Although there's been much talk that the future of education will be online, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), the country's first state-wide Internet-based public high school, is actually over a decade old. So for the 97,000 students who took classes via FLVS during the past school year, that future of online education is here now.

FLVS doesn't grant any degrees or diplomas, but it does offer more than 125 accredited courses, including the core subjects, honors classes, world languages, electives, and 14 Advanced Placement courses. There are no textbooks; all the material is online, and the instruction happens via the Web, email and phone. (The video below is a sample from the American History course, which all takes place inside an online game, but most courses at FLVS aren't offered that way.)

Students can enroll full or part-time, and according to FLVS officials, most students take the online courses to supplement their coursework at their local, "brick and mortar" schools, particularly when those schools don't offer specific classes. About 66% of the students enrolled in FLVS attend other public schools.

Teaching and Learning Online

FLVS does not follow the traditional school calendar - 8 a.m. 'til 3 p.m., Monday thru Friday, fall thru spring. Rather, enrollment and classes happen on an ongoing basis. Students select the month they prefer to start the class, and the FLVS tries to place them with an available instructor. Courses last about 16 to 18 weeks, but they are asynchronous, meaning students are able to study the material when they want and at their own pace.

FLVS has about 1,200 staff, and although FLVS teachers all have a Florida teaching certificate, they're not all Florida residents, something that teaching online enables (and that time-zones and "anytime learning" demand.) The school trains teachers for online instruction and tries to recruit new teachers who are specifically interested in this sort of teaching environment. And as FLVS was founded in 1997 and has a long history of working in online education, the school touts itself as both a resource and a model.

Funding an Online Education: Public or Private?

FLVS is part of the Florida public education system, serving students in all 67 of the state's districts. As such, courses are free to Florida residents. But the school is open to any middle and high schooler anywhere, with tuition fees for non-residents ($375 per class per semester. AP courses cost an additional $25.).

Less than 900 students took FLVS courses last year from locations other than Florida - just a fraction of the school's overall enrollment. But that revenue stream from non-residents is just one of the things that makes the school an interesting blend of a public education and private company.

The classes for those outside of Florida are run by the school's for-profit wing, the FLVS Global School, and if you're interested in opening your own school, FLVS offers you the option to start your own "franchise."

Florida tax-dollars do foot the bill for the state's students attending FLVS. But FLVS only receives payment from the state once a student successfully completes a course. That makes FLVS the only public school whose funding is tied directly to student performance. And as "student performance" and "funding" are as much buzzwords as "online education," FLVS may find itself a model for more than just Web-based teaching and learning.