• Consumer Awareness

Consumer Awareness

This Consumer Awareness resource is provided for schools and parents that offers effective online education providers and education delivery models, performance data, cost structures, and research trends.

About

This resource is submitted in compliance with Section 98 of the State School Aid Act, which requires the Michigan Virtual™ to “produce an annual consumer awareness report for schools and parents about effective online education providers and education delivery models, performance data, cost structures, and research trends.”

The purpose of this resource is to make consumers aware of the status of online learning in Michigan and is specifically designed to inform parents, school personnel, and school board members of the nature of online learning options, their effectiveness for Michigan students, the costs of these programs, and current trends.

Sections


Background

Michigan’s interest in and commitment to digital alternatives to traditional instruction have a relatively long history, including more than a decade of legislation and policy development. Some key milestones along the way include the following:

  • 2000 – Enacted legislation to create the Michigan Virtual School® (MVS®) operated by the Michigan Virtual University. (P.A. 230 of 2000)
  • 2004 – Dedicated first-time appropriation support for K-12 online professional development. (P.A. 351 of 2004)
  • 2006 – Became the first state in the nation to pass a requirement that students have an “online learning experience” before graduating from high school. (P.A. 123 & 124 of 2006)
  • 2008 – Allowed school districts to seek a waiver of the state’s pupil accounting rules to allow eligible full-time students to take all of their coursework online through a process implemented by Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  • 2009 – Allowed the formation of two full-time online charter schools. (P.A. 205 of 2009)
  • 2012 – Raised the enrollment cap for cyber schools and allowed up to 2% of Michigan’s total public school enrollment (about 30,000) to participate in full-time programs. (P.A. 129 of 2012)
  • 2012 – Allowed traditional school districts, intermediate school districts, and community colleges (within the college’s regional boundaries) to each authorize one “school of excellence that is a cyber school.” Statewide authorizing bodies were limited to authorizing in aggregate a total of five cyber charters in 2013, 10 in 2014, and 15 after 2014. (P.A. 129 of 2012)
  • 2012 – Enacted legislation to create the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute within Michigan Virtual University. (P.A. 201 of 2012)
  • 2013 – Enacted legislation that allowed students in grades 5 to 12 to enroll in up to two online courses as requested by the pupil during an academic term, semester or trimester. (P.A. 60 of 2013)
  • 2014 – Revised Section 21f of the State School Aid Act changing grade levels to 6-12 and altering funding formula; initiated full launch and use of micourses.org, the statewide catalog of online course offerings. (P.A. 196 of 2014)
  • 2015 – Revised Section 21f of the State School Aid Act to allow community colleges to offer online courses, require primary districts to assign mentors to online learners, and altered funding formula. (P.A. 85 of 2015)
  • 2016 – Revised Section 21f of the State School Aid Act to allow students in K-12 to participate while allowing districts to deny requests for students outside of grades 6-12. (P.A. 249 of 2016)

Expanded Online Learning Options (Section 21f)

Section 21f, the latest and furthest reaching online learning policy to date, expands access to digital learning options for students in Michigan by establishing that public school students in grades K-12, with the consent of parent or legal guardian, may enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term from the courses listed in their district’s local catalog or from Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. Michigan’s Online Course Catalog contains syllabi information as well as enrollment and course dates. All courses contained in the catalog include results of a quality assurance review that uses nationally-recognized standards and performance data based upon course completion. The information in these reviews will assist parents, students, and school personnel in making the best possible choices for students.

Students interested in taking an online course should work with their school’s counselor(s) or registrar to enroll. A district may deny the online course enrollment request if:

  • The pupil is enrolled in any of grades K to 5;
  • The pupil has previously gained the credits that would be provided from the completion of the virtual course;
  • The virtual course is not capable of generating academic credit;
  • The virtual course is inconsistent with the remaining graduation requirements or career interests of the pupil;
  • The pupil has not completed the prerequisite coursework for the requested virtual course or has not demonstrated proficiency in the prerequisite course content;
  • The pupil has failed a previous virtual course in the same subject during the 2 most recent academic years;
  • The virtual course is of insufficient quality or rigor. A primary district that denies a pupil enrollment request for this reason shall enroll the pupil in a virtual course in the same or a similar subject that the primary district determines is of acceptable rigor and quality;
  • The cost of the virtual course exceeds 6.67% of the minimum foundation allowance, unless the pupil or the pupil’s parent or legal guardian agrees to pay the cost that exceeds this amount;
  • The request for a virtual course enrollment did not occur within the same timelines established by the primary district for enrollment and schedule changes for regular courses; and
  • The request for a virtual course enrollment was not made in the academic term, semester, trimester, or summer preceding the enrollment. This subdivision does not apply to a request made by a pupil who is newly enrolled in the primary district.

If a student is denied enrollment in an online course, parents and/or the student may appeal the decision with the superintendent of the intermediate school district in which the student’s educating district is located.

More information about Section 21f is available through the Michigan Virtual website, including access to Frequently Asked Questions and the 21F Tool Kit, which includes an implementation guide for school personnel, sample letters, forms, and draft policies for use by school districts.


