Virtual Learning Still Going Strong
An article appearing in a recent issue of Education Week notes the growth of Advanced Placement courses available online. This rapid growth appears to be a result of two emerging trends in education: the growing acceptance of virtual education and a dramatic rise in the number of students who are taking AP courses. The article asserts that, "While no firm national statistics exist, school-by-school information suggests strong growth in online AP enrollment in recent years, as high school students' quest to get into top colleges has grown increasingly competitive."
An example can be found in Apex Learning, a Seattle-based online-learning company, which has seen its online AP enrollment skyrocket from 8,400 in the 2003-04 school year to 30,200 in 2006-07.
This rise in virtual schooling has been chronicled in Technology Counts, an annual report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. This year's report marks 10 years since Technology Counts debuted in 1997. Indicators in that first report, which included the percent of schools equipped with a videodisc player, have evolved to include states offering computer-based testing and virtual schools.
According to an annual state survey connected with Technology Counts, the number of state-sponsored virtual schools has seen an increase over the last few years. In 2003, the first year that data was collected, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center found that 16 states had established a statewide virtual school. As of 2007, that number has increased to 23 states.
2006 data from the National Center for Education Statistics notes that rural areas are more likely than other areas to offer online learning opportunities for students to take courses that they would not otherwise have access to. This includes AP courses offered through a private company or through a state sponsored virtual school. Such virtual learning programs are touted by supporters for offering increased options for students in schools with limited course offerings. However, a large gap exists in the percent of rural schools offering increased options online for their students and schools in cities and surrounding areas.
In 10 years, it's possible that virtual schools may seem as antiquated to the education landscape as videodisc players seem today. But, for the time being, it seems as though opportunities for students to extend their learning beyond the classroom walls continue to increase.