Today is a super important topic: home school versus virtual school and why you REALLY, REALLY need to understand the difference.
What Does Virtual School Mean?
Let’s clear up what is called “virtual school” and what is a virtual school program. Virtual school is an educational program that is completed online, usually from home, without attending a physical location. Many virtual school programs are associated with public schools (like tuition-free K12). However, there is a difference between homeschooling and virtual school.
Before you go away like, UGH, booooooring! let me first tell you that this is one of the most important things that you can understand . . . especially if you’re just starting a homeschool journey and wondering how to start homeschooling today—whether it be online middle school or free online high school.
Do any of these sound familiar:
Maybe you’re at a point in life where you’re looking for an online school for your child . . . for whatever reason.
Perhaps you’d even say that you’re at a crossroads where you’re searching online for things like public school vs homeschool pros and cons or maybe even homeschooling vs private school. . .
Maybe you’re just starting out on a homeschool journey and are just gathering information . . .
Maybe your kids have been in a public school system and now, for whatever reason, you’ve decided to start schooling them at home.
Before you take one more step to transition to homeschooling, you need to know the difference between homeschooling versus schooling at home because it’s a distinction that will affect how you can and cannot home school your child.
So, what is the difference between homeschooling and virtual school?
Let’s take a closer look at the differences.
READ ON for your A-HA! moment!
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Homeschooling or Virtual School Online?
So, you’re online and you see things like:
Tuition-Free Online & Virtual Public School Programs
Free Online High School
Virtual High School
Online Middle School
Virtual School, Online Programs, Curriculum
And, in your quest of knowledge for What is the best online school? you click over to that tuition-free virtual public school that “offers parents flexibility and the involvement of homeschooling” because, “YES! THIS! THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR!”
But . . .
. .. wait.
Just wait a minute.
Let’s back up a bit BEFORE YOU MAKE A BIG MISTAKE FOR YOUR FAMILY . . .
What is the difference between homeschooling and online school?
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The Reality of Virtual Schools
I think the many different names for “virtual school” is partly what people find so confusing, so you’re unclear what you are signing up for and it leads misinformation or inaccurate perceptions.
What is virtual school?
Virtual school is also called:
- Virtual school
- Online school
- Virtual online school
- Virtual public school
- Tuition-free online school
- Free online schools (including free online high school and free online middle school)
- Free online homeschool
- Cyber schooling
- Online education
- Virtual education
- Online learning
- Virtual learning
- Virtual learning academy
- Virtual program
- Online K12 curriculum
- K12 online school
- Online programs
- Learning courses
- Schooling at home (or at-home schooling)
- e Learning
. . . and probably a lot of other terms that I can’t even think of right now.
So, if you’re new to homeschooling (or even researching school alternatives for your kids), you can see why it gets so confusing!
There are easily a dozen or more names for “virtual school” that:
- Can mean the exact same thing, or
- Can mean something similar, or
- Can mean exact opposites.
What’s confusing about that, right?
(Yeah, right . . .)
Maybe this will help break it down . . .
What Is Virtual School? A Virtual School Definition
Virtual school means that learning takes place in an online environment and doesn’t require a student to attend a traditional “brick-and-mortar” institution. Courses, classes, and other services are all offered and completed via the internet and generally completed online from home. Most virtual school is offered through traditional schools (like public schools), while some other virtual online learning (or e learning) is offered through private educational organizations. Virtual schools are often seen as alternative to brick-and-mortar education.
QUESTION: Is virtual school really school?
ANSWER: Virtual school IS really school.
How does a virtual school work?
Virtual school is school work that is just done at home (online) instead of at a physical school building.
Here’s how virtual school works:
- Virtual schools work by connecting a student to a teacher (or instructor) through an online program to complete courses and school work.
- A student uses their virtual school login to connect to their secured account and access their work, which often includes online textbooks, worksheets, homework and other information.
- The student completes the assigned work online and submits it via the internet to the online program.
- The teacher then oversees and manages the student learning for each course or class.
With some virtual schools, a portion of the class or course may be live webinar classes where the students can see the teacher on their screen and interact with them in real time via chat texting software or microphones.
However, most of the time, virtual schoolwork is done independently and submitted online to the teacher or instructor.
What are virtual charter schools?
You may also hear about virtual charter schools. A virtual charter school is an online school that was created by community groups, teachers, or even parents. Charter schools are publicly funded through tax dollars, but may also receive private funding. They are still considered public schools and are tuition free and open to anyone to attend. Virtual charter schools are like other public virtual schools in that the students perform part or all of their schooling in an online class learning instead of going to a brick-and-mortar school building.
Is virtual school free?
So, how much does virtual school cost?