Providers and Delivery Models

Digital Learning Options

Currently, digital learning options in Michigan include Michigan Virtual, 14 cyber schools that draw students from across the entire state, and programs run by consortia and individual school districts that often make use of online courses from third-party providers. These options provide Michigan students with many paths for online learning. Some Michigan students take one or two courses from an online provider in order to supplement their brick and mortar school curriculum; this online learning option is known as a supplemental program. Some students are involved in a full-time program and take all of their courses online. Still, other students are part of the fastest growing option – blended learning – which means the teacher integrates online resources that transform the traditional classroom.

While there may be a number of different options for K-12 online learning, one provider or model does not suit all students or districts. Determining the best option or combination of options requires understanding available online learning programs and the student’s academic needs.

Dimensions of Online Learning Models

Section 21f, the latest and furthest reaching online learning policy to date, expands access to digital learning options for students in Michigan by establishing that public school students in grades K-12th, with the consent of parent or legal guardian, may enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term from the courses listed in their district’s local catalog or from Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. Michigan’s Online Course Catalog contains syllabi information as well as enrollment and course dates. All courses contained in the catalog include results of a quality assurance review that uses nationally recognized standards. The information in these reviews will assist parents, students, and school personnel in making the best possible choices for students.

Students interested in taking an online course should work with their school’s counselor(s) or registrar to enroll. A district may deny the online course enrollment request if:

  • The pupil is enrolled in any of grades K to 5;
  • The pupil has previously gained the credits that would be provided from the completion of the virtual course;
  • The virtual course is not capable of generating academic credit;
  • The virtual course is inconsistent with the remaining graduation requirements or career interests of the pupil;
  • The pupil has not completed the prerequisite coursework for the requested virtual course or has not demonstrated proficiency in the prerequisite course content;
  • The pupil has failed a previous virtual course in the same subject during the 2 most recent academic years;
  • The virtual course is of insufficient quality or rigor. A primary district that denies a pupil enrollment request, for this reason, shall enroll the pupil in a virtual course in the same or a similar subject that the primary district determines is of acceptable rigor and quality;
  • The cost of the virtual course exceeds 6.67% of minimum foundation allowance unless the pupil or the pupil’s parent or legal guardian agrees to pay the cost that exceeds this amount;
  • The request for a virtual course enrollment did not occur within the same timelines established by the primary district for enrollment and schedule changes for regular courses; and
  • The request for a virtual course enrollment was not made in the academic term, semester, trimester, or summer preceding the enrollment. This subdivision does not apply to a request made by a pupil who is newly enrolled in the primary district.

Online learning encompasses different educational models and programs which vary in many of their key elements. Keeping Pace, a nationally recognized leader in K-12 online and blended education research, published a set of 10 defining dimensions that characterize an online learning program’s structure and delivery, adapted from the work of Gregg Vanourek. (See Defining Dimensions of Online Programs figure below). The dimensions include whether the program is supplemental or full-time, the breadth of its geographic reach, the organizational type and operational control, and the location and type of instruction. Some of these attributes may be combined or operate along a continuum (e.g., location and type of instruction).

No one type or combination of attributes is “best” or better than any other; each model simply presents its own opportunities and challenges for students and parents. Understanding the possible dimensions of online programs will help inform planning and decision making that leads to success for students.

Defining Dimensions of Online Programs
Defining Dimensions of Online Learning

While each of the 10 dimensions are important aspects to consider, four are especially significant and merit further explanation as described in Michigan Virtual‘s Planning Guide for Online and Blended Learning:

  • Comprehensiveness (supplemental vs. full time): One important distinction is whether the online learning program provides a complete set of courses for students enrolled full-time or provides a small number of supplemental courses to students enrolled in a physical school. Full-time online schools typically must address the same accountability measures as physical schools in their states.
  • Reach: Online learning programs may operate within a school district, across multiple school districts, across a state, or, in a few cases, nationally or internationally. The geographic reach of online learning programs is a major contributing factor to the ways in which education policies can be outdated when applied to Internet-based delivery models. It may also provide opportunities for students to participate in online courses with educators and other students from different cultures.
  • Delivery (synchronous vs. asynchronous): Most online learning programs are primarily asynchronous, meaning students and teachers work at different times, communicating via email and discussion boards.
  • Type of Instruction (from fully online to fully face-to-face): Many programs are now combining the best aspects of online and classroom instruction to create a variety of blended learning experiences.

These dimensions provided a language for thinking and talking about different online and blended models. While the focus of this report is not blended learning, a brief explanation may be helpful. According to the State School Aid Act, blended learning is a “hybrid instructional delivery model where pupils are provided content, instruction, and assessment, in part at a supervised educational facility away from home where the pupil and a teacher with a valid Michigan teaching certificate are in the same physical location and in part through internet-connected learning environments with some degree of pupil control over time, location, and pace of instruction.” The Christensen Institute, a national leader in blended learning research, developed a Blended-Learning Taxonomy as a categorization of existing blended learning models: rotation, flex, a la carte, and enriched-virtual. The structures for these models are created once decisions have been made in regard to each of the defining dimensions of a program. Similar to the online learning dimensions and models, the elements are not mutually exclusive, and many elements can, and do, exist simultaneously.

