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Virtual schools are expected to grow at an annual rate of 12.8 percent during the next four years. Nearly one million students currently participate in some form of online learning, with more than 25 virtual schools providing services in various states across the country. Additionally, five states require students to take at least one online course before graduating.

As a virtual school educator, I see firsthand why this 21st century education model is working for students.

While it might not be the right option for all students, virtual education offers many advantages that are not currently available in traditional brick and mortar schools. As an educator for the past 27 years in both brick-and-mortar and online school environments, I see many students making the switch to online learning for a variety of reasons.

They provide flexibility. Students attending online schools are able to shape their education and class time around a schedule that works best for them. In a virtual world, gone are the 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. school schedules, meaning students don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, tired and bleary-eyed, to be on time for the first bell. Virtual students can connect with their lessons and classwork at any time and learn at a pace appropriate for them.

Eliminating or reducing distractions, while increasing student and parent engagement, is another reason we see families enrolling their children in online learning. Online students work via computer wherever they have a WiFi connection, meaning they can plug in from a quiet room in their home or from the local library. Ultimately, they decide which work environment helps them succeed.

While virtual students work where they are most comfortable, they also can express themselves without worrying about peer pressure. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, more than one in five students report being bullied while at school. Each student is accepted for their individual qualities without the pressure to dress or talk like everyone else.

With peer pressure and distractions out of the equation, students experience greater focus on their studies. Another benefit of online education is the ability to make the world flat. Within minutes, students can connect with high-quality staff and educators throughout the world through video chats and instant messaging.

Aside from being able to reach teachers, online students are able to use their computers as an additional resource. In virtual schools, technology does not serve as a distraction, but as an extension of the classroom.

Long gone are the days of one learning model. As education continues to evolve, so too must the options available to all different types of learners throughout the world.

Heather Ballien is principal at Great Lakes Cyber Academy.

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