Is Virtual Education Accountable Enough?

Although virtual schools can be found just about everywhere today, and hundreds of thousands of students have enrolled, there is little research being conducted on how students have been impacted by online learning. And of what little research has been done, evidence of the positive aspects of online learning are few and far between, according to experts.

The main questions regarding online learning are whether or not it is actually adding value to the quality of instruction, and whether or not students are getting the support they need to be successful. Many are saying that the same rules for accountability that are applied for brick-and-mortar schools should be in place for virtual learning.

Difficulty in Comparison and Monitoring

The findings from several surveys indicate quite a difference in what schools want to see in terms of accountability measures, and the measures actually being implemented. For example, one survey showed that only a very small percentage of respondents could say that their districts compared the progress of online students to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Not only are there differences in the frequency of monitoring, but there are other factors which need to be determined in order to ensure that online learning is having the desired effect. Some say that the benefits of online learning are hard to monitor, as virtual students will all have different profiles. The self-motivated student will tend to have a higher degree of success. But since virtual learning doesn’t provide physical interaction between teacher and student, understanding a student’s motivations are difficult.

There is also some question with regard to the authenticity of the work that virtual students perform. Verifying that a student has completed their own work, and without the assistance of those around them is much more difficult when the student is attending a virtual school. In this case, it has been suggested that value can be added to online learning by allowing advancement be withheld until mastery of the subject matter has been demonstrated.

A Number of Sources

Another reason that the effect of virtual education is so difficult to measure is because it’s being offered in so many different ways. Online education can be delivered via magnet, private, charter or home schooling. And the software needed to facilitate easier online learning is available from both for-profit and not-for-profit companies.

This presents much difficulty for those wishing to compare the effectiveness of online education for a number of reasons, some of which include:

  • the sources used to create the educational software need to be fairly evaluated;
  • the competency of those interpreting the information received from their sources needs to be confirmed;
  • whether or not the amount of funding received by an organization is enough to keep it current with the latest teaching methods must be investigated.

Access to Materials

The manner in which individual districts operate their virtual learning opportunities also makes this mode of education’s effects very difficult to monitor.

One good example is the Florida Virtual School. In addition to a full-service option that allows other states and districts to use its courses, it also offers a hosted option which allows districts to retain local staff, but use the online courses. But not all of the course material has been developed by Florida Virtual School.

If this wasn’t overwhelming enough, any school district in the United States is currently free to incorporate any software into their blended learning curriculum.

Standardization Is Needed

With so many options being available to enhance education via online learning, it’s clear to many that some kind of standardization is needed that will place all schools and their districts on the same page with regard to acceptable education materials and sources. Results from a number of studies suggest that this is the first important step that must occur before any kind of accountability can be measured.

Guest author Elizabeth Brosuga writes on a variety of topics, particularly related to technology.  She is a frequent contributor at, a site dedicated to helping consumers locate internet providers in their area.