Online learning, a practice formerly uncommon and frowned upon, is now becoming the future. Our world is digitizing, and so too, is our education. With a click of a button, the world is at our fingertips, including new opportunities to expand your worldview, ingratiate into new cultures, sharpen time management skills, develop technical skills, and prepare for innovating careers–all while saving money, shrinking your carbon footprint, and maintaining health and safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
New education platforms (such as curriki.org) are more available now than ever before. At any stage in life, individuals who earn an online degree have the flexibility to tailor their education to their needs, life phase, and financial circumstances.
The Rise in Virtual Education
It’s winter of 2021, and nearly one year into the most baffling and notorious pandemic of our lifetime – the spread of COVID-19. Businesses have shuttered (some for good), the workplace environment has shifted, and social gatherings as we knew them are now highly discouraged (in some cases, outlawed). But few landscapes have shifted more drastically than that of education. Even now, schools continue to adjust to this brave new world of ensuring continued students success from home. While the future holds many looming question marks, only one choice remains: to move forward, we must continue to adapt.
And, as many experts and studies have shown, adapt we have. Not without it’s hiccups, of course: administrators, staff, and teachers were forced to sift through the sudden avalanche of regulations and realities-often with one at odds with the other. Parents, too, have had to scramble, reassessing their career paths and navigate a new wave of difficult decisions. Continue working? Switch to a more flexible career? Or quit altogether to stay home and oversee their kids’ schooling? The options seemed as numerous as they were overwhelming.
Nevertheless, it’s becoming clear that there’s definitely something to online learning. We have more accessibility to learning resources than we ever have. And the pandemic, for all its societal dismantling, has beckoned new solutions to gaps in resource access.
Despite some growing pains, online learning has proven a great deal of benefits to its students: both immediate, and long-term. So, you might ask, how does online school work? Is online school better? We’ll explore those benefits of online learning, and why parents and students should consider virtual learning.
In this article, “online learning” may be used interchangeably with a few different labels: online classes, online education, online schooling, or digital education, and so on. By contrast, the antonymous terms will include traditional schooling, onsite learning, in-person learning, and so on. Comparisons of online learning versus traditional learning, moreover, will include examples pertaining to students of different ages, which will oscillate back and forth throughout this article.
Digital learning creates a healthier physical, emotional, and cognitive environment for students. In most cases, this cannot be mimicked in a typical classroom. First, the benefits of online school include health and safety: this has never been truer amidst a pandemic. The nature of social interaction includes physical touch, especially for younger children, who are constantly touching their own faces (sometimes their peers’ faces, too). In other words: kids are walking germ factories, and schools are a petri dish.
Second, students in digital education are safeguarded from negative influences on their mental health. Away from the fraught teasing of a bully, the terror of an abusive teacher, or lewd stares of a predatory coach, kids are cushioned from traumatizing social stressors. Such harmful behaviors hurt their performance in school. At best, it’s distracting; at worst, devastating.
Third, studies have shown that both kids and parents are happier when they spend time together as a family. Today, it is not unusual for kids to rise early for school, spend their afternoons in extracurriculars, stay up late doing homework, and catch up on sleep on the weekends. Family time, no doubt, is shrinking. But a major benefit of online education, for students of all ages, is the opportunity to develop those familial bonds.
Limitless Learn Through OL
Not all students are equal learners. This does not mean that some are doomed to be unintelligent, and others, shining prodigies destined for greatness. Rather, it means that not everyone’s learning process is identical. Methods of both learning and teaching include visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary. If you’re lucky to have a devoted teacher who gets creative and varies her teaching methods, then your student can thrive under their inventiveness. But very few, if any, variety of these teaching and learning methods are typically introduced in a classroom setting.
At home, however, parents know their kids. They know their quirks, triggers, distractions, motivations. They recognize when they’re most productive, and when they need breaks. In a classroom wiith thirty students and one teacher, per class, it’s simply not possible to keep up with each individual student’s learning style, let alone tailor a lesson plan to suit each one. But at home, parents can do the tailoring for their own kids: their environment, schedule, and curriculum pace (which we’ll discuss shortly) can all be adjusted to create the optimal learning environment.
Beyond how one learns, the benefits of online classes include what one can learn. Degree programs are sometimes limited to specific universities. Unfortunately for some, life circumstances may prevent prospective students from getting to pursue certain programs. But by taking online classes, the options are limitless. Passions become possible. Career doors are opened. Opportunity becomes possible beyond merely the wealthy and privileged.
Students Can Self-Pace
I had a childhood friend with severe ADHD. She was both quite distractible and distracting, as she could never manage to sit still, so a classroom environment for her was miserable. Despite her tendency to fidget, though, gosh, was she brilliant. Even as a youngster, her mind was incredibly high-functioning.
Unfortunately, this went largely unappreciated by our teachers, who had zero tolerance for her restlessness. To their generation, good students sat completely still and paid rapt attention to their lessons. Period. But the problem was my friend could not sit still.
In an online learning environment, students with ADD or AD/HD can self-pace, take breaks, and allow themselves to move about in a manner that may distract other classmates within a traditional classroom environment. This benefits both kids who may move at a faster pace than the typical curriculum within a school year (as was the case for my childhood friend, who frequently read ahead of our assignments), as well as kids who may need to learn at a slower pace to properly retain the information.
