This piece is authored by Esther Clark, Executive Director of Marketing, Inspired Online Schools
As the pandemic accelerated growth in the online education space, major accrediting organizations and exam boards turned their attention to online learning and to experienced online schools, like King’s InterHigh, to source expertise and partnership.
Our expertise comes from two key innovations: 1) King’s InterHigh is considered the original online school, founded in the UK in 2005 on a simple premise: offer easy access to quality live and recorded lessons from anywhere in the world; and 2) In April 2022, King’s InterHigh reached an agreement with the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) to be the first school to deliver its Diploma Programme (DP) in a fully online format.
At inception, King’s InterHigh was largely focused on serving the home education community in the UK and British ex-pats abroad. Still, it swiftly became a solution for families whose personal living and learning realities differed from the mainstream.
Early challenges included designing and optimizing British curriculum lessons for online, and training fully qualified and experienced teachers to bring life to online lessons. Accreditations by EdExcel, Pearson, and Cambridge International soon followed.
In recent years, the international demand for quality online British education has skyrocketed and with it, requests for a more international—and internationally accessible—curriculum. King’s InterHigh has a current student population of over 4,000 (aged 7 to 19) located all over the world and accessing the online school across two time zones: GMT and GST.
Founded in 1968, the IB has always been an advocate for innovation in education and currently offers four educational programs to students aged 3-19. King’s InterHigh is expanding upon this innovation by making the DP accessible to a whole new segment of people for whom there was always underlying demand, but no adequate solution on the market. Some students may live too far away from an IB World School or are restricted by classroom capacity or language offering. Some students learn better without distractions from their peers while others want to go at their own pace and lead their own learning. One alumnus of the King’s InterHigh describes it as “the school without noise” while another explains that it is “the school where everyone is accepted for being themselves, that means no bullying and no bullies.”
Responding to this demand, the leadership team at King’s InterHigh, part of the Inspired Education Group, recognized that the best step forward for international students, families, and organizations was to work with the globally-respected International Baccalaureate to offer access to the DP in a fully online format. Given pandemic pressures, a notable shift to home working and home learning environments, as well as geopolitical developments, the addition of the IBDP online was done purposefully and collaboratively. Nadim Nsouli, Founder, Chairman & CEO of Inspired, explained it as a “significant step forward for Inspired, King’s InterHigh, and the IB, enabling students anywhere around the world to access this world-class qualification online and combine it with time in our physical schools if they so choose to do so.”
King’s InterHigh is championing the online DP with the first cohort starting September 2022. Matt Costello, Chief Business Development Officer for the IB, talks about the potential of this first-of-its-kind, full-time, fully online IB program as being able to expand access to quality education and new opportunities for any student to learn and thrive in a rapidly changing world. He highlighted the benefit as “more students, and more diverse cohorts of students, [are provided with] the chance to participate in IB education programs no matter where they are in the world.”
The student experience in action
At King’s InterHigh, students get a learning experience different from a traditional classroom setting. With virtual breakout rooms, for example, students can split off to investigate topics independently with unlimited resources at their fingertips. The school’s learning hub provides student progress week-by-week and automates tasks like taking attendance. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was also introduced in certain subjects in specific year groups earlier this year. Not only does this enable teachers to support and challenge each learner at the right level, but it also helps students guide their own learning journeys—something key to the IB’s “learner profile.” Executive Headteacher, Ashley Harrold, calls it “co-creation of learning.”
Using virtual reality (VR) headsets like the Oculus Rift, IB students can view and interact with any simulated environment in the first person. This experiential way of learning plunges students into the heart of the content they’re studying—with benefits that speak to the core of investigative and inquiry-based learning, which drives the IB. “Extending our integration of immersive technologies such as VR into the program give[s] students access to experiences that are a first in online schooling,” explains Mark O’Donoghue, CEO of Inspired Online Schools.
Inspired Online Schools has conducted extensive research into VR learning. In a pioneering study, the school’s results showed that virtual reality has profound educational benefits. Learning through curriculum-aligned VR activities, students demonstrated stronger knowledge acquisition and understanding than what is possible in a mainstream classroom or even a typical online school.
As part of the fully online DP at King’s InterHigh, students will immerse themselves in these expert-designed educational experiences. A VR History lesson, for example, may involve a tour of Anne Frank’s annex from their desks at home. Placing themselves in Frank’s shoes, learners can explore the thoughts and feelings of the time. In turn, this strong sensory experience gives students a far deeper understanding of their key learning objective: contextualizing historical events through written evidence.
