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Pros and Cons of Online Learning

Pros and Cons of Online Learning

What was once reserved for higher education is now a growing trend among K-12 students nationwide – online learning. In August 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 93% of American households had at least one child who participated in online learning during the year. That's a lot of children who are relying on digital technology to receive an education. And that's a lot of parents left wondering whether their child is receiving the education they need to succeed later in life. 

The debate about online classes versus traditional classes began nearly 10 years ago. A survey of academic leaders found that 77% thought an online education had the potential to offer as good — or better — an education as a traditional classroom. 

So were those academic leaders right? That'll ultimately depend on your child and their online learning situation. If you're evaluating long-term academic options for your child, it's important to understand online learning and what it can offer. Learn more about this schooling option and the pros and cons of online school below.

What Is Online Learning?

Online learning has taken many forms recently. But let's start with the original definition. An online school is a school or program where students take their classes online. Most of these classes are completely online, but sometimes, students are required to visit a testing center or other location to take tests or hand in assignments. Some of these programs are affiliated with traditional brick-and-mortar schools, while others are solely digital.

what is online learning

Currently, many public and private brick-and-mortar schools are offering students the option to take some or all of their classes in an online learning environment. Some schools have started to provide a combination of online and in-person learning, most commonly referred to as "hybrid" learning, while others are offering all online education for students. 

Each school district has its own spin on how online learning works, but in most cases, teachers use specially created digital platforms to teach and monitor a child's work. On some days, students are expected to log in to a certain online meeting site for a class or lecture before working independently on assignments. Other days, students have a list of assignments they are expected to complete on their own. 

Originally, online learning was primarily reserved for higher education. It was a popular option for non-traditional students trying to work while taking classes online or for those unable to relocate to attend in-person classes. There have been online learning options for students in grades K-12, although these don't always get as much publicity. Original online learning setups typically offered video lectures, discussion boards for students to exchange ideas and homework assignments designed to help students engage with lessons. 

Online vs. Traditional School

To further understand the difference between online versus traditional school, consider what your child would do in either setting. The curriculum will usually be similar or even identical between digital and in-person schooling. The differences may come with:

  • Interacting with teachers: Traditional schooling gives your child the chance to make an in-person connection with their teachers. Online, those interactions may happen via video calls. With online learning, your child's teachers may make themselves available for extra video calls or encourage their students to email them with any questions.
  • Interacting with classmates: In traditional schooling, students have the opportunity to interact with their peers throughout the day. For online learning, that socialization may happen in video classrooms or digitally in assigned group projects.
  • Completing assignments: Students in online learning typically have the same workload they would in traditional school. They're expected to complete tasks from homework to readings. In an online setting, students may have digital homework to complete online in contrast to a traditional setting, which would provide physical and digital assignments.
  • Taking tests and quizzes: Whether in traditional or online schooling, your child will take assessments to determine how they're doing in their classes. For online learning, teachers may require students to come in on testing days or be monitored via video call as they take their assessments.

Pros of Online Learning

Online learning is still a relatively new concept, especially for parents of younger kids. It's common for parents to question whether online schooling is an effective way for their children to learn. If you're unsure if this education format would be right for your child, consider the pros of online learning they could experience.

pros of online learning

1. Offers a Flexible Schedule

In a traditional online learning environment, especially at the higher education level, students do not need to attend school during regular school hours. There are deadlines to meet, but students can complete their coursework when it works for their schedule. A flexible schedule is ideal for students who are ill or travel frequently, as well as non-traditional students who have jobs. 

2. Lets Students Learn at Their Own Pace

Traditional online learning was designed to allow students to learn at their own pace. Some students need more time to process and comprehend the material. Others work more quickly. So, the online environment can be beneficial for students who want to work at a slower pace to make sure they understand the material completely. Students who may struggle with some learning or comprehension issues might also enjoy the ability to learn at their own pace online.

A student going at their own pace also goes hand-in-hand with the appeal of a flexible schedule. Online learning allows students the flexibility to work ahead or take extra time to understand a topic. It also means they can choose which days and times they devote attention to classwork in some cases, focusing in ways that make sense for their learning abilities.

3. Offers Different Classes

Online schools offer an endless variety of classes. The various options come thanks to a lack of restrictions with classroom sizes or numbers. Traditional schools can't provide as much variety without having enough teachers at their school to handle the subjects or the space to accommodate for multiple classes to happen at once. 

Class variety is beneficial for students who want to pursue particular subjects but the course of study they're interested in isn't available in their location. With online learning, your child can find a class in just about any topic without ever leaving home! 

4. Creates Fewer Social Pressures

Many students find that online learning alleviates the social pressure that comes with face-to-face learning. Sure, it can be helpful to be with other students and exchange ideas. But online learning comes with fewer pressures to "fit in" with other students. If your student doesn't have frequent video calls, they won't have to worry about what to wear or how they look as they sit in class. Instead, your child can focus on learning and completing their assignments.

5. Lets Students Earn a Degree and Graduate Sooner

Students who prefer a faster pace have the option of earning their degree ahead of schedule. Students of all ages can benefit from fast-tracked learning, but many high schoolers like the option to finish school and move on to college or a job sooner.

