This resource is submitted in compliance with Section 98 of the State School Aid Act, which requires Michigan Virtual™ to “produce an annual consumer awareness report for schools and parents about effective online education providers and education delivery models, performance data, cost structures, and research trends.”
The purpose of this resource is to make consumers aware of the status of online learning in Michigan and is specifically designed to inform parents, school personnel, and school board members of the nature of online learning options, their effectiveness for Michigan students, the costs of these programs, and current trends.
Michigan’s interest in and commitment to digital alternatives to traditional instruction have a relatively long history, including more than a decade of legislation and policy development. Some key milestones along the way include the following:
- 2000 – Enacted legislation to create the Michigan Virtual School® (MVS®) operated by the Michigan Virtual University. (P.A. 230 of 2000)
- 2004 – Dedicated first-time appropriation support for K-12 online professional development. (P.A. 351 of 2004)
- 2006 – Became the first state in the nation to pass a requirement that students have an “online learning experience” before graduating from high school. (P.A. 123 & 124 of 2006)
- 2008 – Allowed school districts to seek a waiver of the state’s pupil accounting rules to allow eligible full-time students to take all of their coursework online through a process implemented by Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- 2009 – Allowed the formation of two full-time online charter schools. (P.A. 205 of 2009)
- 2012 – Raised the enrollment cap for cyber schools and allowed up to 2% of Michigan’s total public school enrollment (about 30,000) to participate in full-time programs. (P.A. 129 of 2012)
- 2012 – Allowed traditional school districts, intermediate school districts, and community colleges (within the college’s regional boundaries) to each authorize one “school of excellence that is a cyber school.” Statewide authorizing bodies were limited to authorizing in aggregate a total of five cyber charters in 2013, 10 in 2014, and 15 after 2014. (P.A. 129 of 2012)
- 2012 – Enacted legislation to create the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute within Michigan Virtual University. (P.A. 201 of 2012)
- 2013 – Enacted legislation that allowed students in grades 5-12 to enroll in up to two online courses as requested by the pupil during an academic term, semester, or trimester. (P.A. 60 of 2013)
- 2014 – Revised Section 21f of the State School Aid Act changing grade levels to 6-12 and altering funding formula; initiated full launch and use of Michigan’s Online Course Catalog, the statewide catalog of online course offerings. (P.A. 196 of 2014)
- 2015 – Revised Section 21f of the State School Aid Act to allow community colleges to offer online courses, require primary districts to assign mentors to online learners, and altered funding formula. (P.A. 85 of 2015)
- 2016 – Revised Section 21f of the State School Aid Act to allow students in K-12 to participate while allowing districts to deny requests for students outside of grades 6-12. (P.A. 249 of 2016)
- 2017 – Expanded access to digital learning options for students in Michigan by establishing that public school students in grades K-12, with the consent of a parent or legal guardian, may enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term from the courses listed in their district’s local catalog or from Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. (P.A. 143 of 2017)
- 2020 – Addressed the applicability of Section 21f to pandemic learning during the 2020-21 school year. (15) The requirements under this section concerning virtual courses do not apply to virtual courses offered as part of pandemic learning. As used in this subsection, “pandemic learning” means a mode of pupil instruction provided as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. (P.A. 147 of 2020)
Expanded Learning Options
Section 21f, the latest and furthest reaching online learning policy to date, expands access to digital learning options for students in Michigan by establishing that public school students in grades K-12, with the consent of a parent or legal guardian, may enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term from the courses listed in their district’s local catalog or from Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. Michigan’s Online Course Catalog contains syllabi information as well as enrollment and course dates. All courses contained in the catalog include results of a quality assurance review that uses nationally-recognized standards and performance data based upon course completion. The information in these reviews will assist parents, students, and school personnel in making the best possible choices for students.
Students interested in taking an online course should work with their school’s counselor(s) or registrar to enroll. A district may deny the online course enrollment request if:
- The pupil is enrolled in any of grades K to 5;
- The pupil has previously gained the credits that would be provided from the completion of the virtual course;
- The virtual course is not capable of generating academic credit;
- The virtual course is inconsistent with the remaining graduation requirements or career interests of the pupil;
- The pupil has not completed the prerequisite coursework for the requested virtual course or has not demonstrated proficiency in the prerequisite course content;
- The pupil has failed a previous virtual course in the same subject during the two most recent academic years;
- The virtual course is of insufficient quality or rigor. A primary district that denies a pupil enrollment request for this reason shall enroll the pupil in a virtual course in the same or a similar subject that the primary district determines is of acceptable rigor and quality;
- The cost of the virtual course exceeds 6.67% of the minimum foundation allowance unless the pupil or the pupil’s parent or legal guardian agrees to pay the cost that exceeds this amount;
- The request for a virtual course enrollment did not occur within the same timelines established by the primary district for enrollment and schedule changes for regular courses; and
- The request for a virtual course enrollment was not made in the academic term, semester, trimester, or summer preceding the enrollment. This subdivision does not apply to a request made by a pupil who is newly enrolled in the primary district.
If a student is denied enrollment in an online course, parents and/or the student may appeal the decision with the superintendent of the intermediate school district in which the student’s educating district is located.
More information about Section 21f is available through Michigan Virtual at Michigan’s Online Learning Law (21f).
On August 20, 2020, Governor Whitmer signed House Bill 5913 into law as Public Act 149. Section 98a of that act states that to receive state aid for 2020-2021, districts must prepare and submit an extended COVID-19 Learning Plan (“Plan”) that has been approved by an intermediate district or authorizing body. These Plans detail the educational goals to be achieved for the 2020-21 school year, as well as how districts will provide instruction (face to face, remotely, digitally, synchronously or asynchronous, etc.) and increase student engagement and achievement. The Plan does not replace the District’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, rather it is an additional plan that includes new assurances and sections on educational goals, instructional delivery, grading, and equitable access.
Other changes resulting, from Public Act 149 and 148, for the 2020-21 school year include specific guidance to districts under COVID learning plans on how to count students for district count days including provisions for synchronous and asynchronous instruction and teacher-student interaction. Additionally, there are provisions for calculating pupil counts for specific cases as well as two-way interactions, previously used by cyber schools to demonstrate attendance and engagement.
There are also provisions for instructional time in the updated legislation. For the 2020-21 school year, the minimum number of hours and days of instruction are waived for all districts; however, they are still required to provide instruction at school, at a different location, in person, online, digitally or through other remote means, synchronous or asynchronous, the necessary amount to deliver the educational course content that would have been delivered in 180 days and 1,098 hours.
Providers and Delivery Models
Digital Learning Options
Currently, digital learning options in Michigan include Michigan Virtual, cyber schools that draw students from across the entire state, and programs run by consortia and individual school districts that often make use of online courses from third-party providers. These options provide Michigan students with many paths for online learning. Some Michigan students take one or two courses from an online provider in order to supplement their brick and mortar school curriculum; this online learning option is known as a supplemental program. Some students are involved in a full-time program and take all of their courses online. Still, other students are part of the fastest-growing option—blended learning—which means the teacher integrates online resources that transform the traditional classroom.
While there may be a number of different options for K-12 online learning, one provider or model does not suit all students or districts. Determining the best option or combination of options requires understanding available online learning programs and the student’s academic needs.