  • Rotation model: A course or subject in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning.
  • Flex model: Teachers serve mainly as facilitators, guiding students on an individually customized and fluid schedule within which content and instruction is delivered primarily online. The level of face-to-face support may vary.
  • A La Carte model: Students elect to take one or more supplementary courses in a fully online format and complete coursework either on campus or off-site.
  • Enriched-Virtual model: Students divide their time between receiving instruction at a traditional brick-and-mortar school building and through fully online coursework. This model is implemented school-wide.

Qualities of Effective Online Education Providers

Online learning can be more demanding than learning in a traditional classroom. The fact that the teachers and curricular experts associated with an online course often are not known to the school or parent raises some concerns. These concerns can be addressed prior to committing to a course or program of learning. Before schools or parents select courses for their students, the providers of online content should be examined according to a set of criteria recognized as indicators of quality and effectiveness. iNACOL’s Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Right Online Program recommends looking at Accreditation and Transferability of Credit, NCAA Certification, Governance and Accountability, Curriculum, Instruction, Student Support, and Socialization. (See the guide for more detailed information on these categories). Some effectiveness indicators are described below.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a process by which educational providers are certified by accreditation agencies. It serves as a way for schools to demonstrate that they’ve met high standards and are willing to allow outside agencies to evaluate them. It is also a valuable process for institutions like schools and districts to determine what courses are worthy of credit. When considering accreditation, the reputability of the accrediting agency is of importance. More information and a list of regional accrediting agencies is included in iNACOL’s Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Right Online Program.

Governance and Accountability

When choosing an online education provider, it is important to understand the governing agency behind the school (state virtual school, local school district, chartering agency, etc.) and the accountability measures to which the school is held. Refer to iNACOL’s Parent’s Guide for more information and a helpful checklist on this topic.

Highly Qualified Teachers

Some students say they get more attention and support online because the environment often requires one-to-one interaction that may not happen in the classroom. To address concerns about the quality of instruction, verify the teacher is “highly qualified.” According to the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), to be considered “highly qualified,” teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree, full state certification or licensure, and be able to demonstrate that they know the content areas they teach.

Teacher/Student Ratio

Teacher/student ratios detail the number of students per teacher in each classroom or course. Note that working with students one-on-one in a classroom setting is much different from working with students virtually.

Course Review in Michigan’s Statewide Catalog of Online Courses

All K-12 online courses offered through Section 21f must be entered into Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. Each course entry details important course information including the results of a course review against the current iteration of the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses, Version 2. The iNACOL course standards provide a list of 52 standards divided among five sections: Content, Instructional Design, Student Assessment, Technology, and Course Evaluation and Support. State and local academic standards are also considered during reviews. In assessing the quality of national providers, it may be helpful to seek out results of reviews that other states have conducted against the same Quality Standards.

Course Completion and Pass Rates

Course completion and pass rates detail how many students successfully complete each course (based on the providers’ criteria of a successful completion). Pass rate data is publicly available for course titles in Michigan’s Statewide Catalog of Online Courses.

Help Desk Services

Course providers should utilize a help desk with extensive hours and be able to readily answer any questions or resolve any issues that students, parents, or school personnel may encounter when enrolling or taking an online course. The availability and quality of help offered should be considered when choosing a provider.

Instructional Design

Online course design elements differ from traditional courses. Course design should offer more than one way to engage in and complete assignments, be more responsive to individual learner needs, provide opportunities for instructor-student and student-student communication, and include meaningful and timely feedback mechanisms. Elements and activities will vary from course to course and among providers.

Micourses.org Data

The table below shows the names of Michigan entities by entity type that on November 30, 2018, were offering fall courses statewide in the Micourses website. Schools offering virtual courses only to their own students are no longer required to submit their course syllabi to the Micourses website.

ISDs
None
LEAs
Ann Arbor Public Schools
Berrien Springs Public Schools
Brandywine Community Schools
Buchanan Community Schools
City of Harper Woods School
Clintondale Community Schools
Davison Community Schools
Deckerville Community School District
DeWitt Public Schools
Dexter Community Schools
Grand Blanc Community Schools
New Haven Community Schools
Parchment School District
Public School Academies
iCademy Global
State Virtual School
Michigan Virtual
Offering Entity Map

The map below shows locations in Michigan that on November 30, 2018, were offering fall courses statewide in the Micourses website.

Locations of districts offering online courses statewide

Data on Statewide Offerings

The column chart below shows how the fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website varied by course content provider.

Fall 2018 Content Provider Breakdown

88% of the 1,643 course titles were provided by third-parties

The column chart below shows how the fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website varied by course instructor provider.

Fall 2018 Instructor Provider Breakdown

70% of the 1,643 course titles were taught by third-party instructors

Data by Entity Type

The pie chart below shows the proportion of fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website by entity type (ISDs, LEAs, PSAs, Michigan Virtual). In order for a course syllabus to be included in the pie chart, it had to have at least one offering that was active within an active fall term and school year, and contain the complete course review results. For this pie chart, a course syllabus is only counted one time regardless of the number of times it was offered during the fall.

