Innovative Approaches to Online CTE: Lessons from Missouri, Idaho, and Arkansas

Published on October 26, 2023
Written By: 

Kristen DeBruler, PhD.Michigan Virtual

This report offers a detailed analysis of online Career and Technical Education programs in Idaho, Missouri, and Arkansas, shedding light on their goals, curriculum, instruction, and alignment with industry standards. It also highlights essential strategies to enhance success in online CTE programs, emphasizing the critical role of these programs in providing flexible learning opportunities and preparing students for the evolving job market, thus contributing to workforce development and education.

Suggested Citation

DeBruler, K. (2023). Innovative Approaches to Online CTE: Lessons from Missouri, Idaho, and Arkansas. Michigan Virtual.

The decline in teacher preparation program enrollments poses significant challenges, ultimately affecting K-12 classrooms and limiting the availability of skilled educators, particularly in Career and Technical Education (CTE). In response to this crisis, Michigan has made substantial investments in CTE, dedicating significant funds to reimburse schools for the extra costs associated with these programs. Additionally, innovative online CTE initiatives have been implemented in states like Idaho, Missouri, and Arkansas, showcasing unique approaches and successful strategies to address the shortage and enhance access to CTE courses. This report provides an in-depth analysis of online CTE programs at the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance (IDLA), Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas, discussing their program goals, development, assessment methods, curriculum design, instructional approaches, and alignment with industry standards. Furthermore, it highlights key considerations and strategies to enhance success in online CTE programs, including overcoming skepticism, addressing resource constraints, intentional course selection and design, fostering effective communication and collaboration, aligning program goals with state objectives, and involving industry stakeholders for real-world relevance. Ultimately, online CTE programs emerge as instrumental tools in providing flexible and accessible learning opportunities, preparing students for successful futures in the dynamic job market, and advancing the agenda of workforce development and education.


Michigan, like many other states, is facing a significant teacher shortage crisis. Enrollment in Michigan’s teacher preparation programs decreased by 70% in eight years, with 16,000 fewer students majoring in K-12 education degree programs in 2016-17 than in 2008-09. Fewer enrollments equate to fewer certified and qualified teachers for Michigan K-12 classrooms. 

The teacher shortage is particularly acute in specialized areas such as career and technical education (CTE), where skilled professionals are needed to provide hands-on training to students. 

Teacher shortages in public schools, particularly in CTE, have become a growing concern in Michigan and nationwide. Many CTE programs struggle to find qualified educators due to a combination of factors. CTE instructors are often required to possess industry experience and specialized skills in technical fields, which draws potential educators away from the classroom. Additionally, low salaries relative to industry positions and general education roles also contribute to the difficulty in attracting and retaining CTE teachers. As a result, schools may face challenges in offering diverse and high-quality CTE programs, impacting students’ access to hands-on learning and vocational training.

Michigan has made significant investments in CTE, allocating over $48 million in the 2021-22 budget to reimburse schools for extra costs associated with CTE programs. CTE programs in schools are typically funded through a combination of federal, state, and local sources. Federal funding is often provided through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which allocates resources to states based on their population and poverty levels. State governments contribute funding to CTE programs as part of their education budgets, with allocations varying based on the state’s priorities and economic conditions. Local funding comes from school district budgets, often supplemented by property taxes, and is directed toward specific CTE initiatives based on the needs and preferences of the community. Additionally, some CTE programs may secure grants, donations, or partnerships with industry and businesses to enhance their funding and provide students with real-world learning experiences.

Online CTE Initiatives

State-level initiatives have also played a crucial role in the development of online CTE programs nationwide. These initiatives aim to address the need for a skilled workforce and expand access to CTE courses. Idaho, Missouri, and Arkansas have also invested heavily in CTE programs and initiatives, and showcase how state-level initiatives and online course providers can shape programs to serve unmet needs. Online CTE programs at the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance (IDLA), Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas were made possible by state-level initiatives designed to address workforce needs, broaden access to CTE courses, and align programs with certification standards. These three programs share many of the same broad goals; however, each program has adopted a unique approach that caters to the specific needs and demands of its students and state workforce. 

