Skip to main content

About VLS

Research is clear: time spent in high-quality care settings has a positive influence on children’s outcomes, and well-trained teachers are key to creating quality experiences. The Virtual Lab School (VLS) provides child and youth educators an opportunity to advance their knowledge and skills through a research-based, online professional development system. Our system is designed to facilitate, and leverage, a practice-based coaching model in which trained coaches and program managers partner with and support child and youth educators to learn and apply developmentally appropriate practices in their program.

Systematic Professional Development
Expert Coaching
Informed & Skilled Staff
Quality Relationships & Learning Experiences for Children
Optimal Development and Learning for Children

Informed by Research, Developed by Experts

Originally developed to support the professional development needs of military-affiliated child care programs, the VLS was created at the Ohio State University by early childhood experts with both research and practical experience in child care settings. The VLS team strives to support high-quality care and education by translating current research on child development and adult learning into a comprehensive professional development system.

A Mission to Support High Quality Child Care Programs

The VLS’s mission is to ensure that the child care workforce is well trained and supported so they can provide high-quality care and education to children and youth. When care and education professionals receive support and training, they are prepared to create supportive learning environments and engage in responsive caregiving. Studies have shown that high-quality care and education at an early age improves children's health, learning, and development outcomes across a lifetime.* The VLS’s professional development content fosters child care professionals' knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices and how to provide consistent care and intentional experiences for all children.

*Garcia, J.L. Heckman, J. Lead, D.e., and Prados, M.J. (2016). “The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program.”

Content for Professionals Customized by Role

VLS Foundational Courses are comprehensive, aligned across functional roles, and organized into distinct role-based tracks. Tracks address direct care and leadership staff across both center-based and family-child-care programs.

The 15 VLS Foundational Courses align with the Child Development Associate (CDA) competencies and NAEYC, NAFCC, and CYD-AYD standards, covering topics such as safe environments, cognitive development, and family engagement. VLS Focused Topics Courses offer advanced or specialized training in specific subject matter such as supporting children with challenging behaviors, trauma-informed care, creating gender safe spaces, and others.

All VLS content emphasizes developmentally appropriate, inclusive, and family-focused approaches. Using the Learn, Explore, Apply, Demonstrate (LEAD) framework within each lesson, the VLS helps professionals develop competencies that support children’s optimal development and provide practical tools and resources to promote high quality programs.

Emphasizing Practice-Based Coaching

Studies show that 95% of teachers show an increase in knowledge, skills, and applied practices when they receive evidence-based professional development that combines demonstration and opportunities for feedback with the follow-up support of coaching in context. Incorporating this critical research, the VLS content is intentionally designed to be paired with practice-based coaching. Coaches, or Training & Curriculum Specialists, are trained in best practices in adult learning and how to coach effectively through their own specialized track in the VLS. Coaches are prepared to support direct care professionals in their application of evidence-based and developmentally appropriate practices.

  percent of participants showing increased knowledge percent of participants demonstrating skills % participants who applied practices in the classroom
When teachers are given information on theory 10% 5% 0%
When teachers are also given demonstrations in training 30% 20% 0%
When teachers are also given practice and feedback in training 60% 60% 5%
When teachers are also given coaching in the classroom 95% 95% 95%

The VLS in Action

The VLS partners with the U.S. Department of Defense to support their child and youth professionals all around the world. To date, the VLS has facilitated over 1,500,000 certified clock hours of professional development for child care professionals. Organizations who wish to partner with the VLS have access to registered accounts and custom features to guide learning and facilitate coaching partnerships. Additionally, VLS course content is publicly available for child and youth professionals to access.

The Virtual Lab School provides customized professional development for:

more than 30,000 child and youth professionals
who serve over 200,000 military-connected children and families
across 300 programs worldwide

How to Use VLS for Your Needs

All content within the VLS is currently publicly available for use by child care professionals. The VLS is designed to empower child and youth care and education professionals build their knowledge and skills around research-based practices. However, official enrollment that includes coaching is not currently available to nonmilitary-affiliated users or those not affiliated with a partnering organization.

Municipalities, organizations, or other partnering entities that would like to use the VLS for professional development for their child care professionals must be willing to build, or leverage, a coaching network to implement the VLS appropriately. Trained coaches support direct care providers through the VLS coursework and certify them to ensure their knowledge and skill of age-appropriate best practices. For example, in the VLS Momentum project, a pilot project in Columbus, Ohio, local early childhood and youth professionals were partnered with coaching staff from the VLS team at The Ohio State University.

To learn how you can become a VLS partner and how the VLS training content can transform early childhood education in your community, please contact:

At this time, only Virtual Lab School users who are affiliated with military child and youth programs or are affiliated with a partnering organization can earn VLS course certifications.

If you are a registered VLS user and are interested in earning your Associates degree, you can transfer your VLS credits to The Ohio State University’s online AA degree. To learn more about the AA degree program, visit this page:

For additional information on the AA degree opportunity, visit our Online OSU AA Degree webpage.

Educators seeking to utilize VLS resources for noncommercial, educational purposes are welcomed and encouraged to do so! However, we do request that you become familiar with our Terms of Use to ensure your specific intentions around using the VLS comply with these Terms. Additional questions, or requests to use the VLS resources can also be sent to

Read more frequently asked questions and guides in the Support Center

Interested in developing your knowledge and skills?

Start Learning

Want to learn more? Contact us.

Our research-based content and professional development resources are available to all, thanks to our collaborators:

The Department of Defense Child Development Virtual Laboratory School was developed by The Ohio State University for the US Department of Defense’s Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth under Grant 2012-48711-20101, 2016-48711-25897, and 2020-48711-32407 of the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture.