The increasing popularity of online courses in higher education in recent years has had a ripple effect on K-12 schools, as administrators and officials recognize the need to prepare students for the virtual classroom experience.
Some states and school districts have made online courses a requirement for graduation, with Virginia among the more recent to announce it is joining those ranks. Beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, high school students in Virginia must complete one or more virtual courses in order to graduate.
State officials said the goal is to prepare youngsters for the 21st century job market.
School officials in Putnam County, Tennessee, have taken a similar stance on preparing students for the future. After the state began requiring that students complete a personal finance course, the Putnam school district decided to offer the class online.
“The reality is, when a student leaves us, whether they’re going to a four-year college, a technical college, or going into the world of work, they’re going to have to do an online course,” Tennessee school official Kathleen Airhart told Education Week at the time. “This helps prepare the students.”
Online course offerings are not new to U.S. schools. According to a February 2013 report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), 31 states and the District of Columbia have statewide full-time online schools. As of 2009-10, approximately 2 million students were enrolled in distance-education courses, primarily online classes.
The report cited some of the main reasons that school districts are offering online courses, including: providing access to courses that would not be available otherwise; and giving students the chance to regain course credits.
The association reported that Michigan was the first state to make online learning a graduation requirement for high school students, starting in 2006. Six years later, Florida began offering online course choices to all K-12 students, the first state to do so.
About a half dozen states mandate or recommend that students complete one or more online courses in order to graduate high school, the report stated. The trend is expected to continue: iNACOL projects that 10% of all courses will be computer-based by 2014, and in 2019 about 50% will be online.
“The availability of online and blended learning programs for students across the country continues to grow at an amazing pace,” iNACOL President Susan Patrick said in a statement.