Online classes for elementary and secondary students are offered in 46 states across the country today. In 2006, the state of Michigan passed a law requiring all students to participate in some form of online learning before graduation. Several online schools have been created throughout the state, and additionally, many schools offer a blended ground-online curriculum.
One such school is the Jackson Learning Lab, an online public school centered in Jackson, MI. The school currently has 18 students enrolled and hosts a computer lab in downtown Jackson. Students have the option of completing their coursework in the lab, but aren't required to. All work can be done from a home computer with Internet access.
Lauren Jones, a sophomore with the Jackson Learning Lab has only spent a few days of the school year in an actual classroom. But, her mother said that her daughter "has never learned as much as she has right now." Jones receives the same quality education online that she did in a traditional classroom. Many students often find that they actually learn better online when they aren't surrounded by distractions from other students in the classroom who learn at a different pace.
Online education has greatly increased in popularity over the past several years. Experts predict that within the next decade, online learning will "have a profound influence on every aspect of education." For example, schools will no longer need to physically accommodate all of their students at the same time. Money spent on school reconstruction and expansion could be directed elsewhere as more students choose to spend either all or some of their mandatory school time learning online. A predicted 25 percent of elementary and secondary students will be taking online classes in the next five years. In addition, half of high school classes are expected to be offered online within ten years.
Critics of online education often worry that a lack of interaction among students or between a student and his or her teacher can have a negative effect on students. But instructors who teach online courses think differently.
Jamey Fitzpatrick, president of Michigan Virtual University said that one-to-one student and teacher interaction actually increases with online education. Although teachers in a virtual classroom do not have face-to-face communication with their students, young students actually communicate better online. A student who needs extra help may not want to speak up in front of an entire classroom, but wouldn't be opposed to sending the teacher a quick email asking for clarification. Fitzpatrick said that he has "had teachers say they know more about their virtual students than the ones they see in a classroom" because students feel more comfortable communicating through email.