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A modern descendant of the correspondence school, in which a student took courses by interacting with a professor through the mail, a virtual school is an online environment in which students use the internet to communicate with professors and facilitators to earn credit toward a diploma or degree. A virtual school uses modern technology to deliver instruction to students without requiring the student or professor to meet in a physical building, or even necessarily meet face to face.
The virtual school exists on different levels of educational instruction, including high school courses, college level courses, and non-degree courses. A virtual school works well for students who cannot easily commute to a school building, such as students in very rural or remote areas. The virtual school therefore makes education possible for students who may not have otherwise had any educational opportunities. Some detractors, however, cite the lack of socialization as a distinct problem with online school, particularly for high school students who need such interaction.
Online schools also offer the student the ability to work at his or her convenience, not at a set time during the day. This is especially convenient for non-traditional students who may work and need to fit class in around that schedule. Many virtual school classes are self-paced, meaning the student can work on assignments at his or her own pace, taking as much or as little time to finish the coursework in many cases. Such a set-up also encourages students to use digital media, which is increasingly more important in the job market.
Several disadvantages do exist as well. Because no face to face interaction takes place between the student and the professor in many online classes, the students must work in a self-guided manner, which may be challenging. Communication takes place by e-mail, video conferencing, or on a set class forum, so answers to questions may come slowly. The responsibility belongs to the student to be diligent about completing coursework, and to be patient when waiting for guidance from professors.
Another distinct disadvantage to the virtual school is the necessity for an internet connection and working computer. This simply may not be feasible for many students who cannot afford the necessary equipment, and those students may be limited to public computers. This issue can be further compounded by the cost of online classes, which can range from free to quite expensive, depending on the course, the school, and the degree, if any, being pursued.