Advantages and Disadvantages
Advocates of virtual learning believe that virtual schools hold advantages including: not being required to attend and travel to face-to-face classes and the integration digital media into the curricula. Virtual schools also give a student the opportunity to stay in school when traditional brick and mortar schools will no longer accept them. Some reasons for this could be extensive absences due to medical reasons, teen pregnancy, or for other reasons that the school system may deem distracting to the school body. Virtual schools are a great equalizer. No matter what their social, economic, religious, ethnic or physical or mental differences, virtual education gives all students the same opportunity to reach their full potential. Some virtual schools include online study groups in which students interact with each other online. Students are able to meet in these groups using Elluminate, Wimba or other means.
Unlike traditional education delivery methods, students at virtual schools do not directly interact with professors. Hence, virtual education is considered by many to be equivalent to a directed-learning program. Because students do not interact with their instructors or peers face-to-face, "lack of socialization" is often quoted, as a disadvantage by detractors. Recent anecdotal evidence provided by one virtual school from one live cyberschool indicates that, while socialization may be different, it is not necessarily lacking. It is also recommended that students enrolled in virtual schools be involved in social activities outside school, much like homeschooled children. Another perceived disadvantage to distance learning is the added challenge of staying focused while in the home environment, and many students report that staying on task is the most difficult aspect of learning online.
Many students are drawn to online learning for a variety of reasons; particularly, the ability to avoid the requirement of traveling to a physical location, which may be impossible for some non-traditional learners. Critics argue that for online education to be taken seriously, online programs must adhere to generally accepted educational standards. One way that virtual schools are proving their effectiveness is the implementation of the same standardized testing that brick and mortar schools require of their students. To reduce this criticism, The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has developed a set of standards released on February 21, 2008. Some believe that this is an important first step in monitoring online programs, but while every provider of education must be accredited, the quality of accreditation varies significantly. For instance, the non-profit AACSB is the most prestigious accreditation agency for business schools and no virtual schools have received accreditation by the agency.