Dimensions of Online Learning Models
Online learning encompasses different educational models and programs which vary in many of their key elements. Evergreen Education Group, a nationally-recognized leader in K-12 online and blended education research, published a set of 10 defining dimensions that characterize an online learning program’s structure and delivery, adapted from the work of Gregg Vanourek. (See Defining Dimensions of Online Programs figure below). The dimensions include:
- Comprehensiveness (supplemental vs. full time): One important distinction is whether the online learning program provides a complete set of courses for students enrolled full-time or provides a small number of supplemental courses to students enrolled in a physical school. Full-time online schools typically must address the same accountability measures as physical schools in their states.
- Reach: Online learning programs may operate within a school district, across multiple school districts, across a state, or, in a few cases, nationally or internationally. The geographic reach of online learning programs is a major contributing factor to the ways in which education policies can be outdated when applied to Internet-based delivery models. It may also provide opportunities for students to participate in online courses with educators and other students from different cultures.
- Type: This dimension is somewhat similar to Michigan’s different entity types that might make distinctions between charter schools and traditional schools.
- Location: Student learning may take place at a school building, from home, or perhaps from some other location.
- Delivery (synchronous vs. asynchronous): Most online learning programs are primarily asynchronous, meaning students and teachers work at different times, communicating via email and discussion boards.
- Operational Control: This aspect provides a way of differentiating between programs that may be subject to a school board, a university, a vendor, etc.
- Type of Instruction (from fully online to fully face-to-face): Many programs are now combining the best aspects of online and classroom instruction to create a variety of blended learning experiences.
- Grade Level: Elementary, middle school, and high school are category examples.
- Teacher-Student Interactions: Classified into high, medium, or low.
- Student-Student Interactions: Also classified as high, medium, or low.
No one type or combination of attributes is “best” or better than any other; each model simply presents its own opportunities and challenges for students and parents. Understanding the possible dimensions of online programs will help inform planning and decision making that leads to success for students.
These dimensions also provide a language for thinking and talking about blended models. While the focus of this report is not blended learning, a brief explanation may be helpful. According to the State School Aid Act, blended learning is a “hybrid instructional delivery model where pupils are provided content, instruction, and assessment, in part at a supervised educational facility away from home where the pupil and a teacher with a valid Michigan teaching certificate are in the same physical location and in part through internet-connected learning environments with some degree of pupil control over time, location, and pace of instruction.” The Christensen Institute, a national leader in blended learning research, developed a Blended-Learning Taxonomy as a categorization of existing blended learning models: rotation, flex, a la carte, and enriched-virtual. The structures for these models are created once decisions have been made in regard to each of the defining dimensions of a program. Similar to the online learning dimensions and models, the elements are not mutually exclusive, and many elements can, and do, exist simultaneously.
- Rotation model: A course or subject in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning.
- Flex model: Teachers serve mainly as facilitators, guiding students on an individually customized and fluid schedule within which content and instruction is delivered primarily online. The level of face-to-face support may vary.
- A La Carte model: Students elect to take one or more supplementary courses in a fully online format and complete coursework either on campus or off-site.
- Enriched-Virtual model: Students divide their time between receiving instruction at a traditional brick-and-mortar school building and through fully online coursework. This model is implemented school-wide.
Qualities of Effective Online Education Providers
Online learning can be more demanding than learning in a traditional classroom. The fact that the teachers and curricular experts associated with an online course often are not known to the school or parent raises some concerns. These concerns can be addressed prior to committing to a course or program of learning. Before schools or parents select courses for their students, the providers of online content should be examined according to a set of criteria recognized as indicators of quality and effectiveness. The Aurora Institute’s (formerly iNACOL’s) Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Right Online Program recommends looking at Accreditation and Transferability of Credit, NCAA Certification, Governance and Accountability, Curriculum, Instruction, Student Support, and Socialization. (See the guide for more detailed information on these categories). Some effectiveness indicators are described below.
Accreditation is a process by which educational providers are certified by accreditation agencies. It serves as a way for schools to demonstrate that they’ve met high standards and are willing to allow outside agencies to evaluate them. It is also a valuable process for institutions like schools and districts to determine what courses are worthy of credit. When considering accreditation, the reputability of the accrediting agency is of importance.
Governance and Accountability
When choosing an online education provider, it is important to understand the governing agency behind the school (state virtual school, local school district, chartering agency, etc.) and the accountability measures to which the school is held.
Highly Qualified Teachers
Some students say they get more attention and support online because the environment often requires one-to-one interaction that may not happen in the classroom. To address concerns about the quality of instruction, verify the teacher is “highly qualified.” To be considered “highly qualified,” teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree, full state certification or licensure, and be able to demonstrate that they know the content areas they teach.
Teacher/student ratios detail the number of students per teacher in each classroom or course. Note that working with students one-on-one in a classroom setting is much different from working with students virtually.
Course Review in Michigan’s Statewide Catalog of Online Courses
All K-12 online courses offered through Section 21f must be entered into Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. Each course entry details important course information including the results of a course review using the current National Standards for Quality Online Courses updated in 2019 by the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance and Quality Matters or the former iteration of the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses, Version 2. Both standards can be viewed at nsqol.org.
Course Completion and Pass Rates
Course completion and pass rates detail how many students successfully complete each course (based on the providers’ criteria of a successful completion). Pass rate data is publicly available for course titles in Michigan’s Online Course Catalog.
Help Desk Services
Course providers should utilize a help desk with extensive hours and be able to readily answer any questions or resolve any issues that students, parents, or school personnel may encounter when enrolling or taking an online course. The availability and quality of help offered should be considered when choosing a provider.
Online course design elements differ from traditional courses. Course design should offer more than one way to engage in and complete assignments, be more responsive to individual learner needs, provide opportunities for instructor-student and student-student communication, and include meaningful and timely feedback mechanisms. Elements and activities will vary from course to course and among providers.
Michigan Online Course Catalog Data
The table below shows the names of Michigan entities by entity type that were offering spring courses statewide in the Micourses website. Schools offering virtual courses only to their own students are not required to submit their course syllabi to the Micourses website.
|LEAs||PSAs||ISDs||State Virtual School|
|Ann Arbor Public Schools||ICademy Global||Genesee ISD||Michigan Virtual|
|Chippewa Valley Schools|
|Davison Community Schools|
Offering Entity Map
The map below shows locations in Michigan that were offering spring courses statewide on the Micourses website.
Data on Statewide Offerings
The column chart below shows how the spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website varied by course content provider.
Spring 2021 Content Provider Breakdown
The column chart below shows how the spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website varied by course instructor provider.
Spring 2021 Instructor Provider Breakdown
Data by Entity Type
The pie chart below shows the proportion of spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website by entity type (ISDs, LEAs, PSAs, Michigan Virtual). In order for a course syllabus to be included in the pie chart, it had to have at least one offering that was active within an active spring term and school year and contain the complete course review results. For this pie chart, a course syllabus is only counted one time regardless of the number of times it was offered.
Spring 2021 Course Title Breakdown by Entity Type
The column chart below shows how the spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website varied by course content provider and entity type.