Cons of Online Learning

There are a lot of benefits to online learning, but it's not always for everyone. Consider the potential cons of online learning for your child, keeping in mind that their learning style or your school district can have a significant impact.

cons of online learning

1. Lacks a Quality Education

While most academic leaders recognize the potential for online learning, not all online programs are created equal. While some online schools will provide quality education, some will award a diploma that is not valid as long as their fee is paid. Regardless of your child's age, be sure to only enroll them in an accredited online school. 

Even accredited institutions may not provide the best online education possible. School districts and teachers that are new to online learning may struggle with teaching digitally. And if your child is used to a traditional classroom, they may need some time to adjust before they're getting the quality education you want for them.

2. Can Be Expensive

The cost of online programs varies depending on the school you enroll your child in. Public schools switching to online or hybrid learning may be free, but you might need to pay for software, technology or an improved internet connection for your child. And, in some cases, you might have to buy books and other educational materials. If you choose a private online program for your child, you'll have even more costs to cover.

3. Offers Less Social Interaction

While some students prefer to learn and study on their own, others thrive with face-to-face interaction. In an online environment, students will experience much less social interaction. There are no friends sitting next to them in class, no sports teams, no lunch in the cafeteria. 

Online courses frequently have discussion boards, which are designed to mimic in-class discussion. But reading someone's response to a question isn't always the same as listening to them and responding in person. Your child might have social interaction with video classrooms, but that's not the same as in-person socialization for some kids.

4. Requires Self-Motivation

In an online class, students must be able to be self-directed to get through all the material. There isn't a teacher looking over your student's shoulder during a test or constantly reminding them of deadlines. The need for self-discipline can be a struggle for those that tend to procrastinate. 

You can work with your child to overcome this con, though. Being organized and having a detailed plan for each day of the week is essential for adhering to deadlines and getting the most out of an online course. 

5. Lacks Teachers to Assist Students

In an online class, there may not be a teacher present in the room to ask for help if questions arise. Students will need to wait until the online teacher is available to assist them. Disorganized students or those without much self-motivation might find this particularly challenging. But any student, regardless of learning ability, needs help from a teacher at some point. 

If your child's online schooling lacks attentive teachers, they might struggle if a question or issue comes up during a test or lecture. While some online learning platforms use video classrooms to alleviate this issue, others don't.

Tips for Online Learning

Online courses can be an excellent opportunity for learning, and they can be a useful tool for students of a variety of ages and stages. But it does take some work to get the most out of an online course. If you're preparing your child to begin classes, give them these online learning tips for students:

Treat It Like an In-Person Class

Just because your child isn't in the classroom doesn't mean they can treat classes differently. Give your child all the supplies the teacher suggests for the course, like notebooks, a planner and pens. Help your child set up a workspace in your home that's designated for learning. Cut out distractions when it's class time and study time, and help your child determine a schedule for when they'll complete lessons and assignments.

Stay Organized

Designate a notebook or folder for all your child's class assignments. Have them keep their schedule or syllabus handy to refer to it when questions arise. Creating a dedicated workspace can also help them stay organized, especially if you include storage space for their supplies and assignments. Encourage your child to put important due dates, tests and assignments into a planner and refer to it throughout the week to stay even more organized.

Avoid Distractions

When your child is learning online, it may be tempting for them to plop down on the couch in front of the TV and work on discussion posts. Encourage them to avoid the temptation to multi-task. Having a designated space for schoolwork will help remove distractions and keep your child focused on their work. Consider setting up a place to work away from the rest of your household and ensure everyone gives your child space when they work.

Participate in Class

Just because your child isn't in a classroom doesn't mean they should sit back and be silent. In most online classes, participation means being active on the class discussion boards. It's easy to sit back and post the bare minimum the day a post is due. But encourage your child to be an active participant by setting aside 30 minutes several times a week for discussions. Suggest they take the time to read what others are posting and respond appropriately. 

Participation can also involve speaking up in video classrooms. Encourage your child to offer their ideas in online classes. And if you're home while they're in class, be respectful of the fact that they may be speaking to their classmates and try not to cause distractions.

Communicate With Teachers

Class participation also means your child should engage with their teachers through email and during their designated office hours. Although online learning means that your child isn't interacting in a classroom, building a rapport with instructors can help gain additional knowledge and understanding during the class. And if your student has questions or doesn't understand the material, communicating with the instructor is a great way to get that extra help they need. 

Find Ways to Collaborate With Peers

Just because your student's class is online doesn't mean learning is limited to the screen. Encourage your child to look for ways to expand on what they're learning by interacting with fellow students. Virtual study groups or networking with peers is a great way to engage with lessons outside of the online learning environment.

Practice Effective Time Management

Practicing good time management skills is essential to succeeding as an online student. Your child should keep track of weekly deadlines, as well as important upcoming assignments, such as tests or papers. But your child needs to do more than keep those dates at the back of their mind. Suggest they schedule regular hours for studying and completing assignments and help them stick to that schedule.

Plan For Success in Online Learning

Is online learning the right choice? There is no right or wrong answer. But it can be a great way for people who need a non-traditional school setting and a flexible pace. If you're considering online learning for your child, do your research and make sure it's the right choice for them.

plan for success with online learning

Whether your child is in online or traditional school, it's essential to stay organized. There are various online learning tools for students, but even in the digital age, the best way to effectively manage time is to invest in a quality paper planner.

At Success by Design, we design our planners to help both classroom and online learners make the most of their education. Help your child succeed whether their education is digital or traditional. Browse our selection and purchase a planner today!  

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