By Jonathan Steffen
The rise of digital media and online communication has opened the door to an unprecedented educational opportunity for families who need a unique solution to home education. Whether to supplement learning in another form, or as a complete solution to educational needs, online education can fill this gap.
Although some services are targeted to K–12 students, the format of online education is better suited to older students in middle and high school. Evidence is strong that limiting screen time and educational isolation for younger students is a good idea, so they are often better served with more traditional home education methods.
Two broad categories of online educational content are digital materials used to create a learning opportunity by the parent (as teacher), and services that provide not only the materials, but also a teacher to oversee the learning process to varying degrees.
Online Learning Resources (no teacher provided)
There are plenty of learning resources online, such as digital textbooks and learning platforms, that students can use to learn content and meet homeschool credit requirements. These resources can be free or paid and do not have a teacher interacting with the student, assigning and grading work, or monitoring progress. A parent or tutor would need to do this.
Using digital and online learning resources is extremely flexible and adaptable, allowing for an individualized learning process and no limits to time, location, or mobility. Many of these offer resources for all grades.
Some popular examples of this type of resource are:
Online Schools (learning with a teacher)
Some online education options involve a remote teacher and can be classified as schools. These are paid services and significantly lighten the load of the parent. Most of these schools are accredited in some way. Online High School Credits (.com) keeps a good listing of these schools.
In the USA, most states offer some form of free online educational options to their residents, and you may be able to access one of these programs from your state when living internationally.
There are two main components of these services: asynchronous (anytime independent learning) and synchronous (real-time interactive learning). Most modern online schools use a combination of both components and may offer customizable programs that feature more or less of the synchronous components. Below is a general description of schools that favor one or the other.
Asynchronous Instruction (anytime independent learning)
Asynchronous systems offer an online learning platform that contains the academic material for the student to access at their own pace. This is typically supported by a teacher who remotely monitors progress, grades the work, and is available to assist and answer questions. These systems often have rolling enrollment and students set a pace that the teacher keeps them accountable to.
Academic material typically consists of a syllabus to guide the process, physical or digital textbooks, videos (lecture, demonstrations, etc.), assessment tools like quizzes and tests, and some way to interact with the teacher.
Asynchronous systems offer a lot of flexibility in pace to match learners, and location, mobility, and international time zones are not big problems. Independent learning means students can take as much time to master content as they need, and they can explore other materials and topics more freely.
Although this system is designed for independent learning, it really takes a lot of character and good time management skills to be successful. Most students need a parent or tutor monitoring and guiding the process. These systems tend to involve more reading and assignments to hand in than a traditional classroom, so getting behind can snowball quickly. When a student has more than two of these classes to manage, the workload can get quite heavy.
Some popular examples of schools using primarily asynchronous components are:
Synchronous Instruction (real-time interactive learning)
Synchronous systems mean that besides the online content and independent work (asynchronous components), the teacher and students also work together in real time over the internet. Usually, classes are streamed live, and students log in to hear instruction/discussion, interact with the teacher and students, which provides the opportunity to work collaboratively. This has a lot of benefits as it is much more like a traditional class with a similar work load and teacher/student interaction.
The live group sessions offer a lot of social benefits and allow students to work together on projects and develop relationships. There is also real-time feedback from the teacher, which is very helpful for most students. There is often a strong community that develops in these systems, and this can be great for students who are otherwise isolated. These formats lend themselves to the “flipped classroom” model where students listen to video lectures independently, then use the class time for discussion and deeper instruction.
There are several potential issues with asynchronous systems, and access to stable, fast internet is one of the most obvious. Another major challenge for synchronous learning is usually scheduling, particularly for students outside the typical U.S. time zones. Students in Asia may find themselves staying up late or getting up very early to participate in group discussions. There are also limits to flexibility, as students are expected to participate in the classes (although they are usually recorded). This may limit mobility and require families to schedule around the services calendar like in a traditional school.
Some examples of schools that offer options with a significant synchronous component:
Whichever online education option looks like it would fit your family’s needs, it is important to consider your role as a parent. In most cases, online education allows the parent to transition from the role of teacher to the role of coach. You will need to monitor the student’s progress, help them make adjustments, and encourage them in the process.
The level of parent involvement will depend on several variables, such as format being used, student age, experience with the format, proven student reliability, etc. It may be helpful, before the first course, to sit down and define your role and how you expect the student to respond to your coaching. Communication like this will be the key to success.
It is important that you are very familiar with the learning environment your student is navigating. This means you will need to explore the service’s sample lessons and activities, and understand the expectations on the student. It will be helpful for you to track the progress on a calendar, and plan ahead for a realistic pace that includes family travel and holidays.
Assess your child’s stress level, and help them adjust the pace and load accordingly. Encourage your student to achieve mastery of content before moving on. Be ready to add supplemental educational tools if your student needs more practice or instruction to achieve mastery.
Consider the setting for online learning. Due to considerable online distractions, it is most helpful for students to work in a public area where they can be monitored and have less temptation to get lost on the internet. It is also helpful to create a daily schedule with time frames and breaks to keep things moving.
Encourage open communication and positive relationships with any teacher that may be involved in the learning process. Your student needs to be open and honest about their learning needs and self-advocate before trouble begins. Coaching a student on when and how to ask questions and helping to eliminate any barriers to communication will be helpful. Make sure you are also in communication with the teacher and understand their perspective.
More Online Schooling Options Around the World
Numerous online schooling options exist, and several are listed here. (This is not a comprehensive list.)
Aleks — online math, business
Calvert Education — online school or home curriculum
Bridgeway Academy — secular or faith-based options
Brightways Global Academy — secular or faith-based options
International Connections Academy
Keystone School Online
Laurel Springs School
National University Virtual High School
Oak Meadow – online school or home curriculum
Veritas Press Academy
Abeka — online school or home curriculum
Alpha Omega Academy
Bridgeway Academy — secular and faith-based options
Brightways Global Academy — secular or faith-based options
Oaks Christian Online School
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