As parents and families in 2023 look at their children’s education, one couldn’t blame them for being a bit bewildered at how different things have become in just the last few years. Education is a quickly changing and advancing field, and the school of today is not the school that parents and families may have expected. With new trends, advances in technology, and social and political attitudes toward schooling, we can also expect education to continue changing in the future. In fact, we can predict one significant change, an increasing emphasis on online learning, and examine how it will change other aspects of education along with it.
1. Greater accessibility, variety, and choice
One major advantage many students are already experiencing with online learning is the fact that it is much more accessible. Students with mobility concerns have one less issue to worry about, as online learning can be accessible from nearly any location. But not only does online learning allow students to get to school more easily, it allows students to get to different schools more easily. As many students advancing toward university know, not all schools offer all courses, and few things can be more academically crushing than realizing you are not eligible for your preferred post-secondary program because your high school did not offer a prerequisite course. With online learning, students are not limited to the courses offered by the schools in their geographic vicinity, and they may be surprised by the wide variety of courses offered by online schools. This advantage even extends beyond just course offerings. Some students may find that some schools do not fit their style of learning, and with online learning, they are able to look at more options.
2. Easier family involvement
As online learning has become more widespread over the last few years, parents and families have found themselves able to get a better look at what their children are doing in school. Indeed, some parents have felt surprised regarding things like curriculum, teacher skill, and even their own children’s behaviour and educational habits, once they were able to supervise the lessons their children were attending. As well, this increased access that parents and families have has allowed them greater involvement in their children’s learning. From making it easier to help explain concepts to their children, to being able to see when their children may need to work on particular habits or skills, or even want to explore alternate education options (see above), nobody knows a student better than the student’s family, and an increased ability for parents and families to be involved with their children’s learning has been shown to correlate with higher educational outcomes for those children. Online learning allows parents and families the option of greater involvement, and more options allow families to help tailor learning to fit their particular children.
3. Increased independence
One concern some people may have with online learning is that students are given more independence. They may think that students will have less support than they may have with in-person learning. That is indeed a possible outcome, depending on the school involved, and some students may even be comfortable with that. However, other schools strive to give students as much support as they need, arguably even more support than traditional schools, while also offering them the independence to tailor their learning experiences to their own needs.
For example, at Ontario Virtual School, students can contact their teachers 24 hours per day, and responses are guaranteed within 24 hours. Many students may find this more convenient than only having easy access to their teacher during designated class time, and having to compete for that time with all of the other students in class. Email conversations can also allow more complex questions, as students can more clearly think about what they are asking, and teachers can more clearly explain their responses. Additionally, Office Hours are held at least once per week, to allow real-time conversation. However, if students don’t need this time, they are not obligated to use it. Rather, they can use their time for whatever best suits their needs. That may be more time reviewing lessons, as lessons can be paused, rewound, fast-forwarded, and re-watched as many times as required, at any time a student likes. Maybe the student just needs some time away from a class, for any number of reasons, from other obligations, or even just to rest and take care of their own mental health. Or perhaps a student may wish to spend more time on a particular assignment. Since online learning allows for asynchronous learning, at OVS, assignments do not have due dates, so if a student needs to spend more time on one, they can, but if another assignment, lesson, or unit is less difficult for the student, then that one can be advanced through quickly. In fact, courses can be completed in as little as 4 weeks, or take as long as 12 months, depending on how much time the student requires to complete all the material to the best of their ability. Online learning allows new methods of support, while also allowing students to direct their own learning in ways that work best for them.
The future can be difficult to predict, but one thing that most people agree on is that online learning is changing education, and will likely continue to do so. But as schools, students, and families become more used to these changes, they can bring about many advantages, and give students even stronger opportunities for success.