The Peak Group, an education technology research and consulting firm, expects that more than 1 million students will take advantage of “virtual schools” this school year. Another research firm, Eduventures, predicted the online distance learning market will grow more than 38 percent in 2004, taking in $5.1 billion in revenue.

“In the last five years, the acceleration has been amazing,” said Billie Wahlstrom, a vice provost on technology issues at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. “If you look at these things longitudinally, the curve is moving to the vertical.”

The movement has taken hold particularly in higher education, where 90 percent of four-year public schools and more than half of four-year private schools offer some form of online education, according to the United States Distance Learning Association.

“The question that you have to ask is not who is offering distance learning, but who isn’t,” said USDLA Executive Director John G. Flores.

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