Most virtual schools tend to rely on the traditional field trips, online clubs, and even virtual field trips to fill this void and overcome the lack of student engagement. Unfortunately the results are minimal at best. Attrition rates continue to remain high and socialization (or lack thereof) is often cited as a reason for many parents who choose to remove their child. It is ironic when you look at the offerings provided by each virtual school to offset this and realize many of them are working hard and providing families with a multitude of options to interact and engage -- zoo trips, museum trips, online activities, clubs, and much more.
So, what is going on? My experience tells me that virtual schools are actually trying to solve the wrong problem. By focusing on socialization they are working hard to put band aids in place when the real wound is something else.
One need only to look at the current environment to better understand what is going on. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social platforms provide us a glimpse into the real issue. Each is built not on the idea of socialization but on Connectionalization (I know it is not a real word but one day it may be).
Students are looking for a place to connect, not socialize. They want to belong. As I mentioned in my Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients, socialization is the school dance. It is organized by the school, promoted by the school, and monitored by the school. Then, students show up and many of them simply stand around and watch a few have a good time.
On the other hand, Connectionalization is what occurs in the hallways where friendships form and tribes emerge. It's organic more than it is scripted. Many times it is student led which can be frightening for many administrators. Yet, it creates an environment where students can feel like they belong.
Virtual schools who want to engage their students, retain more of them, and make them happy will become obsessed with being a Human Connection school.
It is Essential #7 in my Manifesto, and right now it is sorely lacking in virtual schools.