Fall 2018 Course Title Breakdown by Entity Type

82% of the fall titles were from LEA districts, 4% from PSA districts, and 14% from the State Virtual Schools

The column chart below shows how the fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website varied by course content provider and entity type.

Fall 2018 Content Provider Breakdown by Entity Type

95% of LEA district titles used third-party content. 91% of PSA district content was self created. The state virtual school created 58% of its courses

The column chart below shows how the fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website varied by course instructor provider and entity type.

Fall 2018 Instructor Provider Breakdown by Entity Type

83% of LEA District courses were taught using third-party instructors. PSA Districts used their own instructors 67% of the time. The state virtual school used it's own teachers 96% of the time.

Data by Subject Area

The bar charts below show the proportion of fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website by subject area. In order for a course syllabus to be included in the charts, it had to have at least one offering that was active within an active fall term and school year, and contain the complete course review results. For these charts, a course syllabus is only counted one time regardless of the number of times it was offered during the fall.

Fall 2018 High School Statewide Course Title Breakdown by Subject Area

ELA (16%), Social Sciences and History (12%), Life and Physical Sciences (12%), and Mathematics (11%) were the top four high school subject areas in terms of course offerings.

Fall 2018 Middle School Statewide Course Title Breakdown by Subject Area
ELA (20%), Social Sciences and History (20%), Mathematics (19%), and Life and Physical Sciences (17%) were the top four middle school subject areas in terms of course offerings

Trends by Year

Key trends for a school year are summarized in the following briefs:
2016-17 Trends Brief 2017-18 Trends Brief

2016-17 Trends Brief

With the 2016-17 school year, districts choosing to provide 21f options to their own students, but not to students from other districts, were no longer required by the State School Aid Act to report their course syllabi information to the Michigan Virtual University via Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. For the fall semester, there were only five districts who leveraged the Micourses website to advertise their courses to their students; in the spring, this dropped to three districts. Thus, when communicating virtual options to their own students, districts are using channels other than the Micourses website.

When it comes to offering virtual courses to students across districts, both the fall and the spring saw 12 different providers advertise their courses through the micourses.org website. These 12 consisted of one ISD, nine LEA districts, one PSA district and the Michigan Virtual School. Consistent with past years, we continue to see across both the fall and spring semesters the pattern that with the exception of the Michigan Virtual School, ISDs, LEAs and PSAs are predominantly getting content from some other third-party vendor. The Michigan Virtual School, in contrast, produces about 45% of its course titles in-house.

There is greater variation when it comes to instructors. For the 2016-17 school year, ISDs continued to rely exclusively on third-party providers to supply the course instructor. LEA districts were assigning their own instructors to teach the virtual courses around 40% of the time and using the instructor provided by a third-party 60% of the time. PSA districts had too few offerings to comment on a pattern. Michigan Virtual used their own teachers to instruct their virtual courses 96% of the time; the exception was for their Chinese courses which are taught by instructors from Michigan State University’s Confucius Institute.

Like the trend we have seen in Michigan’s K-12 Effectiveness Report series, the highest percentage of courses being offered statewide tend to fall into the course subject areas of Mathematics, Social Sciences and History, Life and Physical Sciences, and English Language and Literature. The one departure from the data observed in the Effectiveness Reports is that, for both the high school and middle school levels, the highest percentage of courses offered were in Foreign Language and Literature. Foreign Language courses represented around 17% of the high school offerings and 26% of the middle school offerings. To put those percentages into context, for the 2015-16 school year, only about 6% of the virtual enrollments reported to the state were for Foreign Language and Literature courses. Hence, it appears that providers of virtual courses are more optimistic about enrollments in that subject area than has come to fruition.

2017-18 Trends Brief

Like the previous school year, districts choosing to provide 21f options to their own students, but not to students from other districts, were not required to report their course syllabi information to Michigan Virtual via Michigan’s Online Course Catalog. We no longer have districts using the catalog to communicate virtual options to their own students; districts are using channels other than the Micourses website for virtual options within a district.

When it comes to offering virtual courses to students across districts, ISDs are no longer offering virtual courses through the statewide catalog. LEA districts continue to be the most active offerers of online courses. Thirteen different LEA districts had courses available to students statewide. Only one PSA offered courses, as did Michigan Virtual.

Consistent with past years, LEAs are predominantly getting content from third-party vendors; about 95% of the courses offered by LEAs leveraged third-party content providers. The one PSA provider was the opposite, producing close to 90% of its course offerings in-house. Michigan Virtual, falls more in the middle with somewhere around half of its courses being produced in-house.

The same trends apply when it comes to instructors. For the 2017-18 school year, LEA districts were assigning their own instructors to teach the virtual courses less than 20% of the time. This was half the percentage of the prior year. The one PSA district primarily used its own teachers. Michigan Virtual used their own teachers to instruct their virtual courses pretty much all of the time.

Like the trend we have seen in Michigan’s K-12 Effectiveness Report 2016-17, the highest percentage of courses being offered statewide tend to fall into the course subject areas of Mathematics, Social Sciences and History, Life and Physical Sciences, and English Language and Literature.

