VIP Focus: Report Shares New Findings on Virtual Learning Effectiveness

Michigan Virtual UniversityBy Dan Keedy, Writer/Editor at Michigan Virtual University

The second annual report on K-12 virtual learning in Michigan continued to show accelerated growth in use, but declines in student performance measures. The report, prepared by Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute™, a division of Michigan Virtual University, at the request of the Michigan Legislature, includes estimates of over 76,000 Michigan public school students participating in virtual learning during the 2013-2014 school year accounting for over 319,000 virtual course enrollments.

The report—Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report, 2013-2014—highlights enrollment totals, completion rates and the overall impact of virtual courses on K-12 pupils, and provides a unique perspective into K-12 virtual learning in Michigan. Compared to the 2012-2013 school year, the report found the number of K-12 students participating in virtual learning was up 38 percent and the number of virtual enrollments up 78 percent, though a small percentage of this growth was due to new search techniques in identifying virtual enrollments.

New in this year’s report were comparison statistics for virtual and nonvirtual learners. For instance, according to data collected by the state, students who did not take any virtual courses in the 2013-2014 school year, had a completion rate of 89 percent in their courses. On the other hand, most students who took virtual courses, also took nonvirtual courses, but on average, only passed their nonvirtual courses 71 percent of the time, well below their nonvirtual counterparts.

“The data seem pretty clear that, at present, virtual learning is being used by schools for students who are struggling in their traditional setting rather than to enable average and above average performing students to go farther faster with their education,” said Dr. Joe Freidhoff, Executive Director of MVLRI™ and author of the report.

The report also found a sizable drop off in completion rate for virtual learners in their virtual courses. Whereas 71 percent of the time the virtual learner passed their course if it was nonvirtual, they only passed it 57 percent of the time if it was a virtual course. The report speculates that these differences are likely attributable to factors such as the students selected for virtual learning, student readiness, entry-level subject proficiency, reason for taking the virtual course and local supports available to the virtual learner, but concludes that “whatever combination of factors it is . . . the bottom line is that too many Michigan students are not being adequately educated through existing virtual learning options.”

“The trends are clear that more and more K-12 students will be taking virtual courses in the coming years, and the need to be able to learn in this kind of environment has become an important part of being college and career ready,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of MVU. “Schools and virtual learning providers must find better models—both in the virtual and physical environments—to assist novice virtual learners in developing 21st century skills.”

The report includes a comparative analysis for virtual learning enrollment and completion data generated from: (1) local district virtual learning solutions; (2) full-time cyber schools; and (3) the Michigan Virtual School operated by MVU. Download the full report for free here.

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