IDLA recognized Idaho’s historical investments in concurrent credit programs with higher education in the state, supporting students in obtaining associate’s degrees. Following this investment, there has been additional focus statewide on recognizing the demand for trades and non-college-bound careers, especially in underserved, rural communities. Through its online CTE program, IDLA targets these initiatives and views its CTE offerings as a way to increase both access and future career opportunities for rural students. 

Launch Missouri’s program focuses on phased multi-year implementation, with 11 pathways identified by the Missouri Department of Economic Development and the Missouri Workforce Development Board currently available and plans for additional pathways in the future. Each pathway offers two full-credit courses and culminates in industry-recognized credential (IRC) assessments. They also emphasize student engagement through Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs). Launch Missouri hopes to address state-wide teacher shortages, specifically in the area of CTE by broadening access to CTE courses free of charge to any student in Missouri. 

Virtual Arkansas, in coordination and with support from the Arkansas Department of Education, offers 49 online CTE courses led by its teachers and addresses the statewide shift towards job-focused education, aiming to provide skills for well-paying careers. Virtual Arkansas caters to diverse student needs, offering flexibility in completing full or partial CTE programs through collaboration with local schools. By partnering with colleges, Virtual Arkansas offers credits for completed courses, easing students’ transition to higher education or careers. Virtual Arkansas’s program emphasizes practical skills, industry alignment, and strategic partnerships to prepare students for success.

This report provides an overview of each online CTE program–Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas—followed by a discussion of assessment, curriculum and course design, instruction, and alignments to industry standards, concluding with key considerations and advice for other programs looking to expand their online CTE offerings.

Online CTE Program Goals and Development

Idaho Digital Learning Alliance (IDLA)

IDLA takes pride in creating valuable opportunities through its online CTE program. Despite challenges in cost and enrollment, IDLA celebrates the impact on individual students. By offering courses that students might not have access to otherwise, the program opens doors for students to obtain technical certificates which allows them to enter the workforce directly or pursue advanced certificates and further education in their chosen field. For each student who earns a technical certificate, IDLA sees a success story with the potential to change the trajectory of their lives. IDLA views its program as a key to unlocking potential pathways to a brighter future for students who might otherwise have felt limited by their circumstances.

IDLA developed its online CTE program in collaboration with the Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education. The program aims to create full pathways for students to obtain technical certificates, targeted particularly to students in rural areas who would otherwise not have access to these CTE courses. 

Currently, the CTE program at IDLA is composed of courses previously developed and offered by IDLA but curated into pathways centered around specific areas of focus. While IDLA offers numerous courses, with regards to CTE specifically, IDLA is focusing on establishing additional full CTE pathways that ultimately culminate in technical certificates. These pathways consist of two or three courses, providing students with the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue careers in their chosen field.  

To ensure compliance with state regulations and CTE standards, IDLA has made adjustments to some courses, aligning them with CTSO requirements and CTE guidelines, and incorporating essential leadership and workplace readiness skills. 

As of spring 2023, IDLA has implemented two full pathways, one in the health profession and one in information technology with each offering consisting of a series of courses leading to a technical certificate. To be better poised to meet student and industry demand in future years, IDLA is considering adding pathways in health sciences, entrepreneurship, and those catered towards students looking to pursue careers as EMTs or dental assistants. 

Expansion of the CTE program at IDLA will be based on the interests and needs of partner schools. IDLA is dedicated to providing students with a wide range of CTE options that can be pursued with fidelity and those that align with students’ career aspirations. 

Launch Missouri 

Launch Missouri developed an online CTE program to expand access to courses and career pathways that would otherwise be unavailable to students in rural areas. They sought to provide additional educational opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable for students as CTE programs are resource-intensive, making it financially challenging for some schools to offer locally. Launch Missouri has experienced consistent enrollment growth and continues to expand its CTE pathway offerings. 

