Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Should Students Opt Out of Face-to-Face Education?

This question was asked recently and can be tricky because there are many variables to take into account when considering opting out of F2F education. I believe these decisions should be individualized. What are the circumstances for the student? What kind of online program is it? Does it incorporate F2F elements or is it completely online? These answers are all part of the decision making but overall it is a viable option.

Why should students consider online programs? With districts around the country cutting budgets, many of the specialized programs are being cut and online learning (OL) provides an alternative solution. For example, there are students who want to take accelerated classes that may not be offered or students who have a disability or medical issue and can access OL easier than a traditional classroom. OL environments are no longer a one-way portal of learning but have evolved into multidimensional, interactive environments which are engaging more and more students. 21st Century OL can reflect the real world more than traditional F2F learning by allowing students opportunities to work collaboratively with others from various backgrounds exposing them to a variety of perspectives and opinions that reflect the workplace environment. Some other advantages to take into consideration are:
  •  OL provides accessibility 24/7
  •  OL provides a cost-effective option
  • OL provides an abundance of quality resources on the web
  • OL provides a constructivist environment where students learn not only from their instructor but also from their peers
  • OL provides a democratic environment where race, gender and appearance do not come into play
  • OL can engage millennial's, students born between 1977-1997, who have grown up with technology and online social networking
When considering opting out, one needs to consider that quality, in-depth learning will not occur without a few key elements in place. 
  • First, the online program needs to meet best practices for online content development established by WASC or NETS and be user friendly and accessible as established by the W3C standards
  • Second, teachers need to accept their new role as facilitator. Online learning supports a more constructivist environment and teachers need to act more as a guide on the side. 
  • Lastly, it is critical that the student embody characteristics of a successful online learner such as being motivated, self-directed, and having a positive attitude and they need to be supported by the school, mentor or parent.
There are studies supporting OL. iNACOL states that OL provides socialization opportunities that go beyond traditional schools and that these interactions help to reduce social friction that is prevalent in traditional school environments. Another study by the US Department of Education states that on average, students in online learning perform better than those in F2F instruction.  Technology is a driving force in the workplace and traditional schools are slow in providing education using technology tools. More in-depth studies need to occur but OL should be considered. OL can meet the technology need, produce quality learning, and produce students who are well prepared for the 21st Century workplace.

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