How Will Online Education Classes Impact the Future of Education for Young Children?
In the 2013-14 school year, an estimated five million American K-through-12 students took at least one class online.
The state-funded Michigan Virtual School offers online instruction to secondary students across the entire state, from those who need to make up credits in summer school to the gifted and talented whose districts don't offer advanced courses. There are similar programs in 23 other states, according to the 2015 report Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning (6.1 MB). Other schools across the country are using the highly acclaimed Khan Academy to supplement math curricula.
The term "digital learning" is increasingly preferred to "online education," because it more accurately reflects the dynamic and ever-expanding applications that online classes offer today's students. Given this fact, the relevant question today is not if digital learning will impact young children, but how it will impact young children.
Digital learning from both sides
While the potential for digital learning to benefit students by providing greater access to content and teachers, customization of curricula, and innovative learning tools has led to a surge in digital learning development, questions surrounding online schools' turnover, graduation, and student engagement rates abound.
While many brick-and-mortar schools are starting to include digital learning as a supplement to their traditional approach, a frequent debate around digital learning questions whether an entirely online education – especially those designed without the ability for a student to interact with their instructor face-to-face in real time – can actually be advantageous to students.
On one hand, an increased ability for customized learning that can be optimized to meet every student's needs regardless of geography is a highly intriguing aspect of the digital learning model. On the other, limited access to equipment and WiFi in many parts of the world remains a concern for proponents and opponents alike. Fears that students who participate solely online are at risk of greater isolation, disengagement, and distraction also remain prevalent.
In addition to there being many different models for digital learning – from fully online instruction to supplemental courses and blended learning – there is also a wealth of competing data and studies on the topic of digital education that can make it difficult to assess the phenomenon's true effectiveness in primary and secondary schools. It appears that the efficacy of any one program for any one student depends on a whole host of factors.
Making Digital Learning Work
Digital learning may be a relatively new development in education, but the rate at which these programs are growing indicates that the technology is here to stay. Digital learning is the new frontier for education, so it's crucial to carefully study, develop, and adapt new systems to fully benefit today's students.
Issues such as platform and system compatibility, digital optimization of course content, and effective student-teacher exchanges are at the forefront of digital learning development. These are the arenas that today's teachers, administrators, and digital instructional designers are focused on. By experimenting with and exploiting the full capabilities of the digital environment, more and more solutions are arising that let students learn at their own pace, while staying engaged and on track to fully complete their coursework.
Most of today's students have never entered a classroom with a chalkboard. Even white boards are becoming antiquated, as brick-and-mortar schools replace them with smartboards that bring online learning into the classroom. This year's kindergarteners have never lived in a world without smartphones. Classroom teachers will always be a part of the educational experience, but their roles are changing and expanding in the digital world.
Today's students crave access to richer content through digital tools and online learning organizations like Khan Academy and state-funded virtual schools, and the trend is only accelerating. As long as digital learning participation rates continue to grow, so will the amount of data that educators can study. Moving forward, these data will lead to the development of even better digital learning options and solutions.
Written by Ashford University staff.