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States beginning to mandate online learning

Virginia has become the most recent state to take measures to instill 21st century skills in students by requiring them to take an online class in order to graduate from high school. Although many states have advocated the incorporation of online learning as a means of providing personalized learning for students, Virginia's mandate highlights the urgency of learning these skills to be successful in the careers of the future.

The program, called Virtual Virginia, will offer online Advanced Placement (AP) courses in core academics, languages and electives. Each student will also have access to an on-site mentor, a virtual school liaison, and a toll free help desk phone number.

Education officials in Idaho, Florida, Alabama and Michigan have also embraced online learning as a degree requirement. In many of these states, the emphasis on technology is part of a sweeping education overhaul in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards, meant to improve the number of opportunities and quality of instruction for students.

"In the past, it was suggested that schools encourage that online [course] experience because in today's world it is needed, but it wasn't an actual mandate," Malissa Valdes-Hubert, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Education, told the TimesDaily. "We just left it up to the schools to recognize the need and incorporate it into their curriculums. But now it's a firm part of the college and career preparedness course."

The extent of the online requirements varies by state, but the number of local school districts providing virtual learning options for their students is increasing, the source reported. In Idaho, for example, students entering ninth grade this year will be required to take two online courses prior to graduation. Virginia will only require its students to complete one.

Critics of the online learning mandate cite concerns over curriculum control. Although many of the mandated online courses still involve instruction from a live teacher, there's no guarantee that he or she will be from the student's home district.

"We know we can control the teaching quality when it's our own teachers, but you don't have that control when they're across the state," Janet Womack, an superintendent in Alabama, told the source.

Incorporating the online education mandate into a blended learning model of education may help to quell these fears. This classroom structure uses technology as a supplement to enhance traditional methods of teaching, thus giving students are more flexible and personalized learning experience. However the mandate is enforced, there is a clear trend towards integrating technology into the classroom to prepare students for success in the 21st century.

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