Spring 2021 Content Provider Breakdown by Entity Type
The column chart below shows how the spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website varied by course instructor provider and entity type.
Spring 2021 Instructor Provider Breakdown by Entity Type
Data by Subject Area
The bar charts below show the proportion of spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website by subject area. In order for a course syllabus to be included in the charts, it had to have at least one offering that was active within an active spring term and school year, and contain the complete course review results. For these charts, a course syllabus is only counted one time regardless of the number of times it was offered.
Spring 2021 High School Statewide Course Title Breakdown by Subject Area
Spring 2021 Middle School Statewide Course Title Breakdown by Subject Area
Effectiveness of Online Learning
Research supports that online learning is, on average, as effective if not more so than traditional classroom instruction. However, researchers are also quick to point out that it is not the medium (face-to-face vs. online) that matters as much as other factors like time on task, additional learning time, quality of instruction, etc. Just like in face-to-face settings, not all online experiences are high quality or even average. Those advising students interested in online learning should spend time looking at the performance data available on a provider prior to making enrollment decisions.
Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report
Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute is required to submit an annual report examining the effectiveness of online learning delivery models in preparing pupils to be college-and career-ready. The report highlights enrollment totals, completion rates, and the overall impact on students.
About 8% of all K-12 students in the state—121,900 students—took virtual courses in 2019-20. These students generated over 672,000 virtual course enrollments and were present in two-thirds of Michigan public school districts. Schools with part-time virtual learners were responsible for the majority of virtual enrollments. Over 80% of virtual enrollments came from high school students, and the most highly enrolled in virtual courses were those required for high school graduation. Sixty-eight percent of the virtual enrollments were from students who were in poverty. The overall pass rate for virtual courses (56%) was up one percentage point from the past three years; however, there remains considerable variation in student success.
For more information about this report, including more key findings, please visit the Research Trends section of this resource.
Like other Michigan public schools, performance data for cyber schools is available through the MI School Data website. Performance data includes sections on student outcomes, culture of learning, value for money, salary data, and the Michigan Public School Accountability Scorecard rating. The table below provides key information for the cyber schools that were open in Michigan this Spring.
Full-Time Virtual LEA Schools
There are now 110 LEA schools across the state that offer full-time virtual learning options to district students. A full list of these schools can be found by searching CEPI’s website at CEPI Detailed Search by setting the search filters as below.
Filter Settings to Identify Full-Time Virtual LEA Schools
Parent Dashboard for School Transparency for each of these schools may be found on the MI School Data website.
State Virtual School
The Michigan Virtual School is run by Michigan Virtual, a nonprofit organization. Michigan Virtual is required to provide an annual legislative report detailing, among other things, registration and completion rates by course and the overall completion rate percentage. Its Annual Reports are available for free on the Michigan Virtual website.
Locating Performance Data in Michigan’s Online Course Catalog
The catalog includes performance data from the preceding school year(s). This includes information on the number of enrollments from the prior year and the number of those enrollments that earned 60% or more of the total course points. The site also displays a completion rate for that year. Courses with no data from a previous year suggest the course was not offered during that year.
To view the performance data for a course title, scroll down on the page and under the “Additional Course Information” heading, click on the “Student Performance Data” link to expand that subsection.
Additional Course Information Section for Courses
Sample Data Displayed on Student Performance Data Tab
The notes field may have additional information about the performance data. For additional resources on how to use Michigan’s Online Course Catalog, see the help resources page.
Just like face-to-face schools, online providers have many of the same expenses, albeit likely in different proportions. For instance, in their paper, The Costs of Online Learning, Battaglino, Halderman, and Laurans (2010) categorize these costs into five different categories: Labor (teachers and administrators), Content Acquisition, Technology and Infrastructure, School Operations, and Student Support. The chart below illustrates the primary sources of or influences on expenditures within these categories.
- Providing student support services
- Accommodating the student-to-teacher ratio in online courses
- Hiring contracted instructors vs. employees
- Providing teacher professional development
- Buying existing subject matter, courses, and/or management tools from third-party vendors
- Building brand new subject matter, courses, and/or management tools
- Licensing newly created subject matter, courses, and/or management tools for use by others
- Acquiring open-source (free) materials for incorporating into new and existing courses
- Determining standards for course content and establishing the level of rigor
Technology and Infrastructure
- Ensuring student access to computer devices
- Providing Internet access
- Overseeing learning management system delivery
- Providing a technical help desk
- Designing and implementing software tools
- Developing and coordinating student and parent communications
- Providing mentor support
- Offering professional development opportunities
- Administering contracts with third-party providers
- Overseeing the evaluation of content and instruction
- Delivering counseling services
- Operating accessible help desk services
- Offering online tutoring and resources
- Preparing and delivering student orientation
The three different delivery models—fully online cyber schools, supplemental courses, and blended programs—have different cost structures because the demands of their design and operation vary. The impact on costs from common features such as course content, technology, and instructors vary, as well.
The cost of an online course is tied to the direct expenses associated with developing it or paying for it through enrollment/tuition fees, including required course materials such as learning kits or textbooks. Other types of associated expenses include indirect costs such as facilities, computers, network connections, and local mentor support services.
State law (Section 21f of the State School Aid Act) requires that a student enrolled in an online course must be provided the same rights and access to technology as all other pupils enrolled in his or her educating district’s school. A review of online course offerings available to Michigan students today indicates that around 96% of online courses cost between $300 and $400 for a single semester course. Students in classrooms employing blended learning use the technology available in the school and may use devices at home as well. The cost of blended learning will vary depending on whether the teacher is creating course material or the school district purchases it from a provider.
Cyber schools usually provide devices or Internet access. Their technology infrastructure will vary from that of a traditional school. On the other hand, cyber schools do not have the same expenses as traditional brick and mortar schools. Traditional schools—including those that offer blended learning—have to provide classrooms, food service, special education services, and transportation, for example.
The expense associated with instructors varies: some supplemental courses do not require an instructor; others do not include an instructor so the district must supply one. Cyber schools and blended programs will have staff expenses that supplemental instruction does not. Another important factor in determining instructional costs relates to the student-to-teacher ratio.
Micourses.org Pricing Data
The pie chart below shows how the spring statewide course titles that were in the Micourses website varied by course fee. In order for a course syllabus to be included in the pie chart, it had to have at least one offering that was active within an active spring term and school year, and contain the complete course review results. For this pie chart, a course syllabus is only counted one time regardless of the number of times it was offered.
Spring 2021 Course Fees
Research in K-12 online and blended learning continues to grow and help us understand what works and what needs improvement in various areas of the field, including design, instruction, developing new learning environments, meeting social and emotional needs of students, training educators, and more. Multiple resources are available to help keep up with the trends.
- Research Clearinghouse for K-12 Blended & Online Learning – The Research Clearinghouse for K-12 Blended & Online Learning is available thanks to a collaboration between the Aurora Institute (formerly the International Association for K-12 Online Learning [iNACOL]) and Michigan Virtual. The Clearinghouse is a regularly-updated repository of references to research articles and other publications from the field of K-12 online and blended learning, many of which are freely accessible on the Internet.