Many of the virtual schools that you see come up in an online search are free because they are affiliated with the public school system.
Those are the tuition-free online and virtual public school programs that receive tax dollars (just like brick-and-mortar schools) and are open to any student and you don’t have to pay a fee to attend.
A virtual public school is free because your child is attending public school, except on a computer from home.
(This is NOT the same as homeschooling. We’ll get to more about homeschooling versus schooling at home in a bit.)
There are some private learning programs that can be completed from home, but most of these have a fee associated with it (for purchasing the class or paying tuition).
There are also free online homeschool programs and also online homeschool curriculum and homeschool programs that you pay for.
These are sometimes called “virtual school” also.
(UGH. I know.)
We’ll also get into that more, so READ ON . . .
Is virtual school better than public school?
REMEMBER: Most virtual schools ARE public schools.
A student is generally just completing public school work from home.
So, some of the same disadvantages (or benefits) that you experience with public schools can also carry over with virtual school.
And, there are pros and cons of virtual schools, just like there are advantages and disadvantages of other types of learning.
Pros of Virtual Schools
- Affordable (often free)
- Flexible time commitments
- Can work at own pace (spending more time on tough topics or speeding up with easier topics)
- Work is often completed in a more timely manner
- Teachers act more like mentors, which makes some students more comfortable
- Promotes independence
- Provides a safer emotional and physical environment for students experiencing issues at a brick-and-mortar school
Why Virtual School is Bad
- Student must manage an independent schedule
- Easy to get behind in school work
- Some find it isolating
- Increases screen time
- Parents may not oversee student’s work
- Creates issues when you have multiple kids (all need a computer or screen time must be managed)
- Often still part of a public school requirements, including a specific curriculum and standardized testing
- Not TRUE homeschooling (if you’re looking for homeschooling)
So, it’s hard for me to answer the question “Is virtual school better than public school?” because I would need to know your motivation, what your family is looking for in an online program, and if you’re really looking for a true homeschooling program (but just referring to it as “virtual school”–and that’s OK because most people don’t know the difference).
Which brings us to . . .
THIS IS PART 7 IN OUR SERIES FOR NEW HOMESCHOOLERS.
What is the difference between homeschooling and virtual school?
So . . .
What’s the difference between online school and homeschool?
And . . .
Is virtual school homeschool?
To answer these common homeschooling and virtual schooling questions, let’s take a closer look:
What Is Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is learning at home, where the parent takes control of the child’s education.
Homeschooling is parent-directed and parent-led or child-led, and generally learning is done at the child’s pace.
Depending on the state where you live, homeschooling may include using a state specified curriculum and requirements, but many states allow parents to choose the curriculum for their children.
Homeschooling—in the truest sense—is control over what your child learns, from a home environment.
READ THIS NEXT TO LEARN MORE:
What Is Schooling At Home?
Schooling at home is often also (mistakenly) called homeschooling; however, it is VERY different.
Schooling at home is the one that means: virtual public school, virtual school, free online school, or tuition-free school (or any of the other synonyms that we discussed earlier).
Schooling at home, virtual school, and homeschool are often used interchangeably, even though they mean different things.
Schooling at home follows a public school or an educational institute’s state-required curriculum. But, the student is just completing the work from at home.
Like we’ve been discussing, these programs are usually offered through public schools or through state-approved programs and often require students to participate in the state’s standardized testing and meet other state school requirements.
A student works at the predetermined pace set by the school, generally through an online program, and submits work and examinations.
The student is basically participating in public school, but just doing the work from home.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that all online programs are public school programs.
Now, here’s where things are going to get REALLY confusing, so you may want to do some jumping jacks or something to get your blood flowing and make sure you’re awake.
OK . ..
Just because a program or course is performed online doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a state controlled program.
There are many independent homeschooling programs and courses that are offered online (through private organizations) and have nothing to do with state mandated curricula.
These online homeschool programs are valid choices for parents who want to homeschool and still maintain control over their child’s education with little-to-no state interference or oversight.
While homeschooling and schooling at home (virtual public school) are both options for your family (at least in the U.S.), do not be confused if you are new to this subject.
Homeschooling gives you control over your child’s learning, while schooling at home follows a state program just like public school, often including oversight and state testing.
If you want total control over your homeschooling and your child’s learning, signing up for a virtual school at home (that is funded by, or affiliated with, public schools) will not offer that, so be sure you understand the program before committing.
That’s A LOT.
BUT . . .
virtual school is an important AND CONFUSING topic, so I want you to understand it completely before making a decision that you may (or may not) regret later.
NOW . . .
Common Homeschool Questions Answered
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Part of this post is an excerpt from It’s Homeschooling, Not Solitary Confinement: Busting the Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation About Homeschooling.