By James Brauer
A quality virtual school program offers students a rigorous curriculum, dedicated and certified teachers, cutting-edge technology resources, clubs, activities and more. Yet one feature of virtual schools is often misunderstood: asynchronous learning — when a student engages curriculum on his or her own time and pace.
Synchronous learning, on the other hand, is a learning environment in which everyone takes part in the same lesson, at the same time. A quality virtual school program incorporates elements from both models.
Virtual school students are guided through the program and teachers are readily available for questions and support. But for the most part, asynchronous learning embodies the “freedom” and flexibility that online learning can offer. It allows students to spend more time on challenging subjects, to pursue topics that they’re passionate about, and to schedule lessons and homework time in a way that best supports their own learning style.
That said, virtual schools have plenty of synchronous learning opportunities, too — where students, teachers, classmates, connect in real-time in online classrooms or on the phone.
Many of my students’ parents say this flexibility allows their child more time for critical and independent thinking, to consult with peers and other coursework, and to apply their own knowledge and experiences to the lessons. I’ve even had parents tell me that their student is retaining concepts more than in their previous environment, where all students received the same lesson, at the same time and pace.
The human element is essential for successful asynchronous learning. At Iowa Connections Academy, our state-certified teachers individualize instruction to each student. Learning Coaches, typically parents, support students by monitoring progress and consulting with teachers as needed. We constantly track our students’ progress in mastering overarching learning objectives rather than focusing solely on individual lesson progress.
Self-motivation, technology proficiency, and parental involvement are central to student success with asynchronous learning. This is also why virtual schooling isn’t a fit for everyone.
Asynchronous learning expands access to classes usually not offered at traditional schools, such as additional foreign languages, more AP offerings and unique electives. No two students are alike. Supporting different education choices for families enables students across Iowa to be successful.l James Brauer is principal of Iowa Connections Academy, a tuition-free virtual public school serving students in grades K-12 in Iowa. Brauer has more than eight years of experience in education in administration and teaching. Comments: email@example.com