Introduction and current status

Online learning has become a growing and essential component in PK-12 education, higher education, and workplace training.

Schools are recognizing that online learning can offer many opportunities to students 

and that students will need the ability to learn online later in life.  In almost every career, workers communicate virtually and use electronic learning management systems to update and maintain their skills. Five states are currently requiring that all students complete an online course in order to graduate1
. Here in Wisconsin, the Kenosha Unified School District has a graduation policy that requires an online component and the Kiel School District requires that every student take Health online. 

Students choose online courses for a variety of reasons.
  • Increased course selection: Certain courses may not be available within the student’s district or may not fit into their schedule. For example, students may want Advanced Placement courses, a foreign language, or other specialized course not available to them, especially in smaller school districts.
  • Individualization: Students can work through course content at their own pace and content can be individualized to the unique needs of a student.
  • Flexibility: Students may want flexibility in the time and/or location of their courses. 
  • Remediation: Sometimes a student may need to repeat a course or parts of a course in which they failed to learn on their first try. They may need to “recover” courses in order to graduate on time. 
  • Learning Style: Some students may thrive in a virtual environment. Different students learn best in different ways. It may provide time for thinking before responding. 
  • Physical Restrictions: Students may not be able attend school because of illness or physical disability. 
  • Disciplinary Action: Students that have been expelled can continue to receive an education.
  • Preference: Students, or their parents, may prefer to receive their education in the home environment.
As of 2013, the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative (WDLC) is helping more than 280 Wisconsin school districts to provide quality online education for their students. Based on the reason for taking online courses, students may take only one or two courses online -- either from school or at home; or, they may take all their courses online, possibly from home.  Of those students taking all their courses online, most attend a virtual charter school.  As of April 2013, there are 28 virtual charter schools operating in Wisconsin. 

The number of students attending virtual charter schools has steadily grown2 (see chart at right) and the number of online courses taken in traditional schools is also rising.

If a school district does not meet a student’s perceived needs, that student has the option of open enrolling to another district that does. Many districts provide online courses to prevent a loss of student numbers and the accompanying state funding.  

In response to a growing demand for online learning, the Wisconsin Distance Learning Collaborative WDLC has been created by state law to provide districts with affordable access to online courses.  Other districts have started virtual charter schools hoping to attract students from other districts where the options that students are seeking are not available.

In addition to online courses, traditional face-to-face courses are using more digital tools and resources. Recently the Department of Public Instruction released the Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan for the state. Many of the issues such equity and access that currently involve online courses and virtual schools are beginning to work their way into traditional classrooms.  

The Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan identified "equity" as being one of its three core values. " Access to high-quality, digital resources, virtual instruction, and technology-enhanced learning—supported and aligned with Wisconsin’s academic standards—must be ubiquitous."  Online courses and resources can be easily shared among districts around the state to ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, have access to high quality educational resources.

This site is designed to help school districts provide online education for their students.  This site spells out various methods of implementing online courses.


Evergreen Education Group, p41
 
For Questions or More Information, contact:
Valerie Schmitz, Ph.D.
DPI Charter Schools Consultant
valerie.schmitz@dpi.wi.gov
608-267-9111