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How Virtual Learning Helps Students Pursue Their Passions

By Lorne Bird, International School of Dakar


Here are five reasons all schools should add online learning to their curriculum offerings.

As a high school principal at an international school, I always want students to be comfortable with and have a safe journey into online learning. When we started offering students in grades 11 and 12 online classes for diploma programs, we chose to partner with The Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.) to provide this level of high-stakes learning and to prepare them for university and/or careers.


This not only helps students get comfortable working online, but it also exposes them to opportunities that we can’t offer. It’s not that our school is isolated, but it is small and doesn’t offer as many options as a larger institution can. Our online learning platform offers more diversity for students and allows them to more readily pursue their individual passions.


Online learning is pragmatic. Enabling students to take some online classes allows more flexibility in our scheduling. With this resource in our corner, we can then make some internal shifts and offer our own selection of top classes. Here are five other reasons districts and schools should add online learning to their curriculum offerings:


  • Students respond well when they have choices. Even at the elementary school level, the idea of student choice is important, as it enables students to take responsibility for their learning. Giving students access to a wide variety of new subjects online and allowing them to choose gives them a stake in their own education. If given choices, most of us would buy a little bit more into what we’re doing. You're going to be more passionate about what you’ve chosen to do. Students are no different, and tend to respond well when given a selection of courses to choose from.


  • Independent learning offers flexibility. VHS offers accountability in terms of the credits we can offer. It’s also a rigorous program that we can trust, and that parents can also trust. As an international school, for example, language options are important. We have students from 65 different countries and there's no way that we can teach 10 different languages, let alone 65 different languages. So, we know that we have kids who will be in China next year and they can get a jump start on Mandarin. Or they might be Chinese and they want to study their mother tongue. All of this is possible with our online learning platform.


  • The learning is differentiated. At my previous school in Bucharest, we were using online learning to help students who wanted to go into computer programming. We didn’t offer that coursework through traditional means, but we could provide it online and let students work through the technical coursework at their own pace. Students who were accelerating and really interested in the subject matter could move ahead quickly and not be held back just because they were in, say, grade ten. They can study at a much higher level through the online learning courses.


  • It develops self-determined, motivated students. To excel in online learning, students really must become more independent learners. They also need to be self-motivated and organized, both of which are “soft skills” that today’s job market demands. VHS teachers are highly qualified, readily available and responsive, and the students must take the initiative to reach out with any questions or concerns. By helping students become more independent and proactive in their learning—online learning provides them with a solid foundation for success.


  • Students can build strong global connections with one another. With students in 65 countries, we can enable strong global connections that have the potential to last a lifetime. Through our online learning platform, students work with students from other countries and build those bridges. Many of our international school system students share a lot of similarities, for example, despite the fact that they’re diverse in nationality. This helps to broadens their horizon and expand their knowledge.


When encouraged to pursue their passions, students find ways of directing themselves and learning and gaining independence—all enabled by online learning. From there, it’s about preparing them for what's coming ahead be it a diploma program, online classes, university, or the workforce.     

Lorne Bird is Secondary School Principal at the International School of Dakar in Senegal.