- Keeping Pace – Keeping Pace reports, formally called Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Research, are released periodically by the Evergreen Education Group. These reports analyze digital learning use, best practices, instructional models, instructional impact, as well as relevant issues, such as policy, staffing, finance, content, tools, and school facilities.
- Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute – MVLRI is another source of information regarding research in K-12 online and blended learning. In 2012, the Governor and Michigan Legislature asked Michigan Virtual to establish a center for online learning research and innovation to work on a variety of projects. MVLRI is dedicated to furthering the field of K-12 online education through innovative, practically-focused, high-quality research. MVLRI hosts free webinars and podcasts where researchers highlight the latest research in the field. MVLRI also produces a Research Blog where the latest research is shared.
- Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning (Second Edition) – The open-access Handbook of Research in K-12 Online and Blended Learning (Second Edition) also helps lay the groundwork for future studies. This handbook provides both introductory chapters to the field of K-12 online and blended learning and also delves into specific spaces, including research on learning, K-12 learning in content domains, teaching, the role of the “other” (mentors, parents, support staff, etc), and technology innovations. This handbook is a key resource in the historical, current, and future perspectives on research in K-12 online and blended learning.
- Journal of Online Learning Research – The Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education launched the Journal of Online Learning Research, an open-access, “peer-reviewed, international journal devoted to the theoretical, empirical, and pragmatic understanding of technologies and their impact on primary and secondary pedagogy and policy in primary and secondary (K-12) online and blended environments.”
- MVLRI Research in Review – Since its creation in 2013 through 2020, the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) at Michigan Virtual published approximately 20 research blogs and 75 research reports. This total does not represent everything published by MVLRI but rather only those publications including original research on K-12 blended and online learning. This body of work is extensive, and while there is tremendous value in each individual publication, there is also value in how that work fits with other similar research and the narrative that emerges from the collective understanding. Toward this end, MVLRI sought to identify, review, and synthesize the original research published in the prior years. Out of the synthesis of resources, 10 main themes emerged. Each theme is presented individually in a report in the interest of brevity.
Research Topic Examples
Despite the growing literature, many areas still need to be explored more deeply. In 2013, the Aurora Institute (formerly known as iNACOL) published its Research Agenda to guide the research community’s efforts from 2013-2018, and specifically recognized 10 priorities specific to future research needs in K-12 online and blended learning.
- Identify the most effective learning environments for different groups of students, with different characteristics;
- Understand what designs are most effective when it comes to data systems and technology infrastructure;
- Understand what is necessary to prepare all education professionals to support learners;
- Understand what change management practices are most effective when implementing breakthrough models;
- Explore teaching strategies that are most promising;
- Discover promising practices in instructional design pertaining to course design;
- Determine what course and program design elements are necessary when it comes to providing access and equity;
- Identify type and frequency of assessments that are most promising for competency-based learning;
- Identify human capital needs; and
- Explore the effect of policy (national, state, and local) on quality assurance.
Though the opportunities presented by online and blended learning are readily apparent, more research must be done to ensure these opportunities translate to high-quality educational experiences for students.
MVLRI prepares an annual report that highlights enrollment totals, completion rates, and the overall impact of virtual courses on Michigan K-12 pupils. Report findings are based on data reported to the state by schools. Self-reported data is not optimal but represents the best data that is collected to date. Some key findings from the report include:
- 613 school districts reported at least one virtual enrollment. This represented 68% of Michigan school districts.
- 57% of the 1,225 schools with virtual enrollments had 100 or more virtual enrollments.
- 75% of schools with virtual enrollments had a general education school emphasis; 24% had an alternative education emphasis.
- 87% of schools with virtual learning were LEA schools.
- LEA schools accounted for 61% of the virtual enrollments; PSA schools generated 37% of the virtual enrollments.
- 54% of virtual enrollments came from schools with part-time virtual learning options.
- LEA schools had the most full-time virtual schools (58).
- 98% of virtual enrollments came from schools with 100 or more virtual enrollments.
- About 81% of virtual enrollments came from students in grades 9-12.
- 34% of virtual enrollments came from suburban schools, the most of any locale.
- Schools with a general education emphasis had a 68% virtual pass rate, outperforming those with an alternative education emphasis, which had a pass rate of 43%.
- 28% of schools had a school-wide virtual pass rate of 90% to 100%.
- 672,682 virtual enrollments were taken by Michigan K-12 students; the overall pass rate for virtual enrollments was 56%.
- Virtual enrollments were spread across 964 different course titles.
- 67% of virtual enrollments occurred in the core subject areas of English Language and Literature, Mathematics, Life and Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences and History.
- The course titles with the highest enrollments for each core subject were:
- English Language and Literature: English 9, English 10, English 11, and English 12
- Mathematics: Geometry, Algebra II, Algebra I, and Consumer Math
- Life and Physical Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physical Science
- Social Sciences and History: U.S. History—Comprehensive, Economics, World History—Overview, and World History and Geography
- The virtual pass rates for each core subject were:
- English Language and Literature: 54%
- Mathematics: 52%
- Life and Physical Sciences: 54%
- Social Sciences and History: 58%
- 31 different Advanced Placement (AP) courses were taken virtually.
- The percentage of enrollments was fairly consistent by subject area across rural, town, suburban, and city schools.
- Online courses (defined as including a teacher in the virtual environment) produced 83% of the virtual enrollments. Digital learning (without a teacher in the virtual environment) and blended learning (some virtual, some face-to face instruction) each accounted for 8% of the virtual enrollments.
- 121,900 K-12 students took at least one virtual course which represented 8% of Michigan public school students.
- 86% of virtual learners were in high school; 32% were seniors and 21% were juniors.
- 47% of virtual learners passed all their virtual courses. Twenty-one percent of virtual learners did not pass any of their virtual courses.
- Of the 25,780 students who did not pass any of their virtual courses, 41% took only one or two courses. Over 11,900 students took and did not pass five or more virtual courses with 3,228 students taking and not passing 11 or more virtual courses.
- Female students had a higher pass rate (58%) than did males (54%).
- Students in poverty made up the majority of virtual learners (59%) and virtual enrollments (68%). Students in poverty also had a lower pass rate (50% v. 68%).
- Part-time virtual learners had higher pass rates (59%) compared to full-time virtual learners (52%). This also included students in poverty (51% v. 49%).
- Students using special education services made up 12% of the virtual learners.
- Pass rates were higher for students taking fewer virtual courses. Students taking one or two virtual courses had a 76% pass rate compared to 52% for those taking five or more.
- White students represented 68% of virtual students; African-Americans were 17%.
The report findings aid educational leaders and researchers in understanding and designing subsequent studies to find out under what conditions virtual learning can and is working and leverage that understanding to cultivate virtual programs that yield the best results.
Conclusion and Resources
Online learning provides new opportunities for individualization and personalization of learning, flexible scheduling and location, access to highly qualified and specialized instructors, credit recovery, advanced placement, and on-demand learning. Whatever the reason for pursuing an online experience—whether it’s one course or a fully online program—students benefit academically from access to course content when they want it as well as individualized pacing and flexible scheduling matched to their current knowledge and skill. On-demand access to course content also means that parents can monitor their students’ learning and provide focused motivation and support for struggling students. Schools also benefit from increased availability of and access to online learning because they can offer more options to meet the needs of their students without hiring additional staff, often a difficult task in subject areas with a shortage of highly qualified teachers.
