Five years ago, the term ‘online school’ was virtually unknown. There were a few innovative physical schools that had ‘virtualised’ their curriculum and resources using Learning Management Systems and online platforms like Google and Moodle. But virtual schools were not really ‘a thing’. Then along came COVID-19.
Suddenly, almost overnight it seemed, schools (and teachers!) rushed to learn how to teach in a virtual environment. They learned how to set up their own Google Classroom, use Zoom and Teams, set homework, collect it, then mark it – all digitally. It was a HUGE learning curve and very stressful to accomplish in such a short time. The saying, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ never rang more true than in the last few years!
Fast forward a few, short years and the world of online learning is no longer a final frontier – we’ve stepped over that virtual line, into a new world which offers unlimited opportunities. But what are those opportunities? What does online learning REALLY offer students? Can we imagine a world, way in the future, where physical schools no longer exist?
That’s probably a concept way beyond our lifetimes at the moment. For now, though, we are still navigating the challenges of online learning and what it means for schools, students, teachers and families.
Let’s break down some of the advantages of learning online:
A: Students can learn at home. – This may sound obvious, but even today, for numerous reasons, there are still lots of students around the world who learn at home. Maybe they have anxiety, a disability, or their family is travelling. Maybe they are an elite sportsperson, or musician, or actor and need to get an education on the go.
B: Online learning is great for visual learners. – It’s no secret that we learn by looking. That’s why picture books are so popular with young children still learning to read. Humans interpret meaning from pictures. So, our lessons at Voyager School are built to be visually interesting and engaging, with bright colours, interesting layout, and incorporated images, such as graphs, photos, charts, and tables. We also embed videos into our lessons and each video has captions, which assist students who are hard-of-hearing or who are English language learners.
C: Online learning is interactive. – Children learn by doing. Not just watching or answering multi-choice questions, but clicking and dragging, matching, moving things around, playing games and navigating for information. That’s what makes online learning so fun for children. We do our best to make things ‘clickable’ – to get students to think about their learning, rather than just sit, passively, (hopefully!) taking it all in. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes learning is passive. But the best online learning is one that takes all learning styles into account, and does the best, within the limitations of the internet, to cater for a variety of student learning styles.
D: Online learning can be self-paced. – Every child learns at their own pace. So, the advantage of our courses at Voyager School, is that students can move as quickly or as slowly through their chosen course, as they like. All our lessons are presented as videos, with questions and activities built in. So if a student needs to pause the lesson, go back over a part of the lesson or even wants to skip content, they can.
E: Rewards are immediate. – When learning, getting the correct answer is an immediate reward, with immediate feedback. In an online or physical school, lessons are given, then there’s an exam to work towards, or an assignment is given, which has to be handed in at a later date. Lesson or assignment feedback is often delayed for a long time. However, our lessons at Voyager School, have immediate feedback and rewards built in. Students progress through the lesson and are quizzed along the way. Our lessons also incorporate revision quizzes. And at the end – students complete an End of Unit Quiz – and if they achieve 50%, are rewarded with a Quiz Certificate and a Completion Certificate at the end of the course. So, the rewards are immediate and encourage the student to try harder and feel great that they passed! We even have a ‘Leaderboard’ for each End of Unit Quiz, so students can compete with each other if they want to.
Of course, there are two sides to every coin, and online learning does have it’s disadvantages. But fortunately, as systems and curriculums improve all the time, the advantages of online learning will far outweigh the disadvantages. It’s all about balance – and finding what works for your child.
Let’s break down some of the disadvantages of learning online:
A: It can be a bit impersonal. – Yes it’s true that learning on the computer can feel a little ‘sterile’. But these days, online schools are concentrating really hard on fostering a sense of community. Many LMS’s offer Discussion panels built into lesson pages, students can leave messages for the teacher or can post a question and have other students answer it. And of course, live online lessons are often just as good as traditional, face-to-face ones. It all depends on what the student wants – a good online school caters for both – students who want to learn by themselves, or students who want the advantages of an online course, but also want to meet their classmates on a regular basis.
B: Online school life is a bit haphazard. – Physically going to school is a familiar routine. Getting up, getting ready, travelling to school – it’s just how it’s done. But learning from home can sometimes feel a little out of whack. You aren’t restricted by the school bell or the bus timetable. You can get up whenever you want, study for an hour and then do something else for the rest of the day. For some students – this freedom works – for others it’s not so easy. It all comes down to the individual. However, most experts agree that setting up a routine, even a small one, is just as important as going to a regular school.
C: You don’t get to do all the fun things like go on excursions or do swimming lessons in an online school. – Well this is certainly true. It’s just that these extracurricular things have to be organised by parents, rather than being done at school.
D: Online school is lonely. – Yes, it can be, but only for those students who may find it difficult to reach out, or have limited opportunities to do that in their current online school. It’s really up to the online school to make sure that students are offered every opportunity to connect. For example – have live lessons, set up Discussion forums, set group tasks so students have to work with each other. Even set up face to face ‘study camps’ where students who live nearby, can meet, under supervision from parents or local online teachers. Email chains are another fun way to connect – like the old ‘pen friend’ system, students write to the next person on their ’email chain’, which has been set up by their teacher. It’s a chance for them to chat about their lives, share experiences and interests and reach out, informally, outside the school environment.
Thanks for reading and please reach out by filling in the Message box below, if you have any questions!
Gabrielle – Founder and CEO – VoyagerSchool.com.au