From a pricing perspective, we have continued to see reduction in variation. In the early years of the catalog, courses ranged from less than $50 to more than $600. With the 2017-18 school year, almost all virtual courses offered through the statewide catalog were priced between $300 and $400 dollars. This is quite a bit below the legislated ceiling of $509 for a course (6.67% of the State Minimum Foundation Allowance of $7,631 for the 2017-18 school year).


Performance Data

Effectiveness of Online Learning

Research supports that online learning is, on average, as effective if not more so than traditional classroom instruction. However, researchers are also quick to point out that it is not the medium (face-to-face vs. online) that matters as much as other factors like time on task, additional learning time, quality of instruction, etc. Just like in face-to-face settings, not all online experiences are high quality or even average. Those advising students interested in online learning should spend time looking at the performance data available on a provider prior to making enrollment decisions.

Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute is required to submit an annual report examining the effectiveness of online learning delivery models in preparing pupils to be college- and career-ready. The report highlights enrollment totals, completion rates, and the overall impact on students.

The latest report reveals that about 7% of Michigan K-12 students took at least one virtually delivered course in the 2016-17 school year. There was variability in school-wide pass rates; 55% of schools that had virtual enrollments in 2016-17 had school-wide virtual pass rates of 70% or better. Clearly, some schools are implementing models that appear to be working, but too many do not. Lastly, students taking virtual courses in a supplemental capacity appear to be more successful when they take only a few virtual enrollments a year.

For more information about this report, including more key findings, please visit the Research Trends section of this resource.

Cyber Schools

Like other Michigan public schools, performance data for cyber schools is available through the MI School Data website. Performance data includes sections on student outcomes, culture of learning, value for money, salary data, and the Michigan Public School Accountability Scorecard rating. The table below provides key information for the cyber schools that were open in Michigan as of November 30, 2018.

Entity Name First Year of Operation Chartering Agency Authorized Grades Educational Service Provider Dashboard
Great Lakes Cyber Academy 2013-14 Central Michigan University 6-12 Connections Education, LLC Dashboard
Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan 2016-17 Mesick Consolidated Schools K-12 K-12 Inc. Dashboard
iCademy Global 2013-14 Lake Superior State University K-12 Innovative Educational Services Dashboard
Insight School of Michigan 2014-15 Central Michigan University 6-12 K-12 Inc. Dashboard
LifeTech Academy 2013-14 Eaton Rapids Public Schools K-12 Engaged Education Dashboard
Lighthouse Connections Academy 2018-19 Oxford Community Schools  K-12 Connections Education, LLC Dashboard
Michigan Connections Academy 2012-13 Ferris State University K-12 Connections Education, LLC Dashboard
Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy 2013-14 Manistee Area Public Schools K-12 K-12 Inc. Dashboard
Michigan International Prep School 2017-18 Ovid-Elsie Area Schools K-12 Reimagine Education, LLC Dashboard
Michigan Online School 2017-18 Gobles Public School District 6-12 Edmentum Dashboard
Michigan Virtual Charter Academy 2012-13 Grand Valley State University K-12 K-12 Inc. Dashboard
Success Virtual Learning Centers of Michigan 2016-17 Vestaburg Community Schools 9-12 Success Management Systems Dashboard
Uplift Michigan Academy 2018-19 Stephenson Area Public Schools 9-12 Pearson N/A
WAY Michigan 2014-15 Central Michigan University 6-12 WAY Dashboard

Full-Time Virtual LEA Schools

There are now 60 LEA schools across the state that offer full-time virtual learning options to district students. A full list of these schools can be found be searching CEPI’s website at CEPI Detailed Search by setting the search filters as below.

Filter Settings to Identify Full-Time Virtual LEA Schools
Image shows the Current Status of Entity set to Open-Active. The Entity Type Filter is set to LEA School and the Educational Settings Actual (Summary) filter is set to FTVirtual

Parent Dashboard for School Transparency for each of these schools may be found by on the MI School Data website.

State Virtual School

The Michigan Virtual School is run by Michigan Virtual, a nonprofit organization. Michigan Virtual is required to provide an annual legislative report detailing, among other things, registration and completion rates by course and the overall completion rate percentage. Its Annual Reports are available for free on the Michigan Virtual website.

Locating Performance Data on Micourses.org

The Micourses website includes performance data from the preceding school year(s). This includes information on the number of enrollments from the prior year and the number of those enrollments that earned 60% or more of the total course points. The site also displays a completion rate for that year. Courses with no data from a previous year suggest the course was not offered during that year.

To view the performance data for a course title, click on the “Student Performance Data” link on a syllabus.

Student Performance Data Tab on Syllabus
Step one to view course cost
Sample Data Displayed on Student Peformance Data Tab
Step two to view course cost

There is also a notes field that may have additional information about the performance data. For additional resources on how to use the Micourses website, see the Public Help Resources.


Cost Structures

Just like face-to-face schools, online providers have many of the same expenses, albeit likely in different proportions. For instance, in their paper, The Costs of Online Learning, Battaglino, Halderman, and Laurans (2010) categorize these costs into five different categories: Labor (teachers and administrators), Content Acquisition, Technology and Infrastructure, School Operations, and Student Support. The chart below illustrates the primary sources of or influences on expenditures within these categories.