The transition of learning environments from traditional classroom models to any time, any place, any pace learning systems will require the transformation of both individual and organizational behavior. Michigan Virtual looks forward to supporting educational partners in accommodating these changes and working with the state’s policy leaders and elected officials to further develop Michigan’s online and blended learning industry and to help position the state to assume a national leadership role in the knowledge economy.
Online and Blended Learning Resources
Resources for Schools
- National Standards for Quality Online Learning – Building upon the work started by iNACOL (now the Aurora Institute), the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA) and Quality Matters (QM) assembled teams of experts to update and maintain national standards for quality online teaching, quality online programs, and quality online courses.
- Planning for Quality: A Guide for Starting and Growing a Digital Learning Program – Published by the Digital Learning Collaborative, this report looks at four focus areas (content, teaching, technology, and operations) from the perspective of starting and growing a new program.
- How to Start an Online Program: A Practical Guide to Key Issues and Policies – This website, created by iNACOL, was developed as a public resource to meet a growing need for information on starting online education programs. The website is intended for individuals interested in investigating the possibility of creating an online learning program and contains information for policymakers such as state legislators, staff members at the state department of education, and district administrators who wish to establish a positive policy environment for online learning.
- Planning for Quality: A Guide for Continuous Improvement of Digital Learning Programs – Published by the Digital Learning Collaborative, this report outlines important questions existing programs should be asking as they look to continuously improve their programs. The questions are organized under nine themes: Success Criteria, Role of the Educator, Role of the Student, Role of the School Leader, Equity, Accessibility, Stakeholder Engagement, Professional Learning, and Systems & Structures.
- Planning Guide for Online and Blended Learning – Michigan Virtual developed this planning document as a practical resource to assist school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, and others in meeting student needs. The document presents an overview of online and blended learning, offers guiding questions to support local planning efforts, identifies standards for teaching in online and blended environments, and provides student and district planning rubrics.
- Guides to Online Learning– Created by researchers at the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute®, our family of free guides will introduce you to the world of online learning. Inside each guide, you’ll find key definitions, research findings, and practical strategies that paint a picture of what kind of preparations and support systems are necessary to ensure students succeed in their online courses.
- Mentor Resources – Michigan Virtual has developed a variety of free and low-cost resources & professional development opportunities designed to build community among and empower Michigan mentors to support online learners with research-based best practices. Many of our resources are designed for all mentors (regardless of online learning provider), but we also have a selection of resources designed specifically for the mentors of Michigan Virtual students.
- Strategies for Online Success – (SOS) is an orientation to learning online geared towards preparing students for the transition from taking courses in-person to taking them online. It consists of three modules:
- Online Learning Basics
- Skills for Online Learning
- Online Learning Technology
Resources for Parents
- Parent Guide to Online Learning – This practical guide was written for Michigan parents, guardians, counselors, and others who want to help students decide whether online learning is a good option for them. It includes discussion about online learning opportunities, characteristics of a successful online learner, and how to prepare for learning online. The Guide examines how online learning supports next-generation learning models, poses practical planning questions, provides a preparation checklist, offers advice for parents, and includes an online learner readiness rubric.
- Michigan’s Online Course Catalog – Michigan’s Online Course Catalog contains syllabi for online courses being offered by Michigan school districts as well as Michigan Virtual. All courses contained in the catalog include quality review ratings using nationally-recognized standards. Individuals browsing a district or the statewide catalog in the website have the ability to view course fees and additional costs when viewing course information, as well as the ability to search the entire catalog by course price.
- Moving Michigan Farther, Faster – This report envisions the effects of technology in shaping K-12 education in Michigan. The report presents recommendations specific to students, teachers, schools, technology, data, and quality and accountability regarding personalized learning. The overall recommendation of the report, based on feedback from stakeholders and state and national educational leaders, is for parents and educators to focus on personalized learning for all students.
Below are some commonly used words or phrases that may be helpful when engaging in discussions about online learning.
Blended Learning: The Christensen Institute defines blended learning as a formal education program in which a student learns 1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; 2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and 3) the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
Mentor: An onsite mentor monitors student progress and supports the students as they work through an online course, serving as the liaison between the student, online instructor, parents, and administration. Some mentors are paraprofessionals, others fill other roles in the school such as counselor or media center director. A mentor does not always have to be a teacher to support online learners successfully; however, in many cases, the mentor must have a Michigan teaching certificate and be employed by the school district.
Online Instructor and Online Facilitator: The state recognizes two roles for teachers in online courses: instructor and facilitator. Districts must determine what the course requires and what it is they want the teacher to do and identify them by one of the two distinctions. See MDE’s Online or Computer-based Instruction for explicit definitions and delineation of the differences between the two. It is also important to note that some online courses do not include an embedded instructor — instead schools assign a local teacher as the teacher of record. Online courses without an embedded instructor appear to work relatively better for students that have demonstrated independent learning skills or have significant interest in the content area of a particular course.
Learning Management System (LMS): The password-protected LMS houses the online course. Through the LMS, students access courses and related documents and activities; assignments are exchanged between student, online instructor, and often the mentor; and communication among students and instructor takes place.
Provider or Vendor: The provider is the source of the online course. The provider may be a school, a school district, a community college, Michigan Virtual, or another third-party entity, including colleges, universities and private companies.
Credit Recovery: Some students choose or are assigned to online courses when they need to repeat a class they have failed that is required for their program or graduation.
Credit Forward: Some students take online courses to advance in their studies because their school doesn’t offer the prerequisites, for example.
Annotated Resources for Administrators
Michigan Virtual™and the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute®(MVLRI®) have developed several guides and practical resources to support school administrators, counselors, teachers, parents, and students in response to stakeholder requests gathered through surveys, focus groups, customer feedback, and conversations. As a collective, these publications are intended to inform building administrators about best practices, reduce the number of students taking online courses who fail, and, ultimately, increase the number of students who succeed.
Standards resources from iNACOL and ISTE are included at the end of this document.
- Parent Guide to Online Learning – This guide was prepared for parents and guardians to help students decide whether online courses are a good option for them. It includes the characteristics of a successful online learner, how to prepare for learning online, and advice for parents.
- Student Guide to Online Learning – Research shows that students who are well prepared and well supported for virtual learning do better in their classes. Most of the guide’s content comes from teachers, mentors, and students involved in online teaching and learning.
- Teacher Guide to Online Learning -The Teacher Guide to Online Learning is intended to support those new to teaching online.
- Mentor Fundamentals: A Guide for Mentoring Online Learners – Mentors are critical partners in ensuring student success with virtual learning. This guide is based on the insight of experienced Michigan mentors and full of practical, research- and experience-based best practices for school employees or parents who provide onsite support for online learners.
- School Board Guide to Online Learning – Local boards of education play a key role in interpreting state guidelines and developing local policies that reflect their community standards. With the information in this guide, school board members can develop a better understanding of online learning and help craft online learning programs in their districts that achieve desired student learning outcomes more effectively.
