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Learning: Europe, Work, Mobile: Virtual schooling in Europe: Removing the policy traps. VISCED: A Transnational Appraisal of Virtual School and College Provision. -- 227 -- Short (oral) Paper

12:00 - 13:10 on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 in 1.219

Virtual learning is well established and reasonably widely distributed throughout Higher Education today. There is now a significant body of research concerning virtual learning in HE, dating from before the millennium. However, with the exception of North America and Australia, virtual learning is almost invisible pre Higher Education. Similarly, until the VISCED Project, there was no – notwithstanding North America and Australia – systematic inventory, or indeed, body of research concerning virtual learning pre Higher Education.

With widespread education reforms across Europe proclaiming that decentralisation and heterogeneity will drive improvement through innovation (Gove 2011) it would appear that the climate is fertile for virtual schooling. There are clear analogies between, for example, Charter schools in the USA which have already diversified into virtual learning and the Swedish (Björklund et al 2004) or English Free Schools and Academies.

This paper argues that policy makers within individual European nations and at Commission level are yet to grasp the profound nature of the changes afoot. Consequently there exist policy fault lines which could a) seriously restrict the expansion of virtual schooling and b) allow inherent weaknesses to become embedded – which could be damaging for learners, Governments and public perceptions of virtual schooling – and could result in the misuse of significant public and private sector investment.

A brief comparison of VISCED findings for Europe with those for North America and Australia will provide the context for these arguments. This will include observations on the spectrum of virtual schooling models and definitions, and policy issues and responses.

VISCED – a partnership from eight European countries – is a global study of the current state of ‘virtual schooling’ for the 14-21 age group (VISCED 2012). This entails a systematic review at international and national levels including case studies of virtual schools and colleges. The outputs of this work are being analysed and compared to identify relevant parameters and success factors for classifying and comparing these initiatives. This analysis will be used to provide detailed policy guidance to individual European countries and the European Commission.

Applying the experiences and lessons learned (although not always acted upon) from North America and Australia to the European education landscape illustrates a number of areas where without policy refinements the same tensions evident elsewhere will be repeated – seriously inhibiting the success of the schools and colleges – and the student experience and possibly heralding critical failures.


Anyone with an interest in this topic may wish to look at the VISCED website and for greater detail the (ever-evolving) project wiki

Friday, 7 September 2012, 14:57