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E-Learning – Is it for Everyone?
Technology in the classroom has advanced in some schools to the point of virtual classrooms. Whether instituted to control class size or offer students a wide variety of learning options, E-learning has become an important component in schools from primary grades to high school. Are we moving towards an age of virtual schools?
E-learning is a computer based network enabled transmission of subject matter. It can include computer or web-based education as well as digital collaboration and virtual learning. Either instructor led or self-paced, e-learning incorporates text, images, animation, and video or audio presentations of material. Depending on how the information is delivered, (Internet, audio/video tape, satellite TV, CD-ROM etc.) e-learning can be an enhancement to a traditional classroom or actually replace it with a virtual classroom setting.
Virtual classrooms can fulfill a very important need in the public school community. For rural areas it can allow students to receive an education without the expense of travel and all the added necessities of a building. For some students, virtual school makes it possible for them to study courses not offered in their own home school districts or affords them the ability to work and go to school or pursue extracurricular activities without the time constraint of traveling to and sitting in a traditional classroom. In addition, students with health issues which keep them hospitalized or home bound do not need to fall behind in their education. Teachers of virtual classes report that they find many students are less inhibited and participate more because of the anonymity afforded them through the computer. They also have easy access to concrete data on class attendance and assignment completion allowing them to quickly identify problems and garner parental support and solutions. Students often say that the teacher feedback is much more timely in the virtual classroom and they are able to interact with peers from other school districts, states even other countries enabling them to experience a much broader social network and exchange of ideas than the traditional classroom would afford them.
During the 2010-2011 school year the Miami-Dade public school system had 7,000 students enrolled in virtual classrooms or e-learning labs of core subjects. These virtual classrooms function in the regular school buildings through the assistance of a facilitator to monitor the students’ progress and help with technical matters. These virtual classes were established as a result of Florida’s Class Size Reduction Amendment. Since the amendment limits the number of students allowed in a regular classroom, (High School – no more than 25 in core subjects, 4th – 8th grade-no more than 22 and Prek-3rd grade no more than 18) virtual classrooms have become popular as there are no such limits and may have even 40 students in a learning lab. Many of these students were placed in these classrooms. As it was not their choice, some felt they do not have the self-motivation necessary to succeed in such a setting.
Virtual schools are not necessarily every student’s best option though virtual learning definitely has a place in public school education. Virtual classrooms can save schools money and free up budget funds to expand other programs. The Florida Program, Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has actually generated income by selling its programs to school districts across the country. These profits are then used to develop more programs. Quality e-learning programs combined with traditional education can afford our students a wealth of learning opportunities including local as well as global exchange of information and ideas.