Furthermore, Launch Missouri’s online CTE program helps to alleviate certified CTE teacher shortages faced by many districts in the state. When schools lack qualified teachers to teach specialized subjects like computer science, they can use Launch Missouri to fill the gap. Overall, Launch Missouri aims to offer viable virtual alternatives to students who may not have access to certain educational opportunities. 

The online CTE program developed by Launch Missouri is a collaborative effort involving two state agencies to address identified workforce needs. The program is being rolled out in three phases over three years, with an expected total of 11 pathways. In the first year, four pathways were introduced, each consisting of two full-credit courses. Courses are designed in accordance with state standards and CTSO expectations, and culminate with Industry Recognized Credential (IRC) assessments, pre-approved by Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Students in each pathway also have the opportunity to participate in CTSOs. For instance, students in the Business Management Administration pathway are encouraged to join the virtual Future Business Leaders of America (FLBA) CTSO, those in the Computer Science pathway are encouraged to join the Technology Student Association (TSA), and students in the teaching pathway are encouraged to join the Educators Rising CTSO. The role of the CTSO is crucial in enhancing student experiences. 

Program expansion at Launch Missouri is guided by data on workforce demand, and new pathways will be developed to cater to emerging needs while also ensuring that students have access to relevant and high-quality CTE courses aligned with industry standards. For instance, Launch Missouri plans to offer a computer science strand which will include AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science, an engineering and manufacturing strand, and a health and biomedical sciences strand. 

Overall, Launch Missouri’s online CTE program showcases a strong commitment to providing students with a comprehensive and effective career and technical education experience, preparing them for future success in the workforce.

Virtual Arkansas

Virtual Arkansas received a grant from the Arkansas Department of Education Division of Career and Technical Education to create high-quality online CTE courses accessible to school districts in Arkansas. Virtual Arkansas offers 49 CTE courses with its teachers and an additional 64 courses can be utilized by a local teacher through their Content Partnership Program. The total number of CTE courses available through Virtual Arkansas is 113.

Virtual Arkansas has been offering diverse opportunities to students statewide since its establishment in 2013 and has focused on meeting the varied needs of students across the state. Understanding that not all students are going to express interest in a traditional four-year degree, Virtual Arkansas focuses on providing CTE pathways that lead students into the workforce with the skills necessary to pursue well-paying jobs. 

Virtual Arkansas offers seven complete programs of study and eight partial programs of study, ensuring a diverse range of options for students across the state. Programs of study include a pre-educator program to foster local teacher development, accounting, medical skills and services, hospitality and tourism, engineering and technology, computer science programming, and aviation technology. The flexibility of their program allows students to complete either full or partial CTE programs, or partial programs and collaborate with their local schools to fulfill the remaining course or certification requirements. 

To enhance the program’s effectiveness and impact, Virtual Arkansas has established partnerships with two-year and four-year colleges in the state. These partnerships involve creating credit agreements where colleges acknowledge the rigor of the online courses offered by Virtual Arkansas. As a result, students completing these courses can receive credits when they enroll in corresponding programs of study at participating colleges. For example, a student completing the aviation technology pathway at Virtual Arkansas can take their private pilot’s test and receive transcript credit from a partner college offering a commercial pilot degree. 

Virtual Arkansas is also exploring options around concurrent credit for CTE courses. Concurrent credit would allow students to earn college credits while still in high school. This collaboration would ease the financial costs associated with higher education for students as well as provide recruitment opportunities for colleges and transferability options for students seeking a two-year program after completing the online courses. 

The ultimate goal of Virtual Arkansas is to enable students to seamlessly transition into their chosen program of study or career field with confidence in their preparedness. By forming these partnerships, Virtual Arkansas aims to validate the quality of its courses and demonstrate its ability to help schools better prepare students for success. 

Overall, IDLA, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas recognize the importance of offering online CTE programs and strive to provide pathways for students to gain technical certificates. All three programs prioritize aligning courses with industry standards and incorporating co-curricular opportunities for students.

