When selecting an online learning provider for their schools, district and school leaders have many options to consider. However, not all online learning programs are created equally. There are many elements that go into creating a high-quality virtual learning program, but some of the top considerations include the program’s educator training, student-teacher ratios, support services, and learning models. By considering these factors, you can select the program that best fits the needs to your schools and students.
For decision-makers who are assessing virtual learning options for their schools, we have created this list of critical questions to consider in the selection process. Here are eight questions to ask when you’re choosing an online learning provider for your school:
1. How is it accredited?
It’s important to identify the accreditation of a provider you are considering to ensure credits will be valid for students who apply to various higher education programs. Additionally, be sure to check for specific approvals students may need, such as NCAA approved courses for students who want to play college sports.
2. What type of learning model does it use?
First and foremost, determine how courses are conducted. Do students learn synchronously or through a flexible asynchronous model? Is coursework completed independently or in a group, and are the courses paced? While some students are self-motivated and may find success working at their own pace, many students benefit from classmate interactions and personalized teacher attention.
3. How are courses scheduled to support students’ time management?
Courses should be scheduled in a way that allows students to manage their time effectively and keep up with their course work. Scheduled online learning programs with dedicated time during the school week for completing assignments can keep students on track. Students who have successfully completed rigorous online coursework demonstrate to future colleges and employers that they have time management skills and work well independently.
4. What do typical student-teacher ratios look like?
Class sizes should be small enough that teachers can provide personal feedback, engage students in discussions, and proactively address individual students’ challenges. A high-quality online program has teachers who spend much of their time on high-value interactions and deepening student learning, rather than only on grading and remote lecturing.
5. How are teachers trained?
High-quality online instructors have received training to teach in an online environment, and continually study online teaching and learning best practices. Online teaching requires different skills than face-to-face teaching. In addition to knowledge of their discipline, online teachers need professional development training to learn to teach most effectively in a virtual setting.
6. What kind of local support does it provide?
Who will be locally available to monitor student progress and help identify and troubleshoot any problems? The most successful online programs involve a dedicated teacher, as well as additional parent or mentor support to monitor progress, help students stay on task, and provide help when needed.
7. Does it expand learning opportunities for students?
One of the main reasons schools seek an online learning partner is to offer new opportunities for students to explore careers and topics not already offered by the school. Lack of resources can limit what courses a school can offer, but online learning providers can expand course options for students to study languages like Chinese, take Advanced Placement® courses, or explore career interests like programming, law, or veterinary medicine.
8. Will students collaborate with peers from diverse social, economic, and geographic backgrounds?
When students and teachers from different backgrounds come together in an online course, they can share and reflect upon their world perspectives. This is a critical skill set to prepare for life beyond high school––a global online classroom helps students develop respect for and consideration of different ideas, cultures, and opinions. This sets students up for their future lives and careers in our diverse, global society.
High-quality virtual courses provide students with practical, hands-on experience managing their time, learning independently, and using online resources effectively and safely. Keeping these questions in mind as you review your options will guide you in selecting the best online learning provider for the needs of your students, school, and district.
To learn more about selecting an online learning provider, read Checklist for evaluating online learning providers on SmartBrief.