Labor
  • Providing student support services
  • Accommodating the student-to-teacher ratio in online courses
  • Hiring contracted instructors vs. employees
  • Providing teacher professional development
Digital Content
  • Buying existing subject matter, courses, and/or management tools from third-party vendors
  • Building brand new subject matter, courses, and/or management tools
  • Licensing newly created subject matter, courses, and/or management tools for use by others
  • Acquiring open-source (free) materials for incorporating into new and existing courses
  • Determining standards for course content and establishing the level of rigor
Technology and Infrastructure
  • Ensuring student access to computer devices
  • Providing Internet access
  • Overseeing learning management system delivery
  • Providing a technical help desk
  • Designing and implementing software tools
School Operations
  • Developing and coordinating student and parent communications
  • Providing mentor support
  • Offering professional development opportunities
  • Administering contracts with third-party providers
  • Overseeing the evaluation of content and instruction
Student Support
  • Delivering counseling services
  • Operating accessible help desk services
  • Offering online tutoring and resources
  • Preparing and delivering student orientation

The three different delivery models – fully online cyber schools, supplemental courses, and blended programs – have different cost structures because the demands of their design and operation vary. The impact on costs from common features such as course content, technology, and instructors vary as well.

The cost of an online course is tied to the direct expenses associated with developing it or paying for it through enrollment/tuition fees, including required course materials such as learning kits or textbooks. Other types of associated expenses include indirect costs such as facilities, computers, network connections, and local mentor support services.

State law (Section 21f of the State School Aid Act) requires that a student enrolled in an online course must be provided the same rights and access to technology as all other pupils enrolled in his or her educating district’s school. A review of online course offerings available to Michigan students today indicates that over 90% of online courses cost between $300 and $400 for a single semester course. Students in classrooms employing blended learning use the technology available in the school and may use devices at home as well. The cost of blended learning will vary depending on whether the teacher is creating course material or the school district purchases it from a provider.

Cyber schools usually provide devices or Internet access. Their technology infrastructure will vary from that of a traditional school. On the other hand, cyber schools do not have the same expenses as traditional brick and mortar schools. Traditional schools – including those that offer blended learning – have to provide classrooms, food service, special education services, and transportation, for example.

The expense associated with instructors varies: some supplemental courses do not require an instructor; others do not include an instructor so the district must supply one. Cyber schools and blended programs will have staff expenses that supplemental instruction does not. Another important factor in determining instructional costs relates to the student-to-teacher ratio.

Micourses.org Pricing Data

The pie chart below shows how the fall statewide course titles that were available on November 30, 2018, in the Micourses website varied by course fee. In order for a course syllabus to be included in the pie chart, it had to have at least one offering that was active within an active fall term and school year, and contain the complete course review results. For this pie chart, a course syllabus is only counted one time regardless of the number of times it was offered during the fall.

Fall 2018 Course Fees
Over 90% of course titles had a price point between $300 and $400


Research in K-12 online and blended learning continues to grow and help us understand what works and what needs improvement in various areas of the field, including design, instruction, developing new learning environments, meeting social and emotional needs of students, training educators, and more. Multiple resources are available to help keep up with the trends.

Research Resources

Research Clearinghouse for K-12 Blended & Online Learning

The Research Clearinghouse for K-12 Blended & Online Learning is available thanks to a collaboration between the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and Michigan Virtual. The Clearinghouse is a regularly-updated repository of references to research articles and other publications from the field of K-12 online and blended learning, many of which are freely accessible on the Internet.

Keeping Pace

Keeping Pace reports, formally called Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Research, are released annually by the Evergreen Education Group. These reports analyze state policy and online learning legislation, state-by-state enrollment data, online and blended planning and implementation guides, as well as national trends in online learning.

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

MVLRI is another source of information regarding research in K-12 online and blended learning. In 2012, the Governor and Michigan Legislature asked Michigan Virtual to establish a center for online learning research and innovation to work on a variety of projects. MVLRI is dedicated to furthering the field of K-12 online education through innovative, practically-focused, high-quality research. MVLRI hosts free webinars and podcasts where researchers highlight the latest research in the field. MVLRI also produces a Research Blog where the latest research and research-related opportunities from around the world are shared.

Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning (Second Edition)

The open-access Handbook of Research in K-12 Online and Blended Learning (Second Edition) also helps lay the groundwork for future studies. This handbook provides both introductory chapters to the field of K-12 online and blended learning and also delves into specific spaces, including research on learning, K-12 learning in content domains, teaching, the role of the “other” (mentors, parents, support staff, etc), and technology innovations. This handbook is a key resource in the historical, current, and future perspectives on research in K-12 online and blended learning.

Journal of Online Learning Research

The Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education launched the Journal of Online Learning Research, an open-access, “peer-reviewed, international journal devoted to the theoretical, empirical, and pragmatic understanding of technologies and their impact on primary and secondary pedagogy and policy in primary and secondary (K-12) online and blended environments.”

Research Topic Examples

Despite the growing literature, many areas still need to be explored more deeply. In 2013, iNACOL published its Research Agenda to guide the research community’s efforts from 2013-2018, and specifically recognized 10 priorities specific to future research needs in K-12 online and blended learning.

