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eLearning Update: New Site Tracks Virtual Schools

A new website devoted to acting as a central information source on the nation's K-12, undergraduate, and graduate online schools launched Monday.

The site, OnlineSchools.com, includes a database that links to more than 300 virtual K-12 programs and more than 1,000 online undergraduate and graduate programs, according to a press release. There is also a feature that includes "report cards" for those schools, though those summaries are more a list of statistics and attributes than an analysis or evaluation. Only a handful of schools have those report cards available so far, but a spokeswoman for the site said in an email the plan is to post report cards for every K-12 school listed by year's end.

But while the site aims to be a hub of information on online learning, it's a bit unclear for visitors who exactly is doing the disseminating. Answers to user questions, tips about how to understand if online learning is right for your student, and information about the basics of online education are all absent a clear source. And there appears to be no formal alliance with any of the major governing bodies of ed tech, including the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, the International Society for Technology in Education, or the Consortium for School Networking.

One reason for that may be the reality that the online world is just as diverse as brick-and-mortar education. In an email, iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick explained that, while iNACOL is concentrated primarily on advocating for policies to allow more free, public online learning opportunities, OnlineSchools.com is a commercial directory that also includes a significant number of links to private, tuition-based online institutions. Most other advocates for online education and ed-tech use also focus generally on public schooling issues, but they are still the most known authorities in the field.

Now, these are obviously early days for OnlineSchools.com, with many of its features still in development. But it will be interesting to see if a site that acting independently of many of the major players in online learning, and arguably without the same authority, will actually help online education appear more mainstream to prospective participants in the same way advocates hope their work makes it appear to policymakers.

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