Online CTE Program Elements


The conversations with IDLA, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas provide insights into how each program handles assessment and certifications in their online career and technical education (CTE) programs. There are both similarities and differences among the programs.

In terms of assessment, all three programs emphasize the importance of meeting state standards. Launch Missouri mentions that students can earn high school credit by completing normal assessments in their CTE classes, but if they want to earn the CTE certificate, additional assessments are required. These assessments vary depending on the pathway, and Launch Missouri follows the state’s recommendations for approved assessments. IDLA also coordinates certification exams for certain programs, such as the Microsoft Office certification. Virtual Arkansas collaborates with facilitators and teachers of record to ensure coordination and cooperation in administering certification exams. Overall, all three programs acknowledge the need for assessments and certifications to validate students’ skills and competencies.

In terms of certification coordination, there are differences among the programs. Launch Missouri takes responsibility for coordinating the exams and preparing students for them. IDLA offers academic and career advising and helps students apply for technical certificates after graduation, providing guidance and support. Virtual Arkansas collaborates with facilitators and relies on the teacher of record to coordinate certification exams and keep track of observation hours for certain pathways. The level of involvement from the program staff varies, but all programs ensure that students have access to the necessary resources and support to complete certification requirements.

All three programs prioritize assessment and certification in their online CTE programs. They recognize the importance of meeting state standards and provide support to students in preparing for certification exams. While there are differences in how they handle certification coordination and hands-on experiences, the common goal is to ensure students gain the necessary skills and competencies for their chosen career paths.

Curriculum and Course Design

IDLA, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas share a common goal of providing students with valuable career and technical education opportunities but each program varies in terms of course design and curriculum. 

One notable aspect of Launch Missouri’s online CTE program is the intentional integration of workforce development training into the curriculum. The program aims to model virtual courses based on the standards of face-to-face versions while incorporating hands-on components and data engagement. For instance, the Teaching as a Profession pathway requires students to spend a significant amount of time in virtual classroom observations, which is new for the program. Level two students will have opportunities for practicum experiences, and the program is strategically starting with more well-developed pathways before expanding into real-world content experiences in marketing and agribusiness.

To ensure students meet state requirements, Launch Missouri actively incorporates guest speakers, virtual tours, and other opportunities that count towards a CTE certificate. Additionally, the program plans to develop a coordination system for apprenticeships and internships to support students in obtaining a CTE diploma.

Virtual Arkansas proudly participates in SkillsUSA, providing students with opportunities to compete and showcase their skills in various fields. The program’s photography teacher has achieved significant success, winning first, second, and third places in photography competitions and taking students to nationals.

While all three programs acknowledge the importance of CTSOs in enhancing student experiences, they vary in how they handle hands-on experiences, practicum opportunities, and required observation hours. Launch Missouri incorporates workforce development training into the curriculum and requires hands-on experiences and observation hours for certain pathways. The teacher of record takes the lead in coordinating these experiences, with support from the program staff if needed. IDLA also requires hands-on experience for programs such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and they have staff members who assist students in finding and coordinating these experiences. Virtual Arkansas includes observation requirements for the educator pathway and states that the teacher of record works directly with students and facilitators to ensure the completion and reporting of observation hours.


In terms of instruction, all three programs incorporate a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences to cater to students’ diverse needs. Synchronous instruction involves live, real-time interactions between students and teachers through platforms like Zoom. Launch Missouri, for instance, conducts Zoom sessions weekly to facilitate face-to-face engagement. Conversely, asynchronous instruction allows students to access course materials and complete assignments at their own pace. Virtual Arkansas offers a blend of both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, enabling students to engage in teacher-led courses while providing the flexibility to collaborate with their local schools for specific certification requirements.

