Online learning has become a growing and essential component in PK-12 education, higher education, and workplace training. Students use online learning for a variety of reasons:
- Increased course selection: A courses may only be available through online learning.
- Scheduling flexibility: A student may chose an online course to avoid a scheduling conflict.
- Pace: Students can progress at their own pace
- Content: Content can be individualized to a student's needs/interests.
- Flexibility: Students may want flexibility in the time and/or location of their courses.
- Remediation: Students may repeat all or parts of a course, or may “recover” credits.
- Learning Style: Students learn in different ways, and some thrive in online environments.
- Physical Restrictions: Students may be physically unable to attend a brick and mortar school.
- Disciplinary Action: Expelled students may elect to continue their education online.
- Preference: Students may prefer to learn in the home environment.
Online learning options exist along a continuum. At one end of the continuum, students learn in an environment that is almost exclusively virtual. Learners are separated in space and/or time from instructional staff and fellow students. At the other end of the continuum, learning takes place in the physical presence of instructional staff and peers with minimal use of online content or materials. Many education programs incorporate blended learning models, whereby students benefit from the flexibility inherent in online learning as well as the many benefits of traditional in-person educational models.
A variety of education options exist for students in Wisconsin, and, in some cases, the educational option determines the online learning options available to a student. A good starting point for a student interested in online learning is to contact the school the student currently attends. Many schools offer online learning options that are available upon request, are planning to offer online learning option in the near future, or are willing to explore the possibility of offering online learning options.
Students can also explore the possibility of attending a different school that offers a desired online learning option. It is possible for a student to participate in online and blended learning options through open enrollment; however, in most cases, when a student open enrolls into an online or blended learning program, the program must be offered through a virtual charter school. The department's charter school web pages contain additional information about charter school options in Wisconsin, including virtual charter schools. The school directories are also useful for finding schools.
Oftentimes, innovative educational models are linked to online learning and blended learning because many innovative educational models require a great degree of flexibility and personalization.
One example of an educational model that relies on online learning is the “flipped classroom,” which moves the traditional knowledge transfer task such as the lecture to a digital homework assignment done outside of class. This enables the educator to personalize learning in classrooms through observational assessment and coaching. It also enables students to engage in reciprocal learning activities where they learn from each other.
The various classifications of blended learning may also determine the most appropriate educational option for a particular student.
It is important to realize that online learning, particularly online learning in an exclusively virtual setting, is not the easy way out. It requires initiative, self-discipline, and the ability to work independently.
Districts with virtual and blended options for students must be responsible for creating and maintaining attendance records for students. Districts cannot ask parents to maintain or provide data for attendance or grading. In addition, districts are encouraged to connect attendance expectations to district policy related to truancy. The following language is used by several districts in the state:
Students not meeting the minimum attendance requirement for any course (or combination of courses if enrolled in more than one course), for part or all of 5 or more days in which school is held, are considered to be habitually truant and, therefore, in violation of Wisconsin’s Compulsory Law. Wis. Stat. § 118.15 (1) (a). The law requires a child attend school regularly until graduation from high school, or until the end of the semester in which he/she turns 18 years of age, or until he/she is excused from attendance by the school board.
Online education has potential advantages and disadvantages for students with disabilities, as it does for any student, and must be considered individually for each student. Some students with disabilities do very well in online classes and virtual charter schools. Some students require assistive technologies, such as a screen reader or screen magnifier, that can be easily implemented so they can access an online learning environment. Others may require supports such as additional help with time management.
Under IDEA, all school districts must provide special education and related services at no cost to eligible students with disabilities. Each student receiving special education has an individualized educational program (IEP) outlining the special education, supplementary aids and services, and program supports for staff needed to address the disability. All students with IEPs will require some amount of specially designed instruction from an appropriately licensed teacher. If a student is receiving special education, the student's IEP team must consider whether the whether the student’s needs identified in the IEP could be reasonably addressed in the online program, class, or virtual school. The decision about the appropriateness of online education and the services, supports, or accommodations needed to allow participation by students with disabilities is made on a case by case basis in accordance with state and federal requirements. For more information about special education, see DPIs Special Education homepage.