Online education has taken off in recent years with an exponential growth in the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even before COVID-19 became a household name we were seeing an increase in the number of possibilities for online learning. There are many different models of online learning. Some of these models incorporate variable percentages of in person to online ratios culminating in the total online experience. A student can opt to take a few courses to catch up or get ahead of the classes required in their brick and mortar school, or they can take a complete course load to build toward a fully accredited high school diploma.
There are many venues and formats to choose from with varying degrees of support provided by the sponsor of the program. Some providers will offer online courses with the option of the availability of an online tutor. Other programs will simply have the student follow the program and then independently search for a tutor to supplement the online course. All providers will have a timeline for completion of the course regardless of the student’s ability to complete the course. Another model can provide a student with a mentor who can help the student stay on track to finish within the given time frame. Plans are individualized and you should know the strengths and weaknesses of the student before embarking upon an online education course.
- Students can work at their own pace. This is extremely important when a student has other obligations whether it be to sport training, work related commitments or even health constraints. Most programs give an end date for the course to be completed and some sort of pacing guide to help keep the student on track to complete the course ontime. (Read about USPA pacing!)
- Online learning is individualized. Students can take the courses they need, at a comfortable performance level ( college prep, honors, AP). By committing to online education, students can take the courses necessary for graduation. They do not need to “fill the schedule with electives”. This allows students to put total focus on the core courses for graduation. There are, of course, elective courses available and the students may opt to take some courses in which they show an interest. (Check out the USPA curriculum!)
- Students don’t need to waste time on concepts they understand while the rest of the class catches up. If a student reaches a unit in the program that they understand well they can continue on with the work. In a traditional classroom setting students are often held in place because others in the class do not grasp the subject as well as they do. The entire class needs to perform at a certain level before the teacher will move on. In online classes the student moves on when they understand the concept. (USPA is self-paced!)
- The online class is available at any time of the day! There have been many studies done that show teenagers do not perform well academically in the early morning hours. However, most traditional high schools start at somewhere between 7- 8 am because of busing, sports and a variety of other issues. With online classes the class is available at any time of the day. If the student finds they are most productive in the evening they can log in at that time and work on the program. This is an enormous benefit for students who are not at their optimal cognitive level in the early morning hours. This is also helpful if a student is working. They can then continue to complete their education at a time that fits their schedule.
- Flexibility is probably the most important factor. Students work at their own pace. If they find they have a lot of time on a given day they can complete several units in a class and then not have to worry about that class if the next few days are very busy. Some students work better if they take just one class at a time. This allows them to focus on the subject and complete the course before moving on to another subject. In a traditional high school the students have up to 8 class periods a day with 8 different subjects. For some students this is too fragmented for continuity. In an online setting the student can have more control over how many different classes they take at one time. This allows them to be more focused on the subject they are learning. (Each student gets to choose their pathway at USPA!)
- Online learning isn’t for everyone. Some students have difficulty focusing on course content when it is solely online. It is a very one sided method of learning. Everything is being presented to the student and there is very little if any back and forth between the instructor and the student. Some organizations have a “live” teacher on staff that specializes in a specific subject. There are varying degrees of contact between the teacher and student but there may be “office hours” for questions or one to one tutoring via Zoom, Skype etc. (See how USPA handles this!)
- Students need to be self advocates! The online teacher cannot “see” when a student is having difficulty as they would be able to in a traditional classroom. It may not be until the student has submitted the assignment that the teacher realizes the student is not clear on the concept and by that point the student may have moved on to the next unit. Depending on the student it may be important to find an online venue that has individual meetings with students. (Check out the USPA support system!)
- Students need to be good at time management. In most cases, students will be pacing themselves to finish the course ontime. The provider will have some sort of structure in place but it is up to the student to keep track of the pacing. It is easy for procrastination to set in and set the student up for having to complete a great deal of the course in a short period before the end date of the class. Online students need to create some sort of schedule for themselves to help them be successful. (What is a USPA learning coach?)
- The most negative thing about online education is the lack of socialization. There is very little interaction between students in most online classes. This can easily lead to loneliness and a sense of isolation. If the student has outside outlets like sports or work this will be less of an issue as the socialization can occur during the other activities. But it is important to consider this lack of socialization and the student’s emotional well being when deciding on an online course of education. (USPA students get to know each other and form a community! Clubs, virtual field trips, group projects, and more! Read some of our student stories!)