Distance learning has been around since the 1700s when correspondence courses were first taken through the mail. Over the past 300 years, distance and, more recently, online learning have emerged as premiere schooling options. Yet, there’s still a lot to be learned regarding the virtual classroom and how to make it work for you! Here I’ll share some goals, tips, and tricks on ways to create an online learning program that fits your needs and paves the road to success.
Identify Your Goals
Whether you’re a parent, student, or teacher, creating and upholding an online learning plan that fits your individual needs can feel like a daunting task. Here are three easily attainable goals that we can embrace and activate in this 21st-century academic space:
Goal 1: Find a space to make your own
There are so many options for online learning that we can become paralyzed by the robust selection. Make sure that you’re investigating programs that match your needs, interests, and values.
Goal 2: Keep a balance between content and connection
Many online programs will highlight how fast you can complete their courses and how you can work at your own pace. But let’s remember that part of education is working together and collaborating. Thus, we need to continue to value opportunities that match robust content with strong academic supports.
Goal 3: Step outside your comfort zone
When taking online classes, you’re in your own comfort zone whether that be your favorite library, a desk in your living room, or a spot in your bedroom. Because you’re physically and emotionally comfortable, this is the perfect opportunity to reach beyond your academic comfort zone and embrace more rigorous topics and content.
Finding a space to make your own
The number of online learning programs that are currently being offered can feel daunting. How can you possibly know which one is right for us? Remember that in a traditional classroom you don’t want your student to be just another kid in a seat. You want them to be appreciated, understood, and mentored. The same is true for online learning programs! You want to find a learning environment that is collaborative, challenging, and accommodating.
Every online school is going to have courses in US history, biology, and algebra. That’s why it’s so important that you look at the values and mission statements of each online program to make sure that it aligns with your own academic values and mission. You don’t want your student to attend a brick and mortar school that appreciates standardized teaching over-inquisitive learning. So why would you settle for the same in an online learning program?
Keeping a balance between content and connection
“Getting an education” is more than just gaining knowledge in certain subject matters. A true academic experience includes time for collaboration, coaching, and connection. It’s been documented in study upon study that schools are just as important, if not more important, in a student’s socialization journey as they are in a student’s academic journey. So why settle for an online program that relies on recorded lectures and static discussion boards?
Certain online schools have embraced more collaborative technology that allows students to learn at their own pace while maintaining a close connection to their peers and teachers. This is the balance that we want to see in an online program. Having robust course offerings is fantastic but not at the expense of true personal connection between students and educators. It is for this reason that hybrid online learning programs are ideal as they allow students to progress at their own speed while maintaining that one-to-one personal relationship between peers and teachers.
Stepping outside your comfort zone
We’ve heard so many times that with online programs the world is your classroom. While that is true, most students will still prefer to attend class from spaces in which they feel the most comfortable. Parents and teachers alike should embrace a student’s desire for comfort while learning as much as we embrace those students who want to log into class while backpacking through Europe.
Why do we want to push for our students to be comfortable? Because when our students are physically and emotionally comfortable, they’re more likely to take academic and/or intellectual risks. The social and emotional pressures of school can be crippling for some students and, at best, irritating for others. Navigating these confusing waters can create additional stress that hinders a student from reaching their full academic potential. Meanwhile, students who are learning from a space of comfort and support have a greater potential to excel when enrolled in honors courses or faced with rigorous coursework.
Finding the Right Online Classes for Your Goals
While selecting and enrolling in courses can feel like it’s dictated by graduation requirements and mandates, you must remember that you have control over your student’s academics! If this is your student’s first online learning program, you may want to consider a schedule that includes core courses as well as some fun elective classes. This will help keep your student interested and engaged while learning how to navigate the online learning experience. From there, push against that comfort zone by enrolling in honors courses or subjects that are more challenging for your student. Lessons and activities that are a bit more strenuous can help improve focus and motivation.
For students who have had experience with online learning programs, choosing synchronous one-to-one courses will help them build and strengthen appropriate communication skills in real-time. Additionally, hybrid and group courses supply the student with a certain level of academic freedom while still requiring them to collaborate with peers and focus on the importance of teamwork.