MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - Aug 22, 2011) - (Family Features) There is hardly a single area of modern life that has not been touched by the Internet in some way. Even the simple phrase "going to school" has taken on an entirely new meaning with the advent of online schools. Adult learners in search of post-secondary or professional development credits were the early consumers of online education services, but now students of all ages can learn anywhere an Internet connection can be found.

Beyond the screen
Online education (also referred to as virtual learning) is becoming increasingly popular for elementary, middle and high school students. In a 2008 report, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that the number of K-12 public school students enrolling in online courses grew by 65 percent in the two years from 2002-03 to 2004-05. A 2009 estimate puts the number at more than one million online students. In addition, data suggests that by 2019, about half of high school courses will be delivered online.

For some students, online learning gives them the opportunity to access single courses not available through their brick-and-mortar school -- perhaps a foreign language or an AP course. However, an increasing number of students have made the leap to full-time online schooling, frequently through an online public school option offered tuition-free by their state or school district.

How it works
An online public school utilizes a combination of online and offline coursework -- including a wide array of textbooks, CDs, videos and hands-on materials. Students are guided by a state-certified teacher who may also set up class outings to museums or science centers. While older students can work independently, a parent (or "Learning Coach") keeps younger students on track. Families report that the extra effort involved is more than offset by the ability of the program to be adapted to each child's learning style. Individualization is frequently the spark needed to jump-start a student's interest in learning.

"Every child learns differently, so a one-size-fits-all approach can't succeed," says John Holdren, senior vice president of content and curriculum at K12, a leading online curriculum provider. "Engaging curriculum and a really powerful partnership between parents and teachers -- these are the things that help each of our students achieve their personal academic potential."

Is online learning right for your child?
Now that kids are back in school, the education experts at K12 suggest conducting a 30-day check-in assessment. Here are some tips to help you determine whether your child's current education solution best suits his or her unique learning needs.

  • Create and maintain an open dialogue with your student: Is your child happy in school? Is he motivated? Does he feel safe?
  • Monitor progress. Learning isn't always linear, so some hiccups are to be expected, but if your child is consistently underperforming in one or more subjects it should raise red flags about potential learning-teaching style mismatches.
  • Communicate with your child's teacher. How is your child doing compared to others in the class? If your child has specific needs, effective communication with her teacher is crucial to supporting her education.
  • Be on the look-out for signs of stress. If your child begins dreading school, or lacks enthusiasm, talk it through with him. There may be factors unknown to either you or his teacher which are making him unhappy.

Many children simply do not thrive in a traditional classroom. These students include those who:

  • Are accelerated learners or are bored with the pace of classroom lessons.
  • Are easily distracted in a classroom setting or have a learning challenge that means they may need a little more time to master concepts.
  • Travel frequently for extracurricular obligations (art, sports) or are uprooted during the school year as part of a military family.
  • Feel they don't fit in, or are being bullied in their school environment.

To learn more about online learning, visit www.k12.com.

Choosing an online school
Making a change in your child's education to a full-time online public school is a big decision, with many questions to consider:

  • Is our family ready for this change? Most families are surprised by the rigor of online schools. Parents and students alike need to be engaged to succeed.
  • What kind of support will we receive from the teachers and school? Is my teacher local if I need to meet with him or her? How often do teachers check in? Are they state-certified?
  • What do other families think about the school? High parent satisfaction scores and glowing testimonials bode well. To get the real scoop, look for opportunities to get together with parents currently involved.
  • How do students stay connected to their classmates? From outings to moderated online community areas to clubs and discussion areas, online school students stay connected and well-socialized. Does the school offer activities your child is interested in?
  • How many students are using this program, and where are they going when they graduate? Does the school offer career and college counseling to help students find their path post-graduation?

Get more tips on selecting an online school with "The Yes List" at www.k12.com.

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