Thursday, April 21, 2011

For AP Students, a New Classroom is Online

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on the rise in online AP classes. The number of students taking Advanced Placement classes has soared -- with just shy of 2 million expected to sit for exams this spring, up more than 100% from 2000. However, not all schools can offer a full slate of such classes, and in an era of budget cuts, AP classes (which are often smaller than others even as the number of interested students has risen) are ripe targets. But given how standardized these classes are, there's no real reason that you have to be in a physical classroom with a teacher. A few states have charter schools that offer online versions of the classes, and there are national companies, the WSJ reports, that also allow students to enroll for a fee: Advanced Academics ($425 for a one-semester AP class), Apex Learning, Aventa Learning, Florida Virtual School, etc.

Online learning is tricky to get right. As reporter Sue Shellenbarger notes, "One potential drawback for socially connected teens: taking an advanced placement course online seems to require advanced placement time-management skills." It's hard to focus when Facebook and Twitter are one click away! Nonetheless, preliminary comparisons find that students who take online classes do just as well as students who take in-person ones.

I think this is a great trend, as the rise in online learning allows students to break through traditional barriers to taking advanced classes. A school system might balk at shuttling a 7th grader over to a high school for AP US History or AP Calculus, but no one can see how young you look online. Virtual learning is a great way for kids in rural areas to take classes that would otherwise be unaffordable for a small high school. And on the margins, it starts to change the notion that school is something you do in a certain building, with people of a certain age, during certain hours. That's a win for gifted students. I'm curious if any readers of this blog have incorporated online AP courses into their children's individualized learning plans.


Jo in OKC said...

No official Individualized Learning Plan here, but my daughter has done plenty of online learning.

She homeschooled 7th and 8th grade and took many online high school courses (including an online AP course) in those years.

In 10th grade, she took an online college course because she had run out of math at our local public high school.

In 11th grade, she is self-studying for AP Statistics. I signed her up for Aleks to help give her some accountability (mainly to herself) because the prep book just wasn't doing it. She's also taking an online AP CoSc review course from eIMACS since her computer class covers all the material but isn't specifically an AP course.

Online courses can be bad, sufficient, or awesome, just like in person classes. They can be self-paced or fixed paced, have synchronous classes or be asynchronous, have lots of online content and media or be mainly e-mail.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

We haven't tried an AP class online, but we've had good luck with an advanced Precalculus class from Art of Problem Solving. More info on my blog at

Anonymous said...

We may end up doing this, and it will certainly be easier as my son gets older--but he's such an extrovert that I think it will be hard for him to study in front of a computer screen by himself. He needs interaction.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The AoPS classes provide interaction (in the form of a chat room and a forum).