Study: More Students Opt for Online Learning

MIDLAND, Mich. — Thousands of Michigan students are now enrolled in online courses as part of their primary and secondary education, and evidence indicates that online learners perform as well or better academically in virtual classrooms as in traditional ones, according to a study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The Mackinac Center published “Virtual Learning in Michigan’s Schools” last week, authored by Michael Van Beek, the center’s education policy director. Van Beek said his review indicated that online instruction is growing in Michigan, that evidence shows it is academically effective, and that virtual learning can reduce education costs. The Mackinac Center also publishes Michigan Education Digest.

In related news, the Lansing School District is expanding its virtual academy program as a way to boost graduation rates. (See next item.)

The Mackinac Center study recommends expanding virtual learning by allowing students to enroll in more than two full-time online courses without needing a “seat-time waiver,” as is currently required. It also suggests that the state Legislature reconsider the current limits on the number of virtual charter schools in Michigan and on the number of students that they can enroll.

Van Beek said his review of national research and evidence from other states showed that students perform as well or better in virtual learning environments and that virtual learning can reduce education costs.

“Virtual learning may not be right for everyone,” Van Beek said in a press release announcing the study and accompanying video. “Still, I would estimate there are more than 20,000 course enrollments in online K-12 programs offered through Michigan Virtual School, Michigan’s virtual charter schools and dozens of single- and multi-district programs, including GenNET, a major initiative of the Genesee Intermediate School District.”

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Virtual Learning in Michigan’s Schools,” Jan. 27, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A Virtual Learning Revolution,” (video), Jan. 27, 2010