- Access for All: Serving Students with Disabilities in Online and Blended Learning Environments – This resource provides strategies and guidelines for educators working with students with disabilities in online and blended courses. It is divided into sections about the needs of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired; those with learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral disabilities, autism, or intellectual disabilities; and those who have other health impairments. The report also provides an overview of accessibility versus accommodation, special education terminology, disability law, as well as 504 plans and individualized education plans.
- Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities in K-12 Online Learning: An Analysis of the iNACOL Program, Course, and Teacher Standards – This is the overview of another series of reports intended to help identify potential barriers that students with disabilities may face when learning online. The reports are a four-part analysis of the iNACOL standards for quality online teachers, courses, and programs to identify improvements for the design of online courses and online programs as well as the preparation of online teachers.
- Helping Online Students Be Successful: Mentor Responsibilities – In the first of three reports in this series surveys and interviews with 12 online learner mentors from highly successful programs and 12 online teachers share the perspective that mentors had the potential to be the deciding factor in whether students passed or failed their courses and share why and how they perceive that to be. Mentors and teachers disclose more detail about the mentor role in student success.
- Helping Online Students Be Successful: Parental Engagement – In the second report in the series, research shows that parental engagement is correlated with student performance in traditional face-to-face courses; thus parental engagement also has the potential to increase student performance in online courses. Of the 12 highly successful mentors sampled in this research, 11 saw students in a required daily lab, a support structure that potentially reduces the demands on parents/guardians and provides a more equitable approach to supporting online students who may lack support at home.
- Helping Online Students Be Successful: Student Perceptions of Online Teacher and On-site Mentor Instructional Support – In the third report in the series, the voice of the students is at the center of the research. Data gathered from 51 students from three schools in eight focus groups reveals students’ perceptions of the instructional support they receive from their teachers and mentors. Students reveal their appreciation and their frustrations with their online experience and the adults whose responsibility it is to support them.
- Helping Online Students Be Successful: Student Perceptions of Online Teacher and On-site Mentor Facilitating Support – In the fourth report in the series, the voice of the students is at the center of the research. Data gathered from 51 students from three schools in eight focus groups reveals students’ perceptions of the facilitating support they receive from their teachers and mentors. Students reveal their appreciation and their frustrations with their online experience and the adults whose responsibility it is to support them.
- Supporting Online Learners: Michigan Mentor Program Case Studies – The case studies of 14 mentors in 10 Michigan schools illustrate the range of mentoring programs across the state and offer points of comparison for mentors, instructors, administrators, parents, and students about alternative support structures and strategies for online learners.The report reveals the variety in staffing configuration, how mentor time is allocated, mentor preparation, mentor experience, program size, and student demographics.
- SOS – Strategies for Online Success – Strategies for Online Success (SOS) is an orientation to learning online geared towards preparing students for the transition from taking courses in-person to taking them online. It consists of three modules: Online Learning Basics, Skills for Online Learning, and Online Learning Technology. The modules include interactive components, such as videos, self-checks, and resources for students to download.
- Online Learner Readiness Rubric – Counselors and teachers often use the Michigan Virtual Online Learner Readiness Rubric to help students understand what is required of a successful online learner. If adults supporting the student can identify areas in the rubric where the students are challenged, they can determine what needs to be addressed to best support students in those areas.
- Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report 2016-17 – The State School Aid Act requires Michigan Virtual to submit to the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on state school aid, the state budget director, the House and Senate fiscal agencies, and the MDE a report highlighting virtual enrollment totals, completion rates, and the overall impact of virtual learning on Michigan K-12 pupils.
- Implementation Guidelines: Section 21f of the State School Aid Act – This publication explains the legislation and implementation related to the policies found in Section 21f of the State School Aid Act and identifies basic implementation decisions schools need to consider.
- 21f Resources – Michigan Virtual, with input from the MDE, MASA, and several other Michigan K-12 associations, created Section 21f resources. Resources include links to relevant sections of the Pupil Accounting Manual; draft letters for parents, school personnel, and school board members; sample school board policy; and even sample surveys that can be used to gauge local interest in online learning.
- Planning Guide for Online and Blended Learning – This practical guide presents key focus areas for district and building leaders who are integrating online and blended learning in their educational settings. All sections are linked to the Michigan School Improvement Framework and supporting planning documents are offered in the appendices.
- The Changing Roles of Educators Series: The Blended Learning Coach – This report is the first in a series of studies focused on the changing roles of educators as a result of the shift in instructional models in K-12 learning environments.
- The Changing Roles of Educators Series: The Blended Teacher – The aim of this study was to understand better the ways in which teachers practicing blended learning think about their work with students and colleagues, the mindsets they adopt when implementing change within their settings, and the benefits they anticipate by applying blended practices in their classrooms.
- District-Level Blended Learning Implementation: Readiness Points and Challenges – The goal of this study was to understand multiple stakeholders’ readiness points and challenges when they began to implement blended learning and to share the findings in a way that could help move the field forward.
- Professional Learning for Blended Education: Michigan Teacher Case Studies – This set of case studies shares the experiences of blended learning teachers in Michigan and is the result of interviews conducted to understand their experiences and professional learning choices.
- K-12 Blended Teaching Readiness: Phase 1-Instrument Development – Organizations and teachers need an easy way to assess teacher readiness and diagnose what knowledge and skills they should focus on first in order to have the greatest impact with their limited professional development time and resources. This study reports on Phase 1 of a project intended to create a scientifically validated, openly-available blended teaching readiness instrument to be used freely by districts, schools, and individual teachers to assess core knowledge and skills needed for successful blended teaching.
- Blended Teaching Readiness: Phase 2 – Instrument Development – This follow-up report details successful efforts to validate a blended teacher readiness instrument to assess readiness in essential pedagogical competencies for blended teaching.
- Fuse RI: An Open Access Model of K-12 Blended Learning Implementation – Developed by the Highlander Institute in Providence, RI, Fuse RI is a national model for delivering tailored support to local school districts as they deepen their knowledge and implementation of blended learning at their own pace.
- Statewide Blended Learning Implementation: Voices from Fuse RI Stakeholders – This report is the second in a series focused on research being conducted with the Highlander Institute on their Fuse RI project, a statewide blended learning implementation initiative in Rhode Island.
The following are resources that describe standards for online teaching and learning published by organizations other than Michigan Virtual.
National Standards for Online Learning
- National Standards for Quality Online Teaching
- National Standards for Quality Online Courses
- National Standards for Quality Online Programs
- ISTE Standards for Students
- ISTE Standards for Educators
- ISTE Standards for Administrators
- iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching
- iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses
- iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Programs
Note: The iNACOL publications contain clear and detailed rubrics to act as guidelines, but were recently redesigned as part of the National Standards for Quality Online Learning effort.
Mentor Position Description
The Online Learning Mentor assists students with online enrollment and provides academic support while ensuring the mentoring site is functional and conducive to a positive learning environment. The Mentor must have excellent listening and conversational skills. The Mentor monitors students assigned to him or her, answers general questions, and ensures students are engaged in activities that promote their academic progress. The position requires an understanding of the high school’s history, vision, values, policies, and procedures.
