Virtual Learning Education Consulting Firm

Barbara Harbula, Ph.D.
Online Learning Consultant


Resources for:


Parent's Blog
Parent Info Meetings


Teacher Blog
Teacher Online Training


Virtual Student Blogs

Virtual Schools

Virtual School Blog

Home Schools

Home Schools Blog

School Districts

School District Blog

Latest Research

Virtual Schools
Online Programs

Overview of Virtual Schools

Not sure what a virtual school is, let alone how to pick one for your student? Not sure about how to do homeschooling, or if it's right for you and your child?

Historical Overview of Virtual Schools

The slow grass roots movement of Virtual Schools, from its debut in Massachusetts in 1998, included only 30 online schools across the nation. In the year 2000, only five percent of educators were aware of the availability of online programs (Russo, 2001).

In 2002, according to the Center on Education Policy (Fulton & Kober, 2002) between 40-50,000 primary and secondary students enrolled in an online course in the 2001/2002 school year. In addition, 28 percent of leaders surveyed by National School Boards Foundation believe that one out of every five students will receive a part of their instruction over the Internet in the next three years.

In addition in 2002, Kalmon & Watson(2002) pointed out that 90 percent of American children and teenagers currently use the Internet. In contrast, in a report by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Editor, 2003) 65 percent of American children ages 2-17 now use the Internet from home, school, or some other location. The largest gain in Internet users is among minority groups according to the poll by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Both statistics point out that a large number of children are already familiar with the online environment.

By 2005, however, Setzer & Lewis reported that 22 percent of US public school districts had students enrolled in virtual programs. These statistics makes one wonder if the virtual school movement is becoming like Browning's Pied Piper,by attracting students of varying ages and abilities. What can educators and parents do to be sure that online learning does not lead children into a fictitious "joyous land" hidden in cyberspace, but prepare them to lead lives of leadership in a century still unfolding?

Let's look at what types of students are being drawn to this environment, as well as at the environment itself, and the types of programs that are available, so that you can draw your own conclusions.

(For a more detailed in-depth look at the History of Virtual Schools visit The Virtual Revolution

Types of Students

A variety of students occupy this new environment, from the students who take online courses in a lab in their district school, to home school students, or students who need a special challenge. The original Virtual High School was populated by high school students with schedule challenges or students who needed to take a special course from a teacher at a distance. The current population includes primary students attending from home, as well as advanced placement students who take college courses while in high school. State funding has encouraged students challenged both academically or socially to jump on board. States are given the latitude to fund computers and internet connections for virtual students by the current political climate influenced by the No Child Left Behind Act identifying "failing" schools, thus allowing students to choose their school, adding to the variety of students in the environment (Schulz, 2003). School systems are applying their per pupil expenditure to develop charter or alternative schools with an online provider (Eng, 2003). The online provider supplies the curriculum, while the local school supplies a computer and Internet access for the student, as well as paying teachers to teach in this environment.

Types of Online Environments

The types of online environments vary as much as the mixture of students. The delivery of online courses originally took place by teleconferencing in a TV lab set up just for this purpose, but now they can occur there as well as in a computer lab, or the comfort of home. Hammonds and Reising (1998) pointed out that some schools combine motion video with music and sound, while maintaining a humanistic environment. Although in the beginning virtual schools utilized the teleconferencing set up, this use has been limited due to heavy price tags, as well as the expertise needed to run the equipment. The limitations of teleconferencing need to be taken into account but should not rule out teleconference labs as useful tools. These environments can be based in the student's home or in a local school lab. With this variety of types of environments, a question is raised about the curriculum being studied by the students, and the teaching or learning strategies being applied.

Types of Lessons
Individually paced lessons are the strength of the curriculum, with presentation of the hands-on lessons done either by a parent in the home, a student following a multimedia lesson on the computer, or in conjunction with an online assessment giving immediate feedback after a lesson. Teaching strategies can include systematic presentation of materials via online text or multimedia files, collaborative projects, or independent study. Hammonds & Reising (1998) pointed out that some online students utilize inquiry learning while creating, designing and working in teams, but have to adapt to higher stimulation and a faster pace. Thomas (2002) summarized that individual courses taught at state schools have certified teachers while online charter-schools depend on parents to help to monitor student instruction.

