AS THE LEARNER-CENTERED EDUCATION MOVEMENT HAS GROWN, the mediums through which it operates have grown right along with it. And, in this case, that includes the virtual.
Recognizing the need for a paradigm shift, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) has developed an online learning experience with the learner at the center. How could a virtual learning space accomplish this? How is this any different from your run-of-the-mill online learning environment? By functioning as a catalyst for learners to investigate their learning in limitless ways.
With the opportunity to explore Flexible Learning Pathways, a VLACS learner can complete “a middle school program, earn a high school diploma, or earn an associate degree” through VLACS’s personalized, relevant, and contextualized design. Combining “courses, projects, experiences, and teams,” these individualized learning journeys are designed to support learners in their competency development and set them up for incredible open-walled opportunities. Within each pathway is a rich learning experience filled with voice and choice.
Imagine a group of learners interested in exploring the environmental impact local residents are having in their hometowns. A learner on the Jersey Shore might want to investigate the steps being taken to eliminate waste from the ocean, while a California native discovers the ins and outs of water conservation. From coast to coast, each learner, exploring and discovering in tandem with their peers, creates a socially embedded environment of support and co-learning.Their learning connects at an intimate level, while also bringing to the forefront the big picture of the issues facing the country and world at-large.
At VLACS, learners are exposed to a learning experience that ventures beyond a simple connection to community resources. The online environment allows learners to connect with opportunities a world away, regardless of their circumstances. From these projects and experiences, learners discover their passions and improve their technical abilities through a wide range of online courses. If the learner in California realizes she needs to have a strong understanding of mathematics—to prove the need for more efficient water usage in her hometown—she can explore the competencies needed to get her there.
As online learning continues to grow as a viable source for the development of lifelong learners, it will take the innovative ideas of learning environments like VLACS to bring learner-centered experiences to life in the virtual realm.