Many school districts are looking to offer virtual learning options after this school year.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is expanding its virtual learning program next school year, after offering online learning for about five years, according to Joel VerDuin, the district’s chief technology and information officer.

The district currently offers two types of online schooling. One is specifically for those who’ve been expelled from school, and is intended to prevent them falling behind.

The other is called StepAhead Online, which is for high school students to take classes partially or fully online.

“We’ve had hundreds of students that run through that every year,” VerDuin said.

Next year the district will make the program available to all students, not just high schoolers.

For kindergarten through eighth grade, virtual learning will be offered only as a full-time program, but high school students can continue to take online classes part-time.

That’s because older students are more likely to have their own form of transportation to and from school compared to the younger grades, VerDuin said.

The district is looking to include more involvement from its teachers in the online programming, he said.

“Some of it has been self-paced coursework through software, and we’re trying to minimize that to the degree that we can and rely more on our own teachers and more on our own curriculum,” VerDuin said.

He expects online learning enrollment to increase this year, following a pre-pandemic trend.

Some families have reached out to the district to talk about their student’s success in virtual schooling during the pandemic, VerDuin said.

“And without the pandemic, they may not have had sort of a trial run for virtual learning,” he said.

Online learning differs from in-person classes in more than location, VerDuin said.

It can be better for students when it comes to scheduling, especially if there’s a class kids want to take that doesn’t fit in their current in-person school schedule.

Another change would be the lack of resources at home that may be available at school. For instance, a tech ed student likely wouldn’t have access to some of the same machines offered at school.

“They may not do it with the same equipment and they may not do it in the same way,” VerDuin said. “But they’re experimenting more with things they have around their own homes.”

Collaboration among students is built into the online courses, VerDuin said. In some way or another, students will acknowledge their classmates and get the group work experience they’d get in person.

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