In recent years, some questions have arisen concerning online education for K-12 students. Are these programs sophisticated enough to address the developmental and behavioral concerns of students of all ages? Here are the benefits, challenges, and problems of moving towards a virtual K-12 education:
Online schooling can also be individualized to meet the academic needs of specific students. Many programs are customized to suit a student’s needs after an initial assessment, and students do not need to move through grades as a group. If a student excels or struggles in any particular subject, he or she can participate in coursework that further develops their strengths while remedying their weaknesses.
Online learning also offers students more flexibility in how they learn. Students can learn at their own pace. For families who have to move frequently, or for students who have fallen behind academically, a virtual education offers a sense of continuity that would otherwise be impossible.
Taking education online may help students adapt to the needs of the modern workplace; consider, for instance, that nearly a quarter of all workers work either partially or completely at home. Enrolling a child in an online education program could serve as an introduction to the principles of responsibility and productivity needed to excel in this environment. Personal commitment and accountability are essential to success while working from home. Participating in a virtual education strengthens these virtues.
While students may benefit from exploring a less-constrained curriculum, many educators and parents fear that more direct engagements may be impossible in a virtual format. Teaching hands-on activities over the internet can be a challenging task, but it can be done. According to Charlene Kaplan, a professor in the College of Education at Concordia, strategies like “using photographs, sketches, discussing anecdotes, and offering step-by-step lesson plans are all effective methods of successfully sharing useful hands-on activities.” Guiding students online with detailed, explicit instructions can make hands-on activities a real possibility.
Assessment is another common concern. How can educators administer proper assessment if they aren’t present to answer questions or ensure that students are honest test-takers? Fortunately, some online testing software permits instructors to give students multiple attempts at answering a prompt. If students are confused, teachers can clarify through instant feedback and permit the student to attempt the question again. In regards to concerns about honesty, there are plenty of cheating prevention tools available and in development; a couple examples are keystroke recognition programs and plagiarism detection software.
- Access to a sufficient computer and internet connections
- A lack of computer literacy
- Difficulty adapting to the methods of computer-based education
Even if students have the technological equipment and know-how to succeed, motivation can be a major problem for online students. Research shows that community college students are much more likely to fail or withdraw from virtual programs than traditional courses. Struggling students require the face-to-face support provided in a traditional classroom.
Another major concern regarding online learning is that it strips students of the opportunity to socialize. Learning social norms and rules of behavior are essential parts of an education. While the image of the socially awkward homeschooled child has grown into a cliché, that conception has a basis in reality. Research has shown that homeschooled children may lack proper social stimulation. If a student does not have access to a supportive social network, an online curriculum may not be appropriate.
The bottom line is that parents must play a prominent role in a child’s early education. Whether a child is enrolled in a traditional public school or a virtual classroom, some guidance at home is needed to ensure an optimal education. Despite the customization of online coursework, this mode of learning does not account for some behavioral or developmental concerns. Such programs were never designed to do so.
About the Author:
Bob Hand is a blogger from Boise, ID. He studied English with an emphasis on Secondary Education at the University of South Carolina, and continues to keep a pulse on current issues in education. His hobbies include reading and collecting vinyl records. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_hand567.