A Study of At-Risk High School Students Enrolled in a Full-Time Online Learning Environment
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Students can obtain formal education through many instructional methods, including those offered in online learning environments. Due to their convenience and flexibility in terms of time and place, online resources are a viable alternative for high school students, including those at-risk, struggling to progress academically in a conventional educational setting. Although offering full-time education through online learning platforms may hold potential for high school students, whether and how these learning resources meet the needs of at-risk students remains insufficiently explored. Through a mixed-methods sequential explanatory design and purposeful sampling this research addresses three issues: (a) the reasons prompting school leaders’ decision to use a full-time online learning environment to educate at-risk high school students in one suburban school district in central Pennsylvania, (b) the educational needs of at-risk students, and (c) the appeal and the constraints of a full-time online learning environment. Twenty-eight education professionals completed a Likert-type survey providing quantitative data and nine additional education professionals participated in in-depth individual interviews. The analysis of survey responses provided descriptive statistics and the thematic analysis of the interview transcripts provided qualitative data. The significance of the study stems from the novel insights into the challenges faced by at-risk students enrolled in a full-time online learning environment and the benefits this learning mode can provide to this growing subpopulation. The study findings indicated full-time online learning environments might help at-risk students re-engage in learning if adequate supports and guidance are in place. However, as was shown in this study, to fully benefit from this alternative mode of education at-risk students must be motivated to succeed and willing to seek help from education professionals. These findings will primarily benefit education professionals, students, and parents and/or guardians interested in online learning. One future research suggestion includes examining strategies to improve the services and support for at-risk students enrolled in a full-time online learning environment.