How Sora Schools and Outschool create the future of learning today

For Schools Jun 10, 2021

Sora Schools is a fully-accredited virtual online high school, with a few key differences from traditional schools.

  • They've moved away from the scope and sequence of a traditional high school curriculum.
  • Instead, they've broken apart important content and competencies into a "buffet of learning experiences" as co-founder Garrett Smiley calls them.
  • Students are active participants in creating their own learning plans with faculty based on their interests.

"Flexibility and following student interests is a huge emphasis at Sora," Smiley said.

Students' daily learning at Sora is broken into three types of experiences:

  1. Expeditions - students participate in 5-week, project-based learning experiences they create with faculty
  2. Tracks - career-based paths that students pursue with an advisor who help them design learning experiences related to a career
  3. Student-created learning targets - Students can work with faculty through office hours and other experiences to design and pursue their own learning goals

Students experience all of this through Sora's custom LMS. We talked with co-founders Garrett Smiley and Wesley Samples about their beliefs about the future of education and their partnership with Outschool.

What do you notice about students that find their way to Sora Schools?

Wesley: Students have felt like the traditional system has held them back. They had interests they couldn't pursue in their school. Or they learn in a different way, and felt like the traditional system put them in a box.

A lot of students feel like their learning in traditional schools wasn't relevant to their interests. Students like Sora because they can tailor the learning experience to their interests. Parents wants students to be engaged, learning and happy, and at Sora, they can be all those things.

What do you think people would be surprised about when it comes to students' learning at Sora Schools?

Garrett: Past attempts to improve education have been incremental, working off of the traditional system. At Sora, we started from the ground up. There are years of educational research and science about how kids learn that hasn't been carried over to school yet.

We're building the infrastructure to create a new way for people to think about school.

We're building the infrastructure to create a new way for people to think about school. Our credit system, our community, is all completely different. We think of ourselves as the school of the future.

Wesley: Being an online school, people wonder if students are engaging and socializing with others. We actually think students at Sora are interacting with each other more than at a traditional school, where you might get to socialize with other kids in between classes or at lunch.

At Sora, students are working together to actively create their own learning plans, and they're also working with us to build the future of the school.

Sora Schools students take Outschool classes. Why is the relationship a good fit?

Wesley: Outschool courses fits Sora School's expedition model well. We started mostly with academic classes on Outschool and have now expanded to social-emotional learning classes, physical education classes and more.

We believe the schools of the future will plug into world-class learning experiences through providers like Outschool.

One favorite example is a student who took an astronomy course on Outschool, and is now diving very deeply into astronomy. It is awesome to see how he found that spark on Outschool.

Garrett: Outschool has a level of differentiation and options that are impossible for other schools to compete with. We believe the schools of the future will plug into world-class learning experiences through providers like Outschool.

Outschool values interest-based learning. How does that relate to the Sora experience?

Wesley: We're a small community compared to Outschool. There's going to be something on Outschool for everyone one of our students to connect with.

Outschool's interest-based classes fit into what we're doing because we see students pursuing their interests and it leads them to follow paths for more learning or even a career.

Garrett: The only way to give students the resources we want to is to tie into a marketplace where kids can get access to so many different options. To help students connect with as many like-minded peers as you want them to, you need to connect them with a marketplace like Outschool.

Learn more about Sora Schools by visiting their website.

Interested in bringing Outschool to your school? Learn more here.

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.