Given the multitude of choices in virtual schools, how can educators utilize the best practices in this environment to bring about change in public schools? To be able to answer that question, we need to look at what researchers are identifying as the benefits and drawbacks of online learning.

Go on to Benefits and Drawbacks


References listed on this page:

Bell, S. (2001). Web-based Utilities for Learning and Collaboration in the Classroom. Syllabus Magazine: Technology for Higher Education (7/1/2001).

Browning, Robert (1888). The Pied Piper of Hamlin. Edward Evans Limited. London, England. Retrieved July 3, 2004 from

Cicognani, A. (2000). Concept Mapping as a Collaborative Tool for Enhanced Online Learning. Educational Technology & Society, 3(3).

Cifuentes, L. S., Yu-Chih Doris. (2001). Teaching and Learning Online: A Collaborative Between U.S. and Taiwanese Students. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, Summer 2001; 33(4), 456.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (2003). CONNECTED TO THE FUTURE: A Report on Children's Internet Use. Retrieved July 1, 2004, from .

Eng, P. (2003). Virtual School Daze: Online tech offers new choices in education. Retrieved 9/16/2003, from

Fulton, K., & Kober, N. (2002). Preserving principles of public education in an online world: What policymakers should be asking about virtual schools. Paper presented at the Virtual High Schools: Changing Schools, Enduring Principles, Washington, D.C.

Hammonds, L., & Reising, B. (1998). The Virtual High School. Clearing House, 71(6), 324, 322 p.

Holden, H. (2004). Printed Optical Waveguides: The Next Interconnect. CircuiTree Troy, 17(2), 54, 53 pgs.

Isenhour, P. L., Carroll, J.M., Neale, D.C., Rosson, M.B., & Dunlap, D.R. (2000). The Virtual School: An integrated collaborative environment for the classroom, Retrieved June 2004 from

James, J. W., & Bailey, Gerald D. (2002). Online Professional Development: a customized approach for technology leaders. (2002 ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Kalmon, S., & Watson, John. (2002). Moving Mountains to Ensure Equal Access To High Quality Learning: Findings and Recommendations of the Colorado E-Learning Task Force. Colorado Online Learning Task Force for Colorado Department of Education. Retrieved 01/17/03 from, 1- 49.

MacDonald, J. (2001). On-Line Learning: A Radical Pedagogy? Adults Learning, 12(5).

Merryfield, M. M. (2002). The Difference a Global Educator Can Make. Educational Leadership, 60(2), 18-21.

Russo, A. (2001). Online Coursework. School Administrator, 58(no. 9), 6-48.

Schulz, B. (2003). Surfing the cyberwave of reform: Evaluating K-12 virtual schools. Paper presented at the E-Learn 2003, Phoenix, Arizona.

Taylor, S. (2002). Education online: Off course or on track? Community College Week, Vol. 14(Issue 20).

Thomas, W. (2002). Virtual learning and charter schools: Issues and potential impact. Retrieved 01/15/03 from Southern Regional Education Board at

Treacy, B. K., Glenn; Petersen, Kirsten. (2002). Successful online professional development: using community-based train-the-trainers programs, EdTech Leaders Online is spreading online professional development throughout the United States and learning some valuable lessons along the way. Learning & Leading with Technology, 30(1), 42 (46).

USDE. (2002). Executive summary: Virtual schools forum (No. Draft). Denver, CO: United States Department of Education:Virtual Schools Forum.

This website is dynamic, and therefore always under construction as we add comments to the blogs, the latest research, and share with each other, so come back often!

Contact us:

Barbara Harbula, Ph.D.
Fax: 302-678-2875 (call first)
Phone: 410-375-8367
Resume: :

Barb's Portfolio

Curriculum Development
Course Development
Technology Training
Online Educator
Educational Software Development
Standards Based Education


©2006 All rights reserved