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What High Achieving Students Have Discovered Through Virtual Learning

What High Achieving Students Have Discovered Through Virtual Learning

Student athletes face a real challenge.  To stay at the top of their game, both athletically and educationally, they must learn to balance their demanding training and travel schedule for games, tournaments and competitions with that of a flexible yet rigorous academic program which emphasizes the importance of learning as they prepare for their future.

For many student athletes, the solution often means selecting a virtual learning program.  Virtual learning affords these students the choice of time, pace, path, and place for learning, which their demanding schedules require, while providing access to an educational program that allows them to excel academically, offering the breadth of courses to meet rigorous standards for a high school diploma, the flexibility to prepare for post-secondary opportunities, and the support needed keep them on-track as the progress toward high school graduation.

To understand what it takes for students to be successful in a virtual learning environment, I spoke to students, all who were identified as high-achieving students and several who are also student athletes.  In our conversations, I asked them:

Meet our Students

Carlo Hayden admits that tennis is not a traditional high school sport.  To play at the highest level, however, you have to have to train during the day and travel for competitions.  “It’s the sacrifice I had to make if I intend to play college tennis,” he says.  Carlo, who has been a virtual learning student throughout his high school years,  is a recent ALVS graduate who will be attending Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts this fall on a tennis scholarship.

Kevin Xin, a Chicago native, has been playing hockey since he was ten years old.  Balancing his course work in a traditional in-person learning environment along with his rigorous hockey training was tough.  “I  was often traveling out of state for tournaments and showcases,” he says.  So as 10th grade approached, Kevin decided to transition to virtual learning.  His decision allowed him to travel to China and compete for a spot on the national team where in 2019, he made the U20 team.  He is also a competitive speed-cuber.  Kevin graduated from ALVS in 2021 and will be starting his college career at the University of Illinois this fall.

Chloe Eanes is looking forward to her senior year at ALVS.  Competitive sports did not drive Chloe to choose virtual learning, rather it was a medical condition that contributed to her decision.  “I wasn’t feeling well physically,” she says, “and with so many appointments, I was missing a lot of school.”  Chloe began virtual learning near the beginning of her freshman year.  Now fully recovered, Chloe acknowledges that for her, “Virtual learning is so much less stress socially and I can focus on my work.”  Chloe already has her sights set on her post-secondary pathway.  She wants to be an author.

Generally speaking, high-achieving students who choose virtual learning develop strong self-awareness of who they are as learners.  When asked how they would describe themselves as a student, words such as hard working, driven, and motivated consistently rose to the surface. Their responses indicate an understanding of what motivates them to engage in the learning.

With that background in mind, what can we learn from these students who not only chose, but also thrive in a virtual learning program?

How would you describe the benefits of virtual learning? For these students, there are clear benefits to virtual learning, among them flexibility, efficiency, and the self-directed nature of learning.  But, as Carlo clearly articulated, “It can kind of go both ways.”  They admit to some challenges, particularly in their freshman year,  as they transitioned from a more traditional learning environment that was driven by a bell schedule, learning blocks, and teacher-directed learning.  In other words, the benefits that they now value required them to change their habits of learning to take full advantage of what virtual learning offered.

What has been critical to your success in virtual learning?

While students mentioned numerous contributing factors to their success---focus, motivation, self-discipline, and again, flexibility---  there four consistent themes that were evident  in all their responses.  Scheduling  and time management, accountability and personal responsibility, balance, and deeper learning and resourcefulness have been essential to achieving successful outcomes  in a virtual learning environment.

How did virtual learning prepare you for your next steps beyond high school graduation?

For many first year college students, managing  their schedules, juggling  time for study, classes, and assignments, and developing the discipline for self-directed learning are often challenges. For students with experience in a virtual learning program, they have been developing the skills they’ll need to be successful  in college throughout their high school career.

What advice would you offer to students who are new to virtual learning in terms of their academic success

Since the  pandemic forced nearly all students to transition to emergency remote learning in the spring of 2020 and to virtual learning for a portion, if not all of the 2020-2021 academic year, those students who had experience in virtual learning environments often became a resource and support  for their friends.

Well-planned and implemented virtual learning programs fulfill the promise to give students more control over the time, pace, path and place of learning.  As we continue to promote successful learning models that meet the needs of students, including student athletes,  it is important, in fact necessary to tap into their experiences and advice.  They have wisdom to share if we take the time to ask the questions  and  listen to their voices as they offer insights that drive their success.  For high-achieving students, their experiences reflect a self-awareness and a skill set that they are developing which will prepare them for success in college and beyond.

About the Author:

Jean Sharp has dedicated her career to supporting great teaching and learning, both in the classroom and online. For more than 30 years, she has brought executive leadership and management experience to the development of digital learning solutions that meet the needs of K-12 students. For the past ten years, she served as the Chief Academic Officer and Vice President of Content Development at Apex Learning. Today, Jean continues to contribute to education in relevant and impactful ways, aligning her research and writing with the needs of education and the strategies and solutions that meet student learning needs and maximize student success.

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