Regarding teacher expectations and responsibilities, all programs emphasize the importance of qualified and engaged CTE teachers. Launch Missouri recognizes the crucial role of enthusiastic and knowledgeable CTE teachers in designing and developing course content. Similarly, IDLA emphasizes aligning its courses to CTE guidelines and incorporating workplace readiness skills, making experienced teachers essential for creating high-quality course content. At Virtual Arkansas, teacher involvement varies depending on the program. Some courses are teacher-led by Virtual Arkansas teachers, while others are facilitated by teachers of record in collaboration with Virtual Arkansas. These teachers play a significant role in coordinating certification exams and ensuring students’ success throughout the program.

Overall, synchronous and asynchronous instruction methods, coupled with qualified and dedicated CTE teachers, are critical components of successful online CTE programs. These elements ensure students have access to flexible and engaging learning experiences while preparing them for meaningful career pathways in the ever-evolving job market.

Alignment to Industry Standards

One similarity between the three programs is their consideration of industry standards and requirements. Aligning courses to industry standards is of utmost importance in online career and technical education (CTE) programs at IDLA, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas. These programs were made possible through state-level initiatives designed to address workforce needs, broaden access to CTE courses, and ensure alignment with certification standards. By adhering to industry standards, these programs ensure that students acquire skills and competencies that are recognized and valued by employers in their respective fields.

To achieve this alignment, IDLA, for instance, collaborates with the Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education and prioritizes aligning its courses to specific CTE guidelines, emphasizing the relevance and applicability of its offerings to IRCs and real-world career paths. Launch Missouri follows the recommendations of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for approved assessments, ensuring that their students’ certifications are recognized and respected in the job market.

Virtual Arkansas also aligns its CTE courses with certification standards, and it actively collaborates with two-year and four-year colleges in the state. These partnerships result in credit agreements, enabling students to receive college credits for completing Virtual Arkansas courses and easing their transition into higher education.

By aligning courses to industry standards, IDLA, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas ensure that their online CTE programs prepare students for success in the workforce. Their commitment to quality education and recognition of the value of industry-standard certifications contribute to the effectiveness and relevance of their programs.

Key Considerations and Strategies for Enhancing Success in Online CTE

Overcoming Skepticism Around Online CTE

One of the primary obstacles encountered in the initial stages of launching an online CTE program is skepticism from various stakeholders. Many individuals question the feasibility and effectiveness of conducting CTE courses virtually. To address this, Launch Missouri emphasizes the significance of showcasing successful examples of quality online CTE programs in other states or districts. By highlighting tangible outcomes and positive student experiences, educators can work towards mitigating doubts and gaining support for online CTE initiatives.

Another critical challenge is identifying qualified CTE teachers who possess the expertise and vision to adapt CTE content effectively to fit the virtual learning environment. Launch Missouri acknowledges the vital role played by enthusiastic and knowledgeable CTE teachers who actively participate in designing and developing course content. Their valuable insights and experience significantly contribute to the program’s overall success.

Addressing Resource Constraints

Resource constraints pose another hurdle in certain CTE pathways, particularly those requiring fieldwork, clinicals, or shadowing experiences, such as nursing programs. IDLA points out that professionals in these fields are typically not volunteers, leading to associated costs for students engaging in such activities. While these constraints may not be permanent barriers, addressing them on a course-by-course or student-by-student basis requires additional effort and coordination.

The conversation between Launch Missouri and IDLA underscores the primary challenges faced by educational institutions when establishing online CTE programs. By addressing skepticism through the demonstration of successful online initiatives, identifying qualified CTE teachers, and proactively dealing with resource constraints, educators can pave the way for effective and accessible career and technical education in the digital era. These insights can guide other schools and districts in overcoming challenges and successfully implementing online CTE programs.

Intentional Course Selection and Design

All three programs indicated intentionality around initially selecting individual courses and pathways that were more conducive to online learning, such as information technology, business management, and finance. These courses and pathways provided an opportunity for the programs to build their CTE programs and begin offering them, while still understanding the intricacies and nuances of CTE certification requirements. That is not to say that these programs or any others should not offer courses that do not lend themselves as easily to online instruction; however, those may not be the best initial offerings but rather something for programs to build towards. 

