In the complex world of K-12 education in the United States, one assertion is certain, much like the famous Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” has never been more true.

Leading the change, evidenced daily, is the expanding development and utilization of online educational options for students and families.

Just a simple search for online K-12 education options, immediately leads to a plethora of options for the consumer. Options which populate the screen first include k12.com, International Academy, Connections Academy, Forrest Trail Academy and Keystone Academy. Further searches reveal 23 pages of additional options and tailored choices for online educational delivery.

Many of these options offer free access and materials for a fully functional online program where, according to K12.com’s May 9, 2017 website, 20-30 percent of of the instruction involves online interaction, with the remaining time consumed by reading and completing assignments and activities, separate from the virtual tool. Connections Academy’s site, connectionsacademy.com, describes a surge in online student participation attesting to an 80 percent surge in online access nationwide from 2009-2013, leading to 2.7 million students participating in on-line learning by 2013. Clearly, with over 2.5 million students learning and interacting nationwide, something within that product line must offer a good or service consumers find valuable.

Flexibility is touted by most sites as a large actor in parents’ choice to select an online delivery mode for their child’s education. Flexibility, in this context, means that many sites, in addition to offering select programs, also offer select classes which the child’s school may not have the funding or the manpower to offer. Often times parents elect to use this option to supplement their child’s face-to-face classroom interactions in order to expand his academic content knowledge, as well as to nurture his intellectual curiosity into specific, outlier areas in which he has shown and interest or a proclivity.

While the art of teaching using real-time teacher to student interactions within a real vs a virtual space, may never be truly replicated, accessing specific programs and services to whet a student’s appetite for more curricular opportunities, while expanding his repertoire of content knowledge, appears to be a real asset to student learning. With all the opportunities now available, it is paramount that parents constantly evaluate their child’s curricular roadmap and do their research into online options, to discover the best-fit educational package to suit their, individual child.

Angela Farmer is an assistant professor of educational leadership for Mississippi State University, a certified Myers-Briggs trainer and a former P-12 educational leader. Readers can contact Farmer at asfarmer@colled.msstate.edu

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