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Virtual learning options for ND K-12 students have changed for 2021-2022 school year

Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer

As North Dakota K-12 students head back to school, they will find their virtual options for learning at home have changed since last year. Laws adopted in the 2021 legislative session change the type of distance learning that was used in a lot of districts last year and provides for another virtual learning opportunity – virtual academies. This was done to strengthen accountability and quality of virtual instruction and ensures students are actually being educated while at home.

Virtual learning is not new in North Dakota. Students have been able to ‘attend’ classes in the Center for Distance Education since it was established in 1935, but they now also have the option to attend a virtual academy, if their district has applied. As of August 20th, 10 of the 173 districts in the state have signed up to provide virtual academies. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (DPI) expects more to apply as the school year progresses.

How is the distance learning model different from a virtual academy? One of the biggest differences is who is teaching. The distance system used last year had teachers instructing in-class while simultaneously streaming to those at home. Hybrid learning, when students would split their school week into 'shifts', was also utilized. This hybrid method had students staying home for virtual learning some days of the week and being in the physical school building on other days. A virtual academy is totally independent from the physical school and employs separate teachers to instruct and monitor the student’s progress while they learn at home. This takes a lot of pressure off the in-classroom teacher, as monitoring virtual learners, along with those in-class, was time-consuming and stressful.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, changes in the learning process are inevitable.  DPI, like school districts across the country, are finding ways to adapt and make sure our students continue to learn and progress at the proper pace while making each transition as seamless and easy as possible.

You can learn more about virtual academies and virtual instruction here