Can Online Education Provide the Same Competencies as Traditional Schools?

It is clear that online education has become a popular medium for taking classes and accessing programs that previously might have been out of reach for a variety of students. Initially, online education was largely targeted at college students who did not have the opportunity to take on-ground classes. This has been particularly helpful for working professionals who want to retrain or enhance their skills without having to interrupt their careers. Now, growth in high school online classes has led to questions about educational competencies.

The trends

According to an article in the New York Times, online class enrollment was up 43% in 2011. Unfortunately, the article also states that online institutions were inferior in terms of proficiency on standardized tests as compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools and charter schools. Still, popularity continues to grow and in places like higher education, professors are increasingly putting effort into online classes even though they take more work and there are concerns about educational quality. Given the societal emphasis on technology, it would not be surprising if online offerings continued to grow.

The positives

It is important to think about why students want to take online classes. One benefit is obviously the technological interface, as some students may be more comfortable in a digital environment. For many, the online class is pursued because it allows students to pursue other interests during the traditional school schedule such as sports. The online class may also be a way for students to make up classes during the summer while they maintain a job.

The negatives

The challenge with online learning is that there is still newness to the process, and management companies may not be experienced in providing quality education. The concern over for-profit companies providing education has been well documented over the last couple of years. In addition, students that take online classes often have to be more motivated since they do not have the structure of regular class. Ironically, the perception may be that online classes are actually easier due to flexibility of schedule. This attitude may put students at a disadvantage, particularly if they see the online class as needing less effort.

Convenience over competency?

It is unclear as to why these online schools are not meeting the competencies. The article highlighted the for-profit status of these institutions, but the article does not argue that this is specifically a reason for academic failure. When parents consider online classes, they must realize that they may be getting a different educational product. Whether it is superior or inferior will obviously still be up to the effort of the student and their motivation to maximize their learning. Education continues to evolve, and for now online education is a major component that may continue to grow.

The author teaches at the college level and prior to entering the classroom he spent many years in higher education administration. On occasion he also enjoys the pure entertainment of substitute teaching at the high school and middle school levels.

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