  • Identify the most effective learning environments for different groups of students, with different characteristics;
  • Understand what designs are most effective when it comes to data systems and technology infrastructure;
  • Understand what is necessary to prepare all education professionals to support learners;
  • Understand what change management practices are most effective when implementing breakthrough models;
  • Explore teaching strategies that are most promising;
  • Discover promising practices in instructional design pertaining to course design;
  • Determine what course and program design elements are necessary when it comes to providing access and equity;
  • Identify type and frequency of assessments that are most promising for competency-based learning;
  • Identify human capital needs; and
  • Explore the effect of policy (national, state, and local) on quality assurance.

Though the opportunities presented by online and blended learning are readily apparent, more research must be done to ensure these opportunities translate to high-quality educational experiences for students.

Michigan Research

Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report 2016-17

MVLRI prepares an annual report that highlights enrollment totals, completion rates, and the overall impact of virtual courses on Michigan K-12 pupils. Report findings are based on data reported to the state by schools. Self-reported data is not optimal but represents the best data that is collected to date.

Three student subsets were examined:

  • Part-Time (Michigan Virtual) – virtual enrollments from students who were identified as taking at least one online course with Michigan Virtual. Michigan Virtual runs a state-supported supplementary virtual school program that was created by Public Act 230 of 2000;
  • Part-Time (Non-Michigan Virtual) – Like the prior type, this type is also for a la carte virtual enrollments taken by students. However, the courses were taken from a provider other than Michigan Virtual; and
  • Full-Time (including Cybers) – enrollments from cyber schools or full-time virtual LEA schools. Cyber schools provide full-time instruction through online learning. Cyber schools were first created through Public Act 205 of 2009. Public Act 129 of 2012 expanded the number of cyber school contracts that could be issued in the state.

Data for these three types included both their virtual coursework and their non-virtual coursework.

Some key findings from the report include:

Schools
  • 593 school districts (two-thirds of districts) reported at least one virtual enrollment.
  • 56% of the 1,102 schools with virtual enrollments had 100 or more virtual enrollments.
  • 73% of schools with virtual enrollments had a general education school emphasis; 25% had an alternative education emphasis.
  • 87% of schools with virtual learning were Local Education Agency (LEA) schools.
  • LEAs accounted for 58% of the virtual enrollments; Public School Academies (PSA) generated 41% of the virtual enrollments.
  • PSA cyber schools were responsible for 30% of the virtual enrollments.
  • 97% of virtual enrollments came from schools with 100 or more virtual enrollments.
  • About 79% of virtual enrollments came from high schools.
  • 32% of virtual enrollments came from suburban schools, the most of any locale.
  • Schools with a general education emphasis had a 62% virtual pass rate, outperforming those with an alternative education emphasis which had a pass rate of 44%.
  • 27% of schools had a school-wide virtual pass rate of 90% to 100%.
Courses
  • 517,470 virtual enrollments were taken by Michigan K-12 students; the overall pass rate for virtual enrollments was 55%.
  • Virtual enrollments were spread across 923 different course titles.
  • 67% of virtual enrollments occurred in the core subject areas of English Language & Literature, Mathematics, Life & Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences and History.
  • The virtual pass rates for each core subject were English Language and Literature (52%), Mathematics (49%), Life & Physical Sciences (53%), and Social Sciences and History (56%).
  • 29 different Advanced Placement (AP) courses were taken virtually.
  • The percentage of enrollments was fairly consistent by subject area across rural, town, suburban, and city schools.
  • Online courses (defined as including a teacher in the virtual environment) produced 80% of the virtual enrollments. Digital learning (without a teacher in the virtual environment) and blended learning (some virtual, some face-to-face instruction) each accounted for about 10% of the virtual enrollments.
Students
  • 101,359 K-12 students took at least one virtual course which represents 7% of Michigan public school students.
  • 88% of virtual learners were in high school; 33% were seniors and 22% were juniors.
  • 19% of virtual learners attended a PSA cyber school or an LEA full-time virtual school; the virtual pass rate for those students was 49%.
  • Almost half of the virtual learners passed all their virtual courses. About one-quarter of virtual learners did not pass any of their virtual courses.
  • Of the 25,023 students who did not pass any of their virtual courses, 46% only took one or two courses. Almost 9,500 students took and did not pass five or more virtual courses with more than 2,700 students taking and not passing 11 or more virtual courses.
  • Students enrolled in Michigan Virtual courses were stronger students in general as measured by a higher pass rate in their non-virtual courses (92%) compared to students who were enrolled in their local school’s virtual solution (75% pass rate). However, students in Michigan Virtual School courses were also more successful in their virtual courses, even when considering their non-virtual performance.
  • Female students had a higher pass rate (57%) than did males (53%).
  • Students in poverty (54%) continue to make up a disproportionate number of virtual learners. Students in poverty also had a lower pass rate (48%) than did students who were not in poverty (66%).
  • Pass rates were higher for students taking fewer virtual courses. Students taking one or two virtual courses had a 73% pass rate compared to 51% for those taking five or more.
  • White students represented 66% of virtual students; African-Americans were 19%.
  • About half of 11th-grade virtual learners who took SAT were proficient on the Reading/Writing component. About a quarter tested proficient in Science or in Math.

