The world of online learning is burgeoning, the options varied and choices better than ever before. And that was before Covid 19 hit the streets and forced public schoolers home! So many choices, so many opportunities. How does one choose? Not all online education is created equal. Here’s a beginner’s guide to sorting options!
What to Look For in Online Classes
Check the “About” page of whatever program you are considering. Many on-line programs are now run by savvy business owners, looking to make money from the billion-dollar alternative education market.
That’s just good business but it might not be a good fit for your student or your family. Sarah Synder's podcast, Choosing an Online Class is a helpful resource for finding the perfect online class for your family.
Things to Think About with Online Learning:
- Do their values align with yours?
- Do they contribute to causes that concern you?
- Are they privately or government-funded?
- If they are privately funded, what is the underlying value system of the people or organization behind the school? I had to dig pretty far into a very popular on-line company to find that they were privately funded by alt-right Conservatives.
Consider the Company's Underlying Educational Philosophy
Remember, everybody who is providing you an education is also providing an ideology and a world view. There are no exceptions to that. So, when you consider on-line education, think about:
- Who gets your money?
- Who they are funding?
- What ideology or value system is being conveyed
Don't forget that companies that market to homeschoolers might not understand and appreciate the flexibility of the homeschooler.
Homeschooling IS changing. This month proved that in a profound way. Both parents still work, but they need oversight. And that is fine. But homeschoolers have far more flexibility and can adapt and change things up as needed for fun, greater learning, and unusual opportunities. Make sure that whatever company you are working with understands and cares about the adaptability and flexibility that homeschooling can afford.
Because you have options. Credits don't have to come out of a book. Each platform and program is different and can utilize a plethora of various on-line tools.
Questions to ask about any program you are considering:
- Asynchronous vs. Synchronous learning- are the students learning the same materials, but at different times (like with Khan Academy), or are they learning the same materials, at the same time (like with True North Homeschool Academy).
- Can students see/hear and interact with other students?
- Can the student engage with the teacher personally, or only through “chat”?
- Will the teacher respond to “chat” during class time?
- Does the program have access to a virtual white-board, chat-room, break-out rooms, audio or video recording?
- Can you get a copy of the video recording if you miss a class or is it posted where you can access it?
- Is there screen sharing and will the teacher utilize multi-media in their classroom?
- How will assessments be delivered?
- Will grading be done by the teacher?
- How frequently are grades given?
- Is the teacher accessible by phone or email during the duration of the class time?
And while we're talking about FAQ’s, this might be the biggest one of all:
Our live online classes utilize the SAMR Model and Gamification to take your students to a whole new level of academic learning and growing! Our world class teachers utilize the SAMR Model of online learning as well as gamification, Students interact and engage during class with fellow students and teachers, and our virtual campus provides Parent and Student Dashboards, grading and assignment center, monthly newsletter and more!
The Accreditation Question
What is accreditation?
Accreditation refers to an accrediting board that sets the standard for an organization and ensures that they meet those standards. Accrediting boards vary widely, so don’t assume that because a school is accredited that it necessarily means that there are clear quality controls in places. Accreditation is a spendy endeavor, and we in the homeschooling world know the value is questionable.
Furthermore, accreditation might demand that the school utilize licensed teachers, many of whom have fled the public-school system. Accreditation and teachers’ licenses are no guarantee of quality education. They are a guarantee of conformity – for better or worse.
Questions to ask:
- What accreditation do you carry?
- What does the accrediting agency oversee?
- How does accreditation affect the cost of classes?
- What percentage of your teachers are from the public-school system?
- Is being a licensed teacher a requirement for teaching with this company?
- Who has experience with homeschooling in your company?
- Will you be considered a homeschooler by the state in which you reside?
- Will you have to register as a homeschooler in your state, regardless of their accreditation?
When You Need Accreditation
If you live in one of the few states that will not accept homeschooling high school credits and you plan to put your student back into public school at some point during their high school career.
Why You Don’t Need Accreditation
It’s expensive and that expense will be passed down to the consumer. Most colleges, universities, tech schools, internships, and jobs don’t care. They’ll be looking at test scores, applications, essays, and references. Accreditation is often simply a marketing tool.
When Accreditation IS Important
After high school and when looking at colleges or universities, accreditation becomes important. You will want to go to an accredited school if case you ever transfer or want to go to graduate school.
Other Things to Consider
- Does my state recognize homeschooling high school credits?
- In what instance would I need (i.e. need to pay for) an accredited program?
These programs set themselves up and will let you know the standards that they utilize in order to meet the demands of the customer. Marketplace demands offer correction as needed.
What types of Online Programs Are Out There?
Live Online Classes
This refers to real-time interaction between teachers and students. This can happen on a variety of platforms such as Skype, Go-to Meeting, or our personal favorite, Zoom. Schools vary widely on how they utilize this format