- Ensure the mentoring space is open and accessible during class hours
- Ensure that all computers are functioning properly and students have access to the academic resources needed to achieve their educational goals
- Maintain communication with parents, counselors, and administration as necessary
- Monitor the mentoring space to ensure students are using the Internet for educational purposes and are not accessing inappropriate websites
- Establish rapport with students and encourage students to succeed academically
- Ensure students complete courses in a timely manner based on their ability
- Complete required paperwork as necessary
- Excellent interpersonal communication and conflict management skills
- Ability to inspire student
- Ability to work independently
- Ability to organize work and handle multiple tasks simultaneously
- Ability to keep and maintain accurate and detailed reports and records
- Ability to understand Administration’s expectations and follow directions
- Ability to work in a culturally diverse environment
- Proficient in trouble shooting lower level technology problems
- Qualify for Michigan substitute teaching permit
- Extensive service as a substitute teacher preferred
- Successful experience in a classroom setting
- High school or secondary experience preferred
- Experience with using technology in a classroom setting
Third Party Provider Evaluation Rubric
For administrators who may be unfamiliar with the process for reviewing and selecting courses from a third party provider, this rubric is intended to highlight pertinent information and considerations that will lead to thoughtful, strategic choices with the students and their online learning success foremost in the decision.
The catalog of products offered by the vendor includes courses that are capable of generating academic credit in alignment with Michigan’s grade level and high school content expectations and graduation requirements.
Alignment to Standards
Where State of Michigan or nationally recognized academic content standards or benchmarks exist for the subject area of the course, those standards are reflected in the content and objectives of the course.
Alignment documentation demonstrating, at the unit and/or lesson level, how and where individual standards are met in the course has been provided with the course descriptions and syllabi.
Third-Party Course Review
Course reviews have been conducted by Quality Matters or another third party in alignment to either Quality Matters Secondary Rubric standards or iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses.
Documented Cycles of Course Updates and Revisions
- Vendor can provide the release date for the current revision of each course.
- Accompanying documentation exists summarizing the nature of the revisions.
- The current version has a release date indicating that the course was designed or revised within the last three years.
Personalization / Customization
School/District personnel facilitating enrollments can customize courses by selecting or opting out of portions of the course (e.g., by unit or by standard), and students can demonstrate mastery and completion of lessons, units, or standards through prescriptive pre-testing.
Course content is highly engaging, offering multiple forms of media-based instruction, interesting topics, and/or age-appropriate humor or references to pop culture, current events or enduring themes, and various modalities of student activities.
Unit / Lesson Structure
Courses have a highly coherent and easy to follow organizational structure, instruction accessible through written, audio, and video content, worked examples, interactive opportunities to practice, automated feedback and sources of remediation, identifiable formative and summative assessments, and an easy means of progress monitoring by both students and instructors alike.
The vendor’s coursework addresses in full all relevant content standards within each course.
The teacher of record for virtual learning options, as defined in Michigan’s Pupil Accounting Manual, is responsible for providing instruction, determining instructional methods for each pupil, diagnosing learning needs, assessing pupil learning, prescribing intervention strategies and modifying lessons, reporting outcomes, and evaluating the effects of instruction and support strategies.
Student-Driven Work Flow
Students can remain largely independent with regard to their work flow and ability to progress through the course at their own pace and readiness. This is accomplished through
- Diagnostic or prescriptive testing at the unit or lesson level,
- Corresponding assignment of required lessons based on pre-testing,
- Consistent use of quality instructional media,
- Accompanying sources of auto-scored practice,
- Descriptive feedback on performance after each formative assessment or scored practice activity,
- Additional iterations of remedial instruction or practice as needed within each lesson,
- Features permitting self-monitoring and recording completion of unscored learning activities,
- Embedded means of initiating correspondence with instructor as needed for one-on-one support, and
- Adaptive release to the next lesson or unit based upon mastery scores on summative, post-testing.
The course design, materials, and activities demonstrate a commitment to appropriate accessibility for all students. The course conforms to the U.S. Sections 504 & 508 provisions for electronic and information technology as well as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Alt tags for images, transcripts (audio and video), and links are consistent and include the URL
- Keyboard accessible (does not rely on mouse for navigation)
- Recommended fonts and sizes and appropriate contrast colors
- Closed Captioning for all video content
- Descriptions for audio and video and tables contain proper headings and labels
Integration / Interoperability with School or District Learning Technology Applications
Integration refers to the compatibility of two software applications to share data. For example, an integration between an LMS and a student information system (SIS) might mean that an LMS is capable of enrolling or rostering students within course sections by scheduled or manual uploads of student data files exported from an SIS. Single Sign-On (SSO) is another common form of integration between a secure computer network and authorized applications that run on a network. Interoperability refers to a more advanced form of integration in which data is transferred in real-time between two applications. For example, Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) often requires that an online interactive learning tool receives course and student information from and passes back student activity data and student scores to an LMS.
- Enrollment / rostering in the course can be accomplished via the integration of the school/district information system and Learning Management System (LMS).
- Course content can be uploaded to the school/district LMS (note version), or course content is integrated with the LMS through Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) links; student scores populate the LMS grade center.
- Vendor is willing to test the success of their course content integration with LMS by either spinning up a course’s content to a course shell within the LMS or populating such a course shell with LTI links and testing integration with the LMS grade center.
- Integrations can involve multiple entities including state agencies, intermediate providers, and schools. For a more detailed read on this aspect, see pages 12 and 13 of Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning 2016.
Sample Communications to Stakeholders
Sample Letter to Parents and Students Outlining District Policies and Procedures
Dear Parent and Student,
We are excited about sharing information with you about new opportunities in online learning for students at [school/district].
In 2013, the Michigan Legislature expanded student access to digital learning options through Section 21f of the State School Aid Act. Now, students enrolled in a public local district or public school academy in grades 6‐12 are eligible to enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term – or more if parents, students, and school leadership agree that more than two are in the best interest of the child.
Online learning is an instructional approach that allows us to expand and customize learning opportunities for students. However, it is substantially different from face‐to‐face instruction and usually works best when thoughtful planning supports individual enrollment decisions.
To help you prepare for making the decision about whether your student has the characteristics to be successful learning online, we recommend you review the Parent Guide to Online Learning at https://mvlri.org/resources/guides/parent-guide/. The guide examines online learning, provides a preparation checklist, offers advice for parents, and will help you prepare for a conversation with your son or daughter to determine if an online learning option is best for him or her.
We also recommend you and your student review together the Student Guide to Online Learning, found at http://mvlri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/studentguide_508.pdf. The guide includes answers to typical questions and concerns that students often have when deciding if taking an online class would work for them, a readiness rubric designed to identify areas where students may need additional support to be successful in an online class, and comments from students who have been successful in online coursework.
If online learning seems like a good fit for your student, he or she may select online courses from our local district catalog [website address] or from Micourses, the statewide catalog of online course titles available at https://micourses.org/. We are excited about sharing this opportunity with students, but equally cautious in making informed decisions so students will have the best chance of success with online learning options.
Please direct your questions related to online courses to Mr./Ms. ______________. He/she will be able to explain the process being used by [school/district] to implement the new polices that expand online learning options for students.
