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District Guide to Online Learning

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Online learning can expand student (and staff) options, grow enrollment, and power blended learning. It shares many critical success factors with traditional education, but different enough that you need to do your homework and develop a good plan. Following is a 10 point district/network guide to online learning.

1. Clarify goals. You may want to:

  • Expand advanced options including AP, dual enrollment;
  • Add hard to staff courses;
  • Remain competitive in a multi-provider environment; and
  • Boost enrollment/revenue.

2. Get to know state policy.

3. Get/hire experienced help. Like traditional delivery, quality online starts with great teaching. However, offering a full catalog of online courses involves a range of new and different issues. Hire someone with experience to lead the program. Post a job on Obeekaybee.com (see Getting Smart feature).

4. Consider a partner. There are a handful of high capacity national partners that can provide turnkey support to an online learning program including:Apex, Connections, K12, and Florida Virtual. They all have experience helping districts implement online learning programs.

5. Pick a platform and content. If you don't rely on a partner, you'll need to pick a learning management system and content. There are a couple learning management systems (LMS) that come with content including Flipswitch, Vschoolz, and iQuity--and they all have experience running an online school.

6. Leverage online capacity to blend traditional schools. You may be able to use the LMS and the catalog of content to power 6-12 blended classrooms. AdvancePath

and Cornerstone Charter Schools use Apex content to power blended high school classrooms. Michigan's EEA uses Compass Odyssey across its 12 school network. (See What's All The Buzz About Detroit?)

7. Staffing. For the subjects where you can generate more than 150 enrollments and where you have or can find the people, you can staff course delivery yourself. In harder to staff and smaller demand classes, rely on your partner to staff the class.

You may want to consider moving all your small upper division AP courses online and adding the rest of the AP courses to the catalog. This is also a chance to add more foreign languages options. This may be an opportunity to save money, add options, and invest in important 9th and 10th grade classes.

8. Provide guidance on self-blends. Now that you can offer a broader course catalog, it's important to provide guidance to students starting in eighth grade about online high school options.

Consider making an online class a graduation requirement. Most students will be learning online when they leave high school whether it's in the military, corporate training, or college.

9. Marketing. You'll probably be competing regionally for students so you'll need to develop a marketing and recruiting strategy (inside and outside the district) to build enrollment. What makes your offering distinctive? Can you offer onsite support--scheduled and drop in?

10. Budget. Now it's time to build a budget. You'll need at least six months to plan, hire and train staff; and do some marketing. Be prepared to lose money for a year if enrollment doesn't meet your expectations. Working with a national partner is a good way to share the enrollment risk and development cost.

If you're still interested in starting an online learning program, the next step is iNACOL's How to Start an Online Learning Program.

Disclosures: Digital Learning Now!, K12, Connections, Florida Virtual, and Compass Learning are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. Advanced Path is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is partner. Tom is a director of iNACOL.

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