Customized education that meets the needs of each K-12 student is in. A one-size-fits-all curriculum and instruction that solely focuses on the college-bound high schooler is no longer sufficient.
The modern classroom embraces a mix of brick-and-mortar schools boosted by robust, course-rich online education. Today’s best learning environments support the student’s social and emotional well-being and pace of learning.
The Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA) and its member organizations continue to embrace and further develop these educational trends to create high-quality online learning programs throughout the U.S. In fact, a VLLA core value is to “share our collective expertise, capacity, and resources to imagine and enable the adoption of transformative educational practices to impact learning in positive ways.”
To better understand what’s behind the trends in online learning, here are some helpful highlights and resources to assist online educators in maximizing the student learning experience:
Trend 1: Strong school district-online learning program relationships
As explored in VLLA’s recent two-part blog, Districts team up with online programs to address challenges, strong partnerships between school districts and trusted, online education programs can solve a plethora of issues and improve student outcomes.
“We have always used online learning to address AP courses, languages, or other courses we do not have the ability to staff either due to our size or other limitations,” said Scott McGrady, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Newport School District. “We continue to explore the CTE courses available to us and find industry certification programs online that may be beneficial to our students and community.”
The Newport School District partners with Capital Area Online Learning Association (CAOLA), a VLLA member, on several levels. From enhanced course offerings to continuing education, there’s a mutual benefit in terms of student and educator success.
Since reliable indicators show that online learning is here to stay, the importance of positive district-online education relationships is a trend that is not likely to fade anytime soon. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that a third of public schools offered full-time remote instruction in June 2022 and 10% offered hybrid instruction.
Trend 2: Focus on student social & emotional health
Today’s K-12 students face a myriad of issues that can take a significant toll on their overall emotional well-being. From gun violence to civil unrest, young, developing minds require educators to provide supports so they can learn, grow and best prepare for the future.
The statistics, unfortunately, support the fact that children – now more than ever – need the help of everyone in their lives, including educators. PRB reports in its August 2022 article, Anxiety and Depressional Increase Among U.S. Youth,” that “children in the United States are experiencing a mental health crisis, with rates of anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a range of tools for educators to meet students’ psychosocial needs. A healthy and supportive learning environment strengthens learners’ emotional well-being and opens the door for impactful, meaningful education.
The CDC offers a number of strategies to support student emotional well-being. While these are intended for in-school learning, the following recommendations certainly apply to quality online learning programs as well:
- Carefully select or thoroughly develop activities that emphasize social and emotional competencies. Identify and implement programs that are developmentally appropriate and culturally relevant for students.
- Integrate skill building, modeling, practice, and assessment that improves emotional well-being and connectedness across all academic areas. Teachers can incorporate opportunities for students to practice skills and develop competencies such as establishing positive relationships and understanding diverse perspectives through group learning activities.
- Strengthen teacher core competencies through professional development. Programs can offer staff training on role modeling and applying interpersonal skills to improve teacher-student relationships.
- Foster safe, inclusive learning environments for all young people. Online programs can establish a culture that emphasizes the importance of showing empathy in relationships, using effective communication, and demonstrating respect for diversity.
The emotional well-being of students pertains to those who sit in a traditional classroom, learn remotely or use a hybrid program. Thus, online educators can put these and other practices to use as they prepare students both educationally and emotionally for today’s challenges as well as tomorrow’s opportunities.
Trend 3: Personalized education for all learners
Educators realize that no two students are alike. Each has unique strengths, preferred learning styles and their own pace of understanding subject matter. Online education offers students the flexibility to thrive in an environment that they have more control over as compared to large group, in-classroom education.
Bruce Enzmann, virtual learning coordinator of the Office of Teaching and Learning for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, partners with Virtual Virginia, a VLLA member. He understands the power of incorporating virtual learning to not only personalize and enhance education but provide social and emotional supports.
“Because it’s highly adaptable, virtual learning can often better meet students where they are academically, emotionally, and socially,” said Enzmann. “Virtual classrooms allow teachers to offer more support to their students through phone calls, emails, chats, videos, text messages, and more.”
Georgia, too, has taken personalized learning to the next level, putting a federal Reimaging Education grant into action to develop highly personalized instruction.
“Georgia Virtual School has centered its efforts with students on prioritized executive function, a trait essential for success in online learning,” said Rich Copeland, supervisor of teacher quality for Georgia Virtual, a VLLA member. “We have built professional learning and PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) for teachers and provided instructors with a module to insert into their courses that helps students identify the skills and attributes so that teachers and students can collaborate on the learning journey together.”
Going hand and hand with the flexibility of online learning is the educator’s ability to customize the curriculum for maximum student engagement. From content development and delivery tools to incorporating self-paced and hands-on opportunities into the online curriculum, online teachers can best meet students where they are likely to enjoy the most academic success.
Trend 4: Artificial Intelligence (AI) & the online learner
Take a look at just about every industry today, and the proliferation of AI as an emerging trend is undeniable. That holds true for K-12 education with its potential to both personalize and enhance learning.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation’s (ITIF) Center For Data Innovation released a report in 2022 titled How AI Can Improve K-12 Education in the United States that supports the attributes of AI for the K-12 learner. “For students, AI can provide them a personalized learning experience tailored to their individual preferences and needs, immediate feedback on their work and answers to their questions, and increased access to tutoring and other educational materials.”
Teachers also reap the benefits, according to ITIF’s research. AI can automate routine tasks, create better interventions, and reduce burnout. This is especially important during a historic period of teacher shortages.
While these trends and other emerging developments can seem daunting to already overloaded educators, they may provide additional tools to enhance the teacher-student experience. AI, specifically, may have the potential to enhance experiences with appropriate use.
Just as some trends come and go, one thing remains constant – educators play a critical role in a student’s cognitive development and overall well-being.