The Importance of State-Level Partnerships

Online CTE programs have emerged as valuable tools to provide flexible learning opportunities and equip students with essential skills for the modern workforce. As the demand for online CTE continues to grow, the importance of building strong state-level partnerships cannot be overstated. Each of the three programs leveraged strong state-level partnerships with education departments to design their programs and ensure that they met state-level requirements. 

Fostering Effective Communication and Collaboration

One of the fundamental pillars of successful online CTE programs is establishing robust communication channels and collaborations with state-level CTE departments. As highlighted by IDLA, forming a strong relationship with the state CTE department is crucial before embarking on the development of online CTE programs. Regular meetings with state officials ensure ongoing dialogue, enable seamless coordination, and prevent potential disruptions caused by personnel changes or shifts in program direction.

Moreover, these partnerships play a vital role in overcoming resistance or skepticism from various CTE departments regarding online education. Attitudes towards digital learning may vary among different departments, and through open dialogue and sharing of successful outcomes, educators can gradually win over skeptics and demonstrate the viability and effectiveness of online CTE programs.

Aligning Program Goals with State Objectives

State-level partnerships offer a conduit to align online CTE programs with broader educational objectives and workforce development goals. By engaging in regular communication with state CTE departments, organizations can ensure that their online offerings meet state education standards, requirements, and expectations. This alignment fosters mutual support and enables educators to access the necessary resources, funding, and expertise required to develop and sustain high-quality online CTE programs.

Involving Industry Stakeholders for Real-World Relevance

Collaborations with industry stakeholders hold immense potential in enhancing the relevance and applicability of online CTE courses to real-world workforce needs. As emphasized by Launch Missouri and Virtual Arkansas, industry partners have a vested interest in developing a skilled and adaptable workforce. Engaging them in the design and development process allows educators to gain valuable insights and adapt the curriculum to meet specific industry requirements.

The involvement of industry professionals as guest speakers, mentors, or advisors enriches the learning experience for students, offering them a glimpse into the actual work environment and providing relevant industry insights. Additionally, industry partnerships can lead to potential internships, apprenticeships, or job opportunities for students, further bolstering the impact and value of online CTE programs.

The success and sustainability of online Career and Technical Education programs greatly rely on the establishment of strong state-level partnerships. Effective communication, collaboration with state CTE departments, and involvement of industry stakeholders ensure the alignment of program goals with state objectives and real-world workforce demands. By fostering these relationships, organizations can create innovative and accessible career pathways for students in the digital age, preparing them to excel in a rapidly evolving job market.


The exploration of online CTE programs at IDLA, Launch Missouri, and Virtual Arkansas sheds light on the growing importance of flexible and accessible learning opportunities for students seeking valuable career pathways. These programs have emerged as valuable tools to address workforce needs, broaden access to CTE courses, and prepare students for success in the ever-evolving job market.

While challenges such as resource constraints and skepticism surrounding online CTE persist, the experiences of these programs offer valuable insights and strategies for overcoming obstacles. Demonstrating successful examples, fostering state-level partnerships, and involving industry stakeholders are key considerations for institutions and organizations looking to establish effective and impactful online CTE programs.

Overall, online CTE programs have proven to be valuable tools in equipping students with the technical skills and knowledge necessary for thriving in today’s job market. As technology continues to shape the educational landscape, these programs serve as a testament to the potential of online learning to provide accessible and valuable career pathways for students across diverse communities. The future of online CTE looks promising, with ongoing developments and collaborations aimed at preparing students for success in their chosen fields and contributing to a skilled and competent workforce.

Overall, online CTE programs have proven to be valuable tools in equipping students with the technical skills and knowledge necessary for thriving in today’s job market. As technology continues to shape the educational landscape, these programs serve as a testament to the potential of online learning to provide accessible and valuable career pathways for students across diverse communities. The future of online CTE looks promising, with ongoing developments and collaborations aimed at preparing students for success in their chosen fields and contributing to a skilled and competent workforce.

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