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More states look to online learning for students

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Alabama’s project spans a four-year timeline—at the end of the four years, freshmen who have to meet the criteria will be seniors—during which Maddox said that schools will develop and implement their plans for the requirement.

“We highly recommend that schools and teachers implement it according to the needs of the students,” Maddox said, adding that many schools start by offering one course at a time online or in a blended environment. Ensuring that teachers are comfortable and properly trained to use a learning management system is crucial, she added.

Teachers are required to take extra professional development, and the state has been careful to clearly define that the online courses and experiences are teacher-led.

“The biggest thing is understanding the vocabulary you’re using,” Maddox said. “When you say ‘online learning,’ some people think it’s just going on the internet and doing research.”

Because technology access is almost always an issue, Maddox said the state education department gave grants to all high schools, which provided 25 computers per school. State officials are working with larger schools to figure out how to stretch those 25 computers across a large number of students.

“That’s where you work with them individually, and think of different ways they can implement it, and then connect them with a school that has similar demographics and has implemented it,” Maddox said. For instance, some schools are working with local cable companies or offering take-home/check-out programs for students.

iNACOL reports indicate that K-12 virtual learning is growing faster than any other academic segment, at about 16.8 percent per year, and overall virtual learning enrollments are growing by 46 percent per year.

“Give them the skills they’ll need later in life—learning in virtual environments, taking online courses, and if it’s done right, the courses are very personalized, and each student gets that online learning experience,” Powell said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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