This year, millions of students from around the world experienced firsthand a completely online curriculum. While many were caught off-guard, online learning is nothing new. In fact, in recent years there has been a surge in eLearning avenues, from supplemental education, to online colleges, to Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, which are designed to support thousands of students at once. But how effective is this form of learning over face-to-face instruction? How do we measure that success? And, most importantly, is one online learning program the same as any other?
First of all, we must assess what we think of as a "successful" program. For example, online learning in any form can be cost effective and good for the environment. Students learning from home rather than commuting to and from school save their families money on gas and car maintenance, as well as cutting down on emissions. Online programs which rely on pre-taped lectures and digital classwork downloads also save money for the institutions which support them, and immensely reduce their paper usage.
But does this translate to success on a report card? Not necessarily. Researchers Spiros Protopsaltis and Sandy Baum have been critical in recent months concerning online education, arguing that students enrolled in online education tend to underperform when compared to their face-to-face counterparts. They also argue that online education does not in fact represent any benefit to the costs of education, and does not provide an adequate return on investment.
However, it's not all gloom and doom. They do point out an important factor that changes online learning from a novelty into a true success story: Regular and substantive student-instructor interactivity. Now while some disagree with Protopsaltis and Baum's assessments, one cannot deny the truth in their conclusion. Virtual learning should at its core seek to emulate all the best parts of face-to-face learning, regardless of circumstances.
So, what does an effective online educational program look like?
- Offers live, face-to-face instruction over a digital medium (Skype, Zoom, etc.)
- Provides engaging materials to hold students' interest
- Allows students time to work at their own pace
- Interactive component with instructors to allow for questions and answers
The question going forward is: will traditional schools be able to provide this level of quality online education for students in the upcoming school year? Again, there is no consensus, and parents are already taking steps to ensure that their children have a successful 2020-21 school year. Are you prepared for the future? Know your options now.