Online course content is available for core courses, credit recovery, Advanced Placement®, International Baccalaureate®, and a wide range of electives. Online project-based schools are also on the rise. This section describes various issues and characteristics to look for when selecting such content.

Core Courses

Naturally with core courses, you have the largest selection of providers and the largest variety of characteristics and quality. Major curriculum providers generally have a full range of courses in the core subject areas of English language arts, math, social studies and science. These courses are typically based on national standards or in some cases, the state standards of the company’s home state. Courses are usually designed to be equivalent to a semester course and to fit into a typical semester-based school calendar.

Credit Recovery

Credit recovery courses are designed for students who have previously taken a course in the specific subject, but were not successful. Although there are no universally agreed-upon standards for credit recovery courses, they tend to require less time than core courses for students to complete. These courses often include pretests designed to assess the knowledge the student gained from their previous experience so that they can use the credit recovery course to merely fill in the gaps.

Advanced Placement® and International Baccalaureate®

Both the College Board’s Advanced Placement® (AP®) program and the International Baccalaureate program have approved online courses that meet the same standards as approved face-to-face courses. For AP® courses, online learning programs undergo an audit process that is identical to the process for face-to-face courses in bricks & mortar schools. The College Board has approved AP® courses in all of its subject areas, including science.


A huge variety of elective courses are available online. A wide range of world languages, sciences, social sciences, technology and business classes allow even the smallest or most remote schools to offer dozens of courses. Career and technical education, and even driver’s education are available. Careful selection of a suitable licensure model can make such a robust catalog affordable.

Supplemental Materials

Many courses require or recommend additional third-party materials that complement the course content. These materials may include textbooks, online textbooks, literature, software or video streaming services. When selecting content, be sure to understand what supplemental materials are needed for each course.

Project-based and Other Alternatives

Content and programs focused on a particular learning strategy or student audience are growing as well. The landscape includes options such as online project-based schools in which students design their own learning, religiously affiliated schools and even a school designed specifically for gender and sexuality minorities.

Many of these programs welcome partnerships with other schools, allow part-time students, resell specific courses, or otherwise allow more traditional programs to tap into their unique offerings.