Private / Independent Schools Move into Online / Blended Learning

Keeping Pace 2013 is available for download at Over the coming weeks we’re going to post highlights of the report here in our blog.

Private and independent schools are discussed in Keeping Pace for the first time in 2013; Monday we looked at why they are beginning to adopt online and blended courses, today we’ll look at the early signs of online and blended activity in private / independent schools, and tomorrow we’ll look at those states that allow private students to take funded public school courses.

The slow move into online and blended learning is changing, as more students and families are coming to accept, and expect, online and blended learning options. In some cases the adoptions have come recently and rapidly, and in other cases they have been building for several years. Examples and characteristics of these developments include the following:

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is reporting on its member schools’ digital learning options, with case studies on blended learning, flipped classrooms, the use of Khan Academy, and other examples. As is the case with public schools, some of these examples are perhaps better termed web-enhanced or technology-rich classrooms and schools instead of true blended learning, but other cases are certainly blended or online learning. A conference that was offered for the first time in early 2013, the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools (OESIS), attracted hundreds of attendees and in SY 2013-14 is now offering two conferences, split between the east and west coasts.

–                    “Ubiquitous access to mobile devices is creating new opportunities for schools.

–                    Students in online courses report improved learning outcomes.

–                    Students report high levels of engagement with flipped learning.

–                    Teachers have been integrating new material into lessons with “augmented reality,” using handheld devices to layer information about a specific location with information or data from virtual resources.”

The first three of these statements have been made about many public schools as well as private.

  • The Global Online Academy is a consortium of 10 founding independent schools, and more than 20 member schools, that create and share online courses. Most courses are electives, and the consortium model is similar to the approach used by the Virtual High School—which also works with dozens of private schools.
  • The Virtual Independent School Network (VISNET) is a consortium of schools in North Carolina, Virginia, California, Florida, and elsewhere, designed to provide member schools with affordable resources, tools, and professional development opportunities to support innovative teaching and learning.
  • Schools affiliated with religious institutions, such as Jewish Day Schools and Catholic schools, are looking to online and blended learning as a way to increase their course offerings and cut costs. For example, BOLD Day Schools—a cooperative project of the AJE Project, The AVI CHAI Foundation, and the Kohelet Foundation—aims to create demonstration proofs of successful blended learning in Jewish day schools. The Phaedrus Initiative seeks to “use technology to halt the disappearance of urban Catholic schools.” Success is defined, in part, on reducing instructional costs.
  • The fully online private schools that were begun by companies such as Connections and K12 Inc. are gaining traction. Examples of these are schools include the International Connections Academy and K12 International Academy, and also schools that use Connections and K12 Inc. content and technology in partnership with another organization, such as The Keystone School. In the early days of these schools it appeared that parents were generally less willing to pay for a private fully online school than for a private onsite school, but as online learning is increasingly accepted more parents see a private online school as a worthwhile opportunity, particularly for students who live in states that don’t allow fully online public schools.
  • Because private schools are often smaller than their public counterparts, their course options may be limited compared to larger public schools. They may look to online courses to expand course offerings, and to blended learning to more efficiently manage teachers.

A few fully blended private schools have been created, and they are often using the same providers for courses and learning technologies as their public counterparts. For example, Cambridge Prep Academy in Florida is a small school with students in grades 6-12 who use courses from Florida Virtual School and teachers from both FLVS and Cambridge.

Is your private or independent school moving into online or blended learning? Tell us more in the comments.