Home » Curriculum » Types of Courses » Environment


Independent of the type of content delivered, the learning environment plays a large role in how the courses are managed and taught. Courses can be led by an instructor, who may be a parent in some cases. They can also be self-directed and individualized or based on a cohort model in which students move together as a group. Blended courses combine face-to-face and online approaches. Variations in school calendars and enrollment options, such as rolling enrollment versus semester-based enrollments, can provide year-round flexibility.

Instructor-Facilitated or Self-Directed

Particularly in elementary grades, online learning is often designed with home-school or homebound students in mind. In these environments, parents are called on to do the daily student supervision while implementing teacher-designed lesson plans. The provider’s teachers are available for additional parent and student support to a degree that varies depending on the program design, the family’s needs or state laws.

Fully Online or Hybrid/Blended

Hybrid environments are those that incorporate a significant amount of face-to-face time. (See also Face Time or Interaction Requirements.) Face time might be used for science labs, art projects, tests or general tutorial. It might include scheduled classes, or perhaps to give students the opportunity to work on their online courses under the supervision and tutelage of a teacher.

Some programs differentiate among students. For example, a student expelled from face-to-face classes for a weapons violation may be banned from face-to-face classes but still be allowed to continue their education through a fully online environment. This may happen even in programs where most students experience a hybrid environment.

Individualized or Cohorts?

The distinction between an individualized model and a cohort model is critical to enrollment practices and instructional techniques. In a cohort model, students move through a course as a group, usually in conjunction with a typical school calendar. The cohort model allows for group projects, lively peer-to-peer discussions and other types of student-student interactivity.

In contrast, although an individualized model limits student-student interaction, it allows for rolling enrollment, individualized pacing, and often a greater amount of teacher-student interaction.

For more information about student interactivity see Types of Interactivity.

Whether a program chooses an individualized or cohort model often depends on the student audience for which the program is designed. If the program targets alternative populations that are highly mobile or challenged by attendance, an individualized model might be most effective. If the program targets students who will be taking the online courses in conjunction with traditional courses on a traditional calendar, the cohort model may be best. (Sell also Purpose and Audience.)

Typical School Calendar or Something Different?

The question of what kind of calendar your program will use is closely related to the question of cohort or individualization addressed above. Although using a traditional school calendar is attractive for matching the program of a local school, it does not maximize the flexibility that online learning provides.

Moving to a year-round, rolling enrollment or other flexible model can provide benefits for numerous populations of students. However, depending on the program’s independence from other schools, such models can raise issues with everything from teacher contracts to building maintenance.