California District’s Virtual Learning Experiment Pays Off

The ethos of Lake Elsinor's Virtual Learning Center set it apart from virtually all other schools in California and beyond. That is because VLC students are completely in control of their own learning, picking up and putting down tasks and taking breaks at times that works best for them.

Contrary to expectations, Nathan Scott – one of VLC's instructors – says that giving students this kind of freedom doesn't translate to a chaotic, out-of-control classroom — and quite the opposite, in fact. Even though the school caters mostly to students who have failed traditional courses in LEUSD's other schools, the students are thriving.

At the VLC, which was established in 2009, students control more than just their hours of study. Even when and how often to interact with one of the school's four instructors is entirely up to them. The only time that a meeting between students and teachers is mandatory is during test days, which are administered in the VLC lab housed at the school's brick and mortar location.

VLC staff make themselves available to students who want help with the course material, however. The teachers spend one day a week at each of the high schools and a fourth day at the VLC lab.

"It's completely different from a classroom setting because the kid's driving it," Scott explains. A student might not be ready to engage in geometry concepts first thing in the morning, for example, but if his class is at 8 a.m., he doesn't have a choice — and that can lead to discipline problems. But, says Scott, "there have never been any discipline issues at the VLC because the kids want to be here. They come in 100 percent focused, and they do their work."

VLC can serve as template for other districts looking to make a foray into virtual learning. During its first year of operation, the school kept an IT support person on premises between the hours of 12pm and 3pm to deal with any hiccups. But the software and hardware that powers VLC works so well, problems arise only rarely. The IT person moved on and now works on a call-out basis, heading out to the school when there are issues to be resolved.

VLC offers the same kind of benefits that any system which tailors materials to the skill level of each individual student does. Kids spend as little or as much time on each academic topic and repeat lessons as often as they need to in order to understand them.

The VLC, along with the rest of the ­district, uses a web-based learning management system that divides courses into modular units, each of which consists of video tutorials, offline ­activities, practice problems and quizzes. If students know the material, they can just take the quiz and move on to the next module. But if they're struggling, they can review the videos, activities and problems as often as they need.

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