In short, students will be presented with opportunities to experiment in Biology or Chemistry, evaluate the greatest artistic works up close in Visual Arts, and more—no matter where they are in the world.
As described above, technology is used to supplement and augment learning, not implemented for its own sake. The school maintains a healthy balance of online with physical and practical skills-building, using techniques achievable in any home, and ultimately bringing variety and real-life knowledge acquisition to students’ experiences.
Overcoming pre-conceived or early ideas of “online school” is one challenge, as is adapting the full DP to the online environment. There are considerations such as providing appropriate pastoral and social opportunities, and where and how final assessments will be conducted. Some of these challenges have already been addressed given King’s InterHigh’s 17 years of experience providing online education, while others are exciting challenges unique to delivering the DP online.
Working collaboratively with Nicholas Wergan, Global Education Director at Inspired Education, and Iain Sachdev, Inspired Group’s IB lead and Head of the International School of Monza, King’s InterHigh leverages the knowledge held in Inspired’s 25 IB World Schools over 44 years and combine it with the school’s leadership in the online space.
King’s InterHigh, together with the IB, has had to reimagine the boundaries of certain components of the IB. Take, for example, the Community Action Service (CAS) requirement. This is normally fulfilled with community service and presents a great opportunity for IB students to become globally-minded and community-focused leaders. In a virtual setting, CAS immediately becomes global—uniting causes, purpose, and change-makers, across countries, languages, and cultures. Classmates from every continent can interact and provide their “local reality” of what climate action change looks like in their community, for example.
Global learning community
King’s InterHigh may be considered the original online school, yet the online school model has adapted to the realities of an international learning community every year for the last 17 years. Innovation results from the unexpected connections between things. In a world-first, the school brings the renowned DP curriculum online as well as into a virtual learning community setting that is ripe for engaging and immersive online learning. It provides access to a challenging global education program for a segment of the market that would typically not have the opportunity to study the program online or at all. It’s created an engaged global learning community at King’s InterHigh, ready to question, challenge, and reinvent the status quo.
The innovative potential (by Thomas Arnett, senior research fellow, education, for the Institute):
The latest program improvements at King’s InterHigh offer an exciting look at disruptive innovation in action. In their early iterations, disruptive innovations always look substandard when compared to incumbent solutions. They gain traction not because they offer something better than the incumbent alternatives, but because they offer something different from what incumbents can offer.
For example, early desktop computers couldn’t deliver more computing power than their mini-computer and mainframe predecessors. Rather, they were computers with limited computational power. What made them appealing to their initial target customers was that they were vastly more compact, affordable, and user-friendly. Likewise, MinuteClinic didn’t start off trying to replicate the services of a general practice doctor’s office. Rather, it offered treatment for a limited set of common ailments but with much greater convenience and affordability compared to scheduling an appointment with a doctor.
Early online schooling fit this same pattern. Two decades ago, online schooling was just a slight improvement over mail correspondence courses. Online course materials weren’t very engaging. As recently as ten years ago, online schools were commonly seen as low-quality programs. They excelled not at being better than conventional schools, but at giving students access to courses and schooling options for times, places, and life circumstances in which in-person courses either weren’t available or couldn’t accommodate students’ needs.
Nonetheless, disruptive innovation wouldn’t be a sector-transforming phenomenon if they were just better-than-nothing alternatives. Crumby early stages are just the beginning of a disruption story. Over time, disruptive innovations produce steady improvements that make them become not only convenient, customizable, and/or affordable but also comparable in basic performance to their incumbent predecessors.
That improvement trajectory is what we see playing out with the latest innovations at King’s InterHigh. The partnership with the International Baccalaureate Organization to offer its first fully online Diploma Program is a strong signal that the King’s InterHigh has moved well beyond the low-quality reputation of earlier online schooling programs. Likewise, its innovative uses of virtual reality and adaptations of the Community Action Service requirement demonstrate that online schooling is no longer synonymous with unengaging online coursework. These improvements are what put online schooling programs such as King’s InterHigh on a path to becoming attractive mainstream schooling options. It will be exciting to watch what King’s InterHigh becomes in the months and years ahead.
Our “Innovation in action” series asks leaders in the postsecondary and K–12 space to discuss what innovation looks like within their community, institution, or school; why they believe it has the potential to help students; and tips for successful implementation or scale. At the end of each piece, we ask one of our education researchers to weigh in on what Theories of Disruptive Innovation have to say about the innovation.
Interested in contributing to the “Innovation in action” series? Contact Meris Stansbury, director of communications, [email protected]