In November, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day shadowing teachers at Advanced Academics, an online school that provides comprehensive middle and high school courses, highly qualified teachers, and a web-based learning management system to more than 130 school districts and charter schools in 30 states. Since its inception in 2000, the company has served more than 60,000 students. What makes Advanced Academics distinct from other online schools, however, is its innovative teaching model.

Advanced Academics employs roughly 30 teachers who provide one-on-one help to students as they work through online lessons and assignments. Although some of this help occurs through e-mail and phone calls, the majority takes place through written instant messages, called “chats.” Unlike other online schools, all the teachers work from cubicles located on the third floor of a small, renovated warehouse in Oklahoma City. The teachers sit together by department. All the math teachers are grouped together, all the English teachers are grouped together, all the history teachers are grouped together, and so forth. The close proximity of the teachers to others in their department enables them to naturally collaborate with one another and draw from each other’s strengths. For example, if a teacher does not know how to answer a student’s question or is feeling loaded down by too many chats, then he can ask the teacher sitting next to him for help.

Unlike most schools, Advanced Academics does not assign students to specific teachers. Instead, when students enter the chat space, they see a list of all the teachers who are currently online for each subject. Students then choose which teacher they would like to work with and initiate a chat with that teacher. The company’s practice of not assigning students to specific teachers has several benefits for both teachers and students:

First, it allows students to find a teacher who clicks with them and essentially speaks their language. For example, if a student still does not understand a particular lesson or assignment after chatting with one teacher, then she has the option of asking another teacher for help. Assistant Principal Susan Gay Faulk says that she often tells students, “If you don’t care for the way one teacher explains something, try another teacher because she might explain it in a different way that works better for you.”

Second, it makes it possible for students to have continuous access to a teacher from 9 p.m. CST on Sundays to 8 p.m. CST on Fridays all year long so they can work on their coursework whenever it is convenient for them, day or night, rather than during specified hours. To offer around the clock access to teachers, the company staggers the teachers’ nine-hour shifts so that the most teachers are online during peak hours (2 p.m. to 7 p.m.) and the fewest teachers in middle of the night.

Advanced Academics is just one example of an online school that is providing students with individualized and customized learning. If you would like to learn more about Advanced Academics and how its teaching model works, then watch for the release of Innosight Institute’s case study on Advanced Academics this spring.


  • Katherine Mackey
    Katherine Mackey