While a successful online student has often been described as independent, self-motivated, and dedicated, there are also ways in which virtual learning can help those who are struggling to learn. For example, Will Clarkston, who was fresh out of high school and plagued by a number of learning disabilities such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, lacked the maturity and motivation to go to college. However, he found that supplemental online courses completed after he graduated from high school gave him the confidence he needed to pursue further education.
The classes offered by the Bridge School, a private educational company in Houston, Texas, allowed Clarkston to tailor his learning and work at his own pace. The virtual environment made it easy for him to pause his lessons and take a break if his mind started to wander. Additionally, he had the option to have his course materials read to him and had access to instructors when he needed their assistance. With the success he achieved in the online classroom, Clarkston plans to enroll in community college and hopes to start his own business in the near future. Clarkston’s success has been as a powerful example of how online education can benefit all types of students. With the growing use of technology in the post-secondary environment as well as the workplace, it also benefits younger generations to become adept in these virtual environments.
While Texas offers a full-time virtual school for children as young as third grade, enrollment is only about 3,600, far below that of other states such as Florida, with almost 260,000 students enrolled for the 2010-11 school year. Still, some educators are skeptical about how effective online instruction can be and find themselves wary of private-sector involvement in curriculum development. Therefore, implementing online programs as a part of public education, which has long been defined by districts, geographical boundaries, and physical schools, is often an uphill battle.
However, as more and more students take online courses, the benefits become more apparent. For example, online courses allow more advanced students to work beyond their grade level and explore new subjects not offered at their school. On the other hand, students who are struggling can receive supplemental help outside of the physical classroom which can be vital to their success. Additionally, the Bridge School also provides online courses to at risk students through Southwest Schools, a charter operation in Houston. For students who are frequently in and out of substance abuse programs, these courses can provide them the flexibility and support they need to finish school. So despite some reservations about the involvement of private companies in the growth of online education in public schools, there is much to be gained from expanding virtual classes for students with a variety of learning needs at all levels of education.
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