students might want to take but aren’t currently offered—and a new report offers insights on starting a virtual learning program from a number of seasoned experts.

Statistics indicate that more than 1.5 million students attended fully online or blended learning programs during the 2009-10 school year, and more school districts are turning to online instruction for its expanded curriculum offerings, flexibility, and cost-saving potential. Some experts predict that roughly half of high school courses will be offered online by 2019.

In “How to Launch District Virtual Learning,” a new report from the Blackboard Institute, 17 virtual learning experts agreed that getting buy-in from teachers, administrators, parents, and the community is absolutely essential to success.

The report’s authors interviewed a panel of 17 virtual learning experts, all of whom have led online instruction initiatives. Those experts agreed on seven important questions that schools and districts must answer before initiating or expanding a virtual learning program. The experts split into three categories, although most shared expertise beyond those categories: blended learning, course expansion, and professional development.

Those seven questions are:

  • What challenge are we trying to address?
  • Who are our champions?
  • What is our messaging?
  • How are we going to pay for it?
  • How do we get teachers on board?
  • How are we going to create and deliver the courses?
  • How will we measure success?

What challenge are we trying to address?

Virtual learning programs should fit precisely into a district’s overarching educational program and goals.

For instance, online instruction might be the right option for a district trying to provide professional development opportunities that best meet teachers’ needs.

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Laura Ascione

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