[Name], [Title] [School Name]
Sample Letter to School Personnel Outlining District Policies and Procedures
Dear School Personnel,
We are excited to share that we are developing guidelines and procedures to accommodate student/parent requests to take online courses. While we are pleased about sharing this opportunity with students, we are equally cautious in making informed decisions so students will have the best chance of success with their online learning choices. With the help of school counselors and building administrators, students will be able to enroll in courses that both fit their interests and meet graduation requirements. Students may select online courses from our local district catalog [website address], or from the statewide catalog of online course titles available at https://micourses.org/.
Online learning has become more common in part because, in 2013, the Michigan Legislature expanded student access to digital learning options through Section 21f of the State School Aid Act. Now, students enrolled in a public local district or public school academy in grades 6‐12 are eligible to enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term – or more if parents, students, and school leadership agree that more than two are in the best interest of the child. For more information about 21f, you can review Implementation Guidelines: Section 21f of the State School Aid Act, available in the 21f Tool Resources at https://mvlri.org/resources/21f/.
To help you prepare for advising students who may be considering online options and determining if they have the characteristics to be successful learning online, we recommend you look at these guides, available on the Guides page (https://mvlri.org/resources/guides/) of Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute’s website:
- Parent Guide to Online Learning,
- Mentor Fundamentals: A Guide to Mentoring Online Learners, and
- Student Guide to Online Learning.
The Teacher Guide to Online Learning may also be of interest to many of you and is available in the same location.
Please direct your questions related to online courses to ______________. He/she will be able to explain the process being used by [school/district] to implement the new polices that expand online learning options for students.
Schools and districts have many decisions to make about the online options they will provide their students. As with any initiative, establishing and maintaining a successful online program requires planning, ongoing oversight, and participation from internal and external stakeholders. The questions below are meant to help administrators gather information that leads to a comprehensive strategy, shape a program that meets the needs of their community and maintain a thoughtful, strategic approach to offering online options to their students.
District Strategy Framework
Questions to Ask to Establish an Online Program:
- What educational problem are we trying to solve by offering an online opportunity to our students?
- What goals do we want to achieve in our online program?
- What steps will we take to achieve our goals?
- How will we know when we achieve our goals?
- What is our timeline, including time to assess our progress as well as reach our goals?
- How and when will we redirect our efforts if we notice we are not moving forward with our goals?
- Will we include parents and other community stakeholders in our planning?
- How do our stakeholders feel about our overarching goals?
- What can we do to achieve authentic buy-in from our stakeholders?
- What personnel will we identify to begin this online program?
- What specific training and support do our faculty and staff need to begin the online program?
- Will we be able to dedicate space for our online learners and mentor(s)?
- When will we accomplish an initiatives inventory of the building/district so we can allocate resources that have the most impact and allow for a sustainable online program?
- Will we use locally developed courses or choose from Michigan’s Online Course Catalog or both?
- What is our course adoption timeline?
- Will learner-content, learner-teacher, and learner-learner interactivity be low or high?
- Will students have a lot of facetime or no facetime with teachers?
- Will learners be independent and self-paced or collaborative and class-paced or somewhere in between?
- Will curriculum and instruction be flexible or structured?
Questions to Ask to Maintain a Successful Online Program:
- How are we assessing success toward meeting our goals?
- Are we moving forward in achieving our identified goals? How do we know?
- Where are we on the trajectory toward meeting our goals according to our established timeline?
- Have we had to redirect our efforts in achieving our goals? Why did this happen? What made our redirect successful/unsuccessful?
- How are we ensuring this is part of our annual school improvement efforts and reporting so we have appropriate monetary and professional development supports in place to have a successful program for students?
- What are our areas of needed improvement? Are we following our identified redirect plan with fidelity? If no, why not?
- What specific training and support do our faculty and staff need to maintain the online program?
- How are we seeking feedback from stakeholders?
- Are we celebrating student successes as well as lessons learned by sharing student stories with parents/guardians and stakeholders?
- How are we managing efforts toward continuous improvement?
- How are we informing our stakeholders of the progress we are making toward meeting our goals? Is this enough or do we need to do more to relay information and seek feedback? Are they satisfied with the program? What would they change?
- Are we keeping up with the best practices for professional development and support for our faculty and staff? How do we know?
Advice from Mentors to Administrators
Approximately 93% of my students who have taken an online class said they enjoyed their experience and would take an online class again, and approximately 95% of my students felt extremely supported by their online instructor. These learning opportunities are enriching student learning and growth. – Mentor
Occasionally the mentors identified superintendents as the driving force behind online programs and the development of mentor capacity. More often it was their building principals. The mentors spoke appreciatively of the willingness of their administrators to explore online opportunities and engage in developing solutions to ongoing changes, including making their support known throughout the school and sometimes defending online options.
The broad question, “What advice would you offer to administrators about online learning?” yielded four general suggestions:
- Be involved.
- Support the mentors.
- Understand the opportunity.
- Provide structure.
I’m very lucky. My principal couldn’t be more supportive. If students are behind, and I can’t think of any other way to help, I send them to the academic counselor who sits together with the student to figure it out. If that doesn’t work, the principal talks with the student. – Mentor
- Understand 21f.
- Know the mentoring program.
- Keep in touch with what the students are doing.
- Participate in orientation for students and parents.
- Build broad support among staff.
- Address internal obstacles.
- Address the fears, for example staffing and technology gaps.
- Find out what works and what doesn’t.
- Bring all the student support systems together: counseling, registrar, special services, teachers, mentors.
- Support the mentors and the students.
- Visit the online learning space weekly to see firsthand what the mentor and students do and to show the students you’re interested.
- Ask to see who’s doing well and who needs a wake-up call.
Mentors should be full time. You have to be available on the weekends and evenings. You don’t want students to feel like there isn’t someone to help them. – Mentor
Support the Mentors
- Ask for programmatic input from the mentor(s).
- Provide learning resources.
- Support professional development.
- Understand how time consuming it is to mentor successfully.
Johnny has a deaf uncle but can’t take sign language because we don’t offer it. All you have to see is that it’s opening the opportunity to extend to kids learning something they otherwise wouldn’t have access to at school. So many higher education programs are going to online or hybrid instruction. We need to expose students to curriculum and experiences they don’t have access to before they are paying thousands of dollars at college. – Mentor and Full-time Teacher
Understand the Opportunity
- Know why online learning appeals to some students.
- Know why a student belongs in an online course.
- Acknowledge that students can learn online.
- Acknowledge that not all students are online learners.
- Establish that online courses are as valid as any other class taken during the day.
- Know the limitations and advantages of courses.
- See that online learning experiences are part of college and career readiness.
- Understand the impact of giving students control over their learning environment and independence.
- Be aware that online courses are rigorous and are just as difficult if not more challenging than traditional classes.
Deadlines and structure are not built into some courses. In order to ensure success, supports for timely completion must be provided by another means: the mentor. – Mentor
Provide a Structure
- Establish expectations and responsibilities for mentors.
- Share preliminary guidelines and structure for the program.
- Identify dedicated space for online learners and mentor.
- Make mentoring a full-time assignment when the number of online students warrant.
- Know what you want from the program.
- Have a plan for the future, but be prepared to develop and adapt as you go.
- Establish ground rules for the program and include them in a student and parent contract.
- Assure the IT team are prepared to provide the kind of support mentors and online students require.