Virtual Learning in Michigan's Schools
Study available at www.mackinac.org/14440.

Internet and computer technologies have revolutionized the way people communicate and do business. And now they’re poised to transform public education as well. A recent study by Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center, thoroughly reviews the research on “virtual learning” and describes how it can benefit schools, students and taxpayers.

The study finds that an increasing number of students, parents and schools are recognizing the benefits of virtual learning. According to estimates, there were more than 20,000 virtual course enrollments in Michigan last year.

Van Beek reports on research that shows students can learn just as well in online courses. While virtual learning may not be perfect for every student, many can benefit from its greater flexibility and options. Furthermore, virtual schools and online courses often cost significantly less to operate than traditional brick-and-mortar schools, the study shows.

Current policies in Michigan limit the online educational opportunities available to students. Van Beek recommends doing away with an outdated pupil accounting rule that only allows schools to get funds for the number of students physically present, and advises the state to lift its arbitrary barriers on the expansion of virtual charter schools.

Because of its promise, virtual learning is a hot topic in Michigan and around the country, and the Mackinac Center is significantly contributing to the discussion. Van Beek’s most recent study was featured in the Holland Sentinel and The Detroit News. Several education bloggers reported on the study as well. Last September, the Center hosted two national experts in Lansing to educate legislators about the benefits of virtual learning. Van Beek has presented on the topic at the Michigan Virtual University Annual Symposium, the Michigan chapter of the American Institute for Architects and the Michigan Association of Adult and Community Education.

Michigan was once considered a national leader in virtual learning. With this study, Van Beek shows how the state can once again allow schools and parents to take full advantage of these powerful educational tools.