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Online Learning: What It Is, Pros, Cons & How It’s Evolving

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Over the last year, teachers, parents and students were thrown into online learning. It was stressful. And there was a lot to learn. But for some students, this was a welcome change that helped their learning thrive. 

The good news: if your child excelled during virtual learning, you don’t have to stop! There are many online courses and programs to keep learning going at home. 

E-learning during COVID-19 sped up the pace of online learning. We discovered more ways to help young online learners succeed. But even with the last year, online learning is still not the norm. And you probably have more questions.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of online learning. Is e-learning right for your child? What does the future of virtual learning look like? 

Let’s dig in!

What is online learning and how does it work?

Online learning is an educational method where students learn virtually, through a computer or online device. Students and teachers are connected digitally and all learning happens through a digital platform. 

Online learning can take many different forms. In fact, you’re online learning right now! Reading informative articles, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts or doing puzzles — it can all be part of online learning.

Online learning can include live or recorded video instruction, Zoom classroom discussions or online quizzes and games. When done right, online learning is both fun and social.

Some other forms of online learning may include:

  • Working in a digital classroom
  • Signing up with an accredited virtual school
  • Choosing online resources to supplement homeschooling
  • Enrolling in online courses in addition to traditional school for a blended learning style.
child sitting on couch with headphones on, smiling and learning on a laptop.

How is online education assessed?

Online learning assessments aren’t much different than traditional classrooms. There are a variety of ways to track a student’s progress. Tests and quizzes are given online. And virtual conversations can help teachers judge student understanding of course materials.

The educator may also use a learning management system that automatically tracks progress. These may incorporate assessments in the form of online games and quizzes. For example, as students answer questions in Prodigy Math Game, teachers and parents can view data on their progress from their own accounts. 

These games are a great way for kids to stay engaged during learning. Students have fun answering questions. And teachers get detailed reports showing student understanding. These reports can tell a teacher if they are good to move forward, or need to revisit a topic. 

Want to view real-time data on your child’s math practice? Log in to your Prodigy parent account to get started!

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Feeling nervous about your child’s online learning? Include them in tracking their experience. 

  • Have conversations about their schooling topics 
  • Find out what’s working for them, and what’s not 
  • Ask them what they learned this week that they never knew before 

These check-ins with your child are an important way to make sure online learning is working for them.

Advantages of online learning

For many students, online learning is a great fit. If your child has a hard time focusing in a crowded classroom, the comfort of home may be a better learning environment. If they’re often bored, virtual learning allows them to move at a pace that best suits them.

Some students need more brain breaks than allowed in a traditional school. Others may need to revisit a topic multiple times to fully grasp it. Or perhaps your child works best when they are able to get up and move around the room. Online learning gives students more freedom. And this can lead to better learning. 

Check out more advantages of choosing online learning below.  

1. Accessibility

As long as you have an internet connection, virtual learning is available. Another plus — your child can access past lessons for review as needed. Or they can dive deeper with a quick Google search. With an internet connection, you can learn just about anything.

2. Efficiency

No need to scurry through the morning routine. No hectic school drop-off. Online learning can maximize your child’s learning time, still leaving plenty of time in the day for play.

3. Attendance

When all you have to do is turn on your computer, it’s easier to get to class. Online learning is a great way for students to stay on top of assignments. Having a rough morning? Their assignments will still be there this afternoon. Distance learning can even be done on vacation!

Child sitting by a pool on a tablet device.

4. Personal growth

Online learning assessments involve more than testing. With the various programs being used in digital classrooms, students can see their progress. And knowing how far they’ve come can be a great motivator.

5. Adaptable learning styles

There are many online learning choices. With a little exploring, you’re sure to find one that best suits your child’s learning style. 

Virtual classes often include more video and audio resources. These can lead to better learning and retention for visual learners. If your child needs more breaks for focus, look into self-paced courses that include recordings. There are many programs that may better suit your child than a traditional classroom.

6. Cost and affordability

If you’re looking for the personalized instruction or flexibility of a private school, online schooling is an affordable option. Virtual programs don’t require the high maintenance costs of traditional brick and mortar schools. This keeps their rates much lower.

There are also many low cost or free options to supplement homeschooling. Use virtual platforms like Prodigy Math Game to keep your child engaged with learning — without breaking the bank.

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Disadvantages of online learning

Online learning isn’t for every student or every situation. And sometimes a hybrid learning approach is best. Make sure to consider advantages and disadvantages to create an online learning plan that works for your child. 

1. Focus and concentration

Sometimes there’s a lot going on at home. Your child’s favorite toys or shows are there. You’re working from home. Or younger siblings are playing in the next room. 

For some kids, that’s just too many distractions. If your child has a hard time focusing on their schoolwork at home, virtual learning can be a struggle.

2. Technology limitations

Online learning requires two things: a computer and internet access. If you live in a rural area without a great internet connection, streaming a Zoom lecture can be full of frustration. 

A simple computer, like a Chromebook, is often enough for online learning. But without reliable internet, your child may find online learning difficult.

3. Isolation and loneliness

Some online classrooms gather with the same kids every week. But other programs aren’t set up that way. If your child’s virtual learning program involves very little peer interaction, this can feel isolating. 

Although students may not see each other in person, interaction is still possible! Encourage your child to reach out to others in the course. Or seek out a group of other online learners to connect with. Finding that connection is important to prevent loneliness. 

4. Little teacher input

If your child is working through a self-paced or pre-recorded online course, there may be little teacher interaction. Some kids will thrive in this style. But other students work better with more direct teacher feedback. 

5. Limited social engagement

For many kids, school is a social event. Attending school makes it easier to meet people and make new friends. 

If your child is schooling online, find a community of other online learners to meet up with. Many local groups will meet once a week or more to socialize and learn together. 

Three children sitting outside at a computer together.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated online learning?

Definitely.

Online learning has already been a popular choice for higher education. The flexibility it offers learners is great for career-changers or those looking to upskill. But educating younger students with online programs is still fairly new.

The growing amount of homeschool curriculum options and advances in technology in recent years has increased online learning options. But when COVID hit, these programs weren’t ready to accommodate the huge demand in classrooms needing this technology. This left a lot of companies scrambling to provide better options. 

COVID has prompted many new studies looking specifically at online learning for younger students. We’re learning what works, and what doesn’t. This has pushed the technology forward. Many EdTech companies are working to make virtual learning better, which is great for the families choosing to continue their online learning.

Accreditation and qualifications for schools and teachers

Your child can learn virtually, even if you have zero interest in homeschooling. There are accredited options across the country that are nationally recognized and well-respected. In these programs, qualified teachers lead your child through their studies. No need for you to be both instructor and parent.

Some online schools are even offered as a public school option. These free virtual schools are designed to meet your state’s curriculum and teacher certification requirements. Your child can attain everything they need for graduation without stepping foot in a traditional classroom.

There are many high quality and affordable online options, like K12 and Connections Academy. Take a look and find the right fit for your child.

Maximizing your online learning experience

The rapid rise in online learning is great news for students. They have almost unlimited resources for pursuing their passions and improving their skills. The technology is there and it’s only going to improve. Make sure your child is using it to their advantage.

If your kid needs extra math practice, supplement their learning with Prodigy Math Game. This online learning resource helps keep math fun! Players enjoy exciting online adventures and answer skill-building math questions as they go. Plus, you’ll get tools in your own parent account to support them. 

When your child is having fun, the learning comes easily.

Ready to give online learning a try? Sign up for Prodigy today!

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