I think back to my highly distractible friend from elementary school, and I can’t help but wonder: how much better would she have fared with her schooling had she been able to do so from home?
The number of pros to a flexible school schedule cannot be overstated. It’s a benefit that serves students of all ages. For youngsters who learn more effectively in an easier environment like at home, the quality of their education improves. For adult students juggling career, marriage, and family, flexibility for them is the hinging factor that allows them to get an education. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest benefits afforded in taking online classes.
Improved Time Management
While students do need guidance in their schooling, it can be difficult to determine when enough becomes too much. As a public school student, I could skate through my day scooting in homework assignments at the absolute last minute, in between classes, on bus rides, and at the lunch table. These were terrible time management habits that did not serve me well in the longterm.
With at home learning, in a more focused setting between parent and child, it becomes easier to guide the student in developing time management skills, especially by reinforcing them with incentives, like TV breaks or time to play outside. Rarely does this happen in traditional school. Many teens-who could skate by in high school doing the bare minimum-arrive at college and a new demand for managing their time, and struggle. By learning early how to manage their time well, students equip themselves to thrive in all levels of education.
Furthermore, when life brings new responsibilities-marriage, kids, bills, and so on-flexibility becomes necessary when choosing a program. Online learning give those with demanding schedules the ability to work around those other obligations.
Improved Virtual Communication
As we’re learning, communicating virtually has its own unique set of standards. Knowing the basics of email etiquette, formatting PowerPoint slides, how to submit online cover letters with word count limits in the text box are all examples of what workforce members are expected to know. When students learn, especially from a young age, how to communicate effectively on a virtual platform, they develop what are becoming required skills in most jobs today.
An online classroom transcends the limits of geography. This mean students can interact with peers from other cultural backgrounds, in different locations, of global languages, and diverse worldviews. This is a luxury few students access. For a select and privileged few, there are opportunities to study abroad, travel, and interact with locals to expand their worldview. But through online learning, doors are flung open to far more students, regardless of socioeconomic restraints. From home, far more students now have the choice to study Renaissance art, read about tribal practices, Q&A with Yemeni journalists working amidst civil war, or learn how to speak Mandarin. With the whole world online, a student’s prospects to grow and develop as a student of the world swell.
Critical thinking is a skill you will use for the rest of your life. But, unless one pursues higher education, such as law school or medical school, there are rarely opportunities to develop critical thinking skills in traditional schooling. The more complex the skill, the more challenging it is to teach, and most school systems are not equipped to challenge students to that extent.
Part of the positive challenges of online learning, however, are the opportunities for the parent to hone those skills through tailored lessons from home. Whereas a one-to-thirty (or more) teacher-student ratio, you can imagine the likelihood of diving into critical thinking lessons when there is an agenda to keep up with.
As our world shifts to an increasingly digital environment, equipping the next generation with the tools to navigate it is critical. Computer related skills are becoming more necessary, to succeed in school, to show job qualification, to communicate with others. Technical skills taught in schools set students up for success in a world moving to the internet.
Many digital learning platforms are commonplace in many jobs – consider Microsoft Office’s software suite of PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. Starting children’s exposure to different software programs while they’re young, and requiring their use over longer periods of time, builds the future workforce of capable online users.
By expanding their breadth of technical skills, students prepare themselves well to enter an increasingly competitive, digital, and innovating job market.
Each school year, schools require a long list of required supplies for students to acquire to come prepared. Beyond textbooks, students are required to bring a filled backpack’s worth of paper, pencils, pens, notebooks, crayons, coloring pencils, calculators, protractors, binders, markers, and a litany of other items. Private schools also mandate uniforms, which can be expensive, and need replacing each year.
From home, however, families can get creative. They can also use what they already have at home, without the annoyance of having to purchase the excact type blue-black ink pen deemed acceptable by a school system. Supplies and materials already at home or available for a far lower cost from discount retailers are necessities for many families struggling to provide school supplies for their kids.
For many people, cost is a major factor for pursuing education. that Just as companies are discovering the money saved on overhead costs by allowing telework flexibility, so, too, are proponents of online learning discovering about money saved by foregoing onsite schooling. Commuting expenses add up: driving to school takes time and gas money, not to mention the environmental impact of all those auto transmissions. Taking the bus is a greener option, and often free, but bus rides are long, and given the tight quarters shared with other kids, and the motion sickness, can be stressful.
Other costs may be less obvious, but nevertheless, also contribute to school expenses when learning in person. Students are more likely to spend money on clothes, if not for form and function, then definitely for the social influence of presenting themselves when seen by all of their friends and peers.
By opting for online learning, students save tremendous time and money by cutting out the commute.
There’s something quite empowering in challenging a student to explore how far they can push themselves. Clearing distractions, stressors, and other obstacles to a child’s education makes room for them to push themselves beyond their limits. This, after all, is the intent: to see our children grow.
The benefits of online education are numerous and long-lasting. Everyone stands to benefit regardless of age, gender, demographic, geography, and socioeconomic status. An online education prepares students for the future job market by teaching them to think critically, helping them save money, expand their opportunities, train for innovative career paths, and embrace diverse worldviews.
About the author: Taylor Logeman is a writer, travel blogger, fashion enthusiast, dog walker, and guac extraordinaire. She has lived in, traveled to, and written about multiple cities worldwide, sharing her journey to readers through her blog. You can find her at www.taylorlogeman.com or at www.linkinedin.com/in/taylorlogeman.