The report findings aid educational leaders and researchers in understanding and designing subsequent studies to find out under what conditions virtual learning can and is working and leverage that understanding to cultivate virtual programs that yield the best results.


Conclusion and Resources

Online learning provides new opportunities for individualization and personalization of learning, flexible scheduling and location, access to highly qualified and specialized instructors, credit recovery, advanced placement, and on-demand learning. Whatever the reason for pursuing an online experience – whether it’s one course or a fully online program – students benefit academically from access to course content when they want it and individualized pacing and flexible scheduling matched to their current knowledge and skill. On-demand access to course content also means that parents can monitor their students’ learning and provide focused motivation and support for struggling students. Schools also benefit from increased availability of and access to online learning because they can offer more options to meet the needs of their students without hiring additional staff, often a difficult task in subject areas with a shortage of highly qualified teachers.

The transition of learning environments from traditional classroom models to any time, any place, any pace learning systems will require the transformation of both individual and organizational behavior. Michigan Virtual stands ready and looks forward to supporting educational partners in accommodating these changes and working with the state’s policy leaders and elected officials to further develop Michigan’s online learning industry and to help position the state to assume a national leadership role in the knowledge economy.

Online and Blended Learning Resources

Resources for Schools

Planning Guide for Online and Blended Learning

Michigan Virtual developed this planning document as a practical resource to assist school board members, administrators, teachers, parents and others in meeting student needs. The document presents an overview of online and blended learning, offers guiding questions to support local planning efforts, identifies standards for teaching in online and blended environments, and provides student and district planning rubrics.

21F Tool Kit

With the enactment of Section 21f of the State School Aid Act of 2013 came many questions for parents, schools, and students. Michigan Virtual collaborated with key stakeholders including the Michigan Department of Education and several professional organizations working in Michigan education to produce the 21f Toolkit. The Toolkit is a collection of practical resources including sample letters, forms, and draft policies, and reference material including slide presentations and a detailed implementation guide. Additional resources are being added as they are created and revised based upon legislative revisions.

Mentor Fundamentals: A Guide for Mentoring Online Learners

This guide is intended to provide an understanding of the fundamental elements of mentoring or coaching students for success with online courses and has been prepared with the assistance and insight of experienced mentors. The guide describes the roles and responsibilities of the mentor and contains tools to prepare mentors for working with online learners.

Online Learning Orientation Tool (OLOT)

OLOT is a freely available self-paced learning tool designed to help students understand what online learning entails and introduce the skills and knowledge that are key to success. Used in conjunction with the Online Learner Readiness Rubric, OLOT can help students better understand what to expect when participating in an online course and their level of preparedness. Content is divided into four modules and covers a broad array of topics, including the nature of the online coursework, the technical skills needed for online course participation, the influence of learning skills, interest, and motivation on online course performance, and basic organization and workflow tips for students.

Online Mentor Training Module

This module is a collection of information, media assets, and assessments highlighting the best practices for mentoring online learners, specifically 6-12 students. Information in this module is drawn from research by Dr. Jered Borup of George Mason University, an MVLRI Fellow, as well as personal interviews with mentors working in schools across the state of Michigan. Special thanks also goes to the staff of the online learning program at Three Rivers High School in Three Rivers, MI for sharing their experience and effective mentoring practices in the videos contained in this module. Their expertise and that of mentors at nine other schools helped inform the content of the module and the growing body of work aimed at improving online learning experiences for students in Michigan.

How to Start an Online Program: A Practical Guide to Key Issues and Policies

This website, created and maintained by iNACOL, was developed as a public resource to meet a growing need for information on starting online education programs. The website is intended for individuals interested in investigating the possibility of creating an online learning program and contains information for policymakers such as state legislators, staff members at the state department of education, and district administrators who wish to establish a positive policy environment for online learning.

Resources for Parents

Parent Guide to Online Learning

This practical guide was written for Michigan parents, guardians, counselors, and others who want to help students decide whether online learning is a good option for them. It includes discussion about online learning opportunities, characteristics of a successful online learner, and how to prepare for learning online. The Guide examines how online learning supports next-generation learning models, poses practical planning questions, provides a preparation checklist, offers advice for parents, and includes an online learner readiness rubric.

Michigan’s Online Course Catalog

Michigan’s Online Course Catalog contains syllabi for online courses being offered by Michigan school districts as well as Michigan Virtual. All courses contained in the catalog include quality review ratings using nationally-recognized standards. Individuals browsing a district or the statewide catalog in the website have the ability to view course fees and additional costs when viewing course information, as well as the ability to search the entire catalog by course price.

Moving Michigan Farther, Faster

This report envisions the effects of technology in shaping K-12 education in Michigan. The report presents recommendations specific to students, teachers, schools, technology, data, and quality and accountability regarding personalized learning. The overall recommendation of the report, based on feedback from stakeholders and state and national educational leaders, is for parents and educators to focus on personalized learning for all students.

A Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Right Online Program

This report, published by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning as part of the Promising Practices in Online Learning series, is intended to assist parents in understanding what online learning is and how to select the right online school, program, or course.

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