The 6 Myths of Virtual Learning

6 Myths of Virtual Learning
Summary: In this article, I will present you the 6 myths of virtual learning that we need to move past, if we hope to re-imagine the reality. It's time.

The 6 Myths of Virtual Learning

I recently conducted an online presentation for over fifty educational executives who are either involved in, or interested in getting involved in the virtual learning world. It is the same presentation I start with when taking on a new client because I want to ensure that we are on the same page when it comes to virtual schools.

It is simply called The 6 Myths of Virtual Learning. Why "give" it away here you might ask? I was challenged by a friend of mine who is a prolific author and blogger to share this to a wider audience in order to further build my effort to re-imagine virtual learning. Tweaks will not work. We must, as my friend likes to say, go to the edge in order to allow virtual learning to fulfill its original promise.

However, in order to do that, we must first move beyond a few myths that are prevalent in this industry.

  1. Parents want rigor.
    If I only had a dollar for every virtual school that referred to its curriculum as rigorous. A few of them even wear it as a badge of honor when families leave because of it being "too rigorous." Rigorous carries with it such ominous synonyms as rigid, severe, harsh, and even extreme. My contention is that parents are not enamored with a rigorous curriculum. Instead, they (and students) want one that is exciting, and perhaps even challenging. Imagine a virtual lesson that actually captivated the student to want to learn more. Too many times curriculum providers spend their energy trying to increase the difficulty level rather than increasing the interest level in the students. Remember, the competition is not just other curriculum providers, the competition is also found in the iTunes Store,, and others. Read the reviews of the educational apps and you will seldom find a desire for more rigor.
  2. Parents want individualized, customized, and personalized learning experiences.
    Ok, so this one has less to do with the words and more to do with the definitions. Again though, do a Google search for "virtual schools" and see how many virtual schools use these words to describe themselves. What's the problem? It's all relative really. When parents and students hear words such as customized they have their own definition. When they hear individualized, they define it to their liking. It goes beyond Webster's definition of "tailored to suit the individual" in the mind of the parent. The problem arises because the true meaning of these words as defined by the schools is quite different than what the parents envision. This is why they leave the school and provide feedback such as "it wasn't what we expected." So, do parents want individualized, customized, and personalized? Yes. However, the myth occurring here is that this is what the schools are providing students when in reality it is a far different experience that continues to more closely mirror their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
  3. A virtual school can serve everyone.
    Peruse any virtual school web site and you will quickly see they are trying to be all things to all students. Kudos to them for trying but the reality is it is an impossible task. The underlying issue here is that they are going for size instead of quality. In a way it is like having athletes play basketball, football and baseball all at the same time, on the same field. Sure they each have a ball to play with but imagine the chaos that would ensue. Why then would a virtual school with over 10,000 students coming from such disparate backgrounds, varied aspirations, and differing academic levels expect for each student to achieve their personal best? For a large percentage of them, virtual learning is not the best place to be, yet instead of recognizing this, too many virtual schools simply try to bring in another "ball" in order to play the game. It is time for virtual schools to serve the students who can best excel within this environment, and build a remarkable experience for them. Will this mean a smaller school? Who knows really because no one has truly attempted it. It doesn't have to though.
  4. It has to be public school at home.
    Virtual learning started with the unique potential to revolutionize the educational industry. Now, it simply looks like its brick-and-mortar predecessor. It is less about learning and more about preparing for the state tests. It is less about time spent building each child's potential and more about mandatory meetings, prep work, and busy work. Virtual schools do not have to mirror public schools in order to be successful. They still have the potential to reach each student, to engage students where they are and take them to where they want to go. Virtual schools have the potential to use the latest tools and gadgets at their disposal to connect students in unique and unusual ways. Virtual schools have the potential to engage the business community in ways that go far beyond the job shadowing. And, virtual schools still have the potential to revolutionize the learning experience.
  5. The decision to enroll is intellectual.
    The myth here is found in how virtual schools market themselves to families. They earnestly believe this decision is similar to the one made when purchasing a car -- tell me the differentiating features, which one gets better gas mileage, what is the insurance rating, does it come in red, and so forth. It is an intellectual one. Watch the marketing and advertising that originates from virtual schools and you will see they are neglecting the emotional side of the decision. "We are accredited." "A tuition-free online high school." "Flexible learning." A virtual school that grasps the fact that this decision is one of the most emotional ones that will be made is the one that will separate itself from the others. It is time to move away from the tired-old features and benefits story and dive into the emotion that comes with this decision. Spend more time talking to me about the value of the educational experience, not the tuition-free feature/benefit.
  6. If I am a homeschool student, I am automatically a good candidate for virtual schools.
    Homeschool is not synonymous with virtual school. There are over 2 million homeschool students across America and their reasons for choosing this method are varied, diverse, and very personal. So, let's explode this myth right now and understand the reality of what virtual schools are missing -- they are too focused on the background of the students and not on their aspirations. Virtual schools spend too much time trying to find homeschoolers, students who have been bullied, gifted students, pregnant students, etc. Instead, they should devote time to knowing the type of student who will have the greatest potential to succeed in a virtual school. Then, go find students like them. My contention here is this has more to do with the character of the person instead of their background. Find me a student that is willing to show up each day, to work hard, to get up when they fail, to raise their hand when they don't understand, and one that is resilient when the going gets tough or lonely -- I don't care what their background is if they have some of these traits.

So, here they are, my six myths of virtual learning. I have tried to provide you with enough detail and insight to make it worth your reading and worth thinking about. I invite you to join me in re-imagining virtual learning. It's time. What exists right now is not working. I am in the process of helping several clients who are interested in "doing virtual right" and build remarkable learning experiences, so there is hope. I don't want to throw out the concept when it is the implementation that has been the problem.

I know, many of us think blended learning will be the solution. Unfortunately, it will end up following the path of virtual because too many are simply trying to change the tactics instead of addressing the fundamentals. That is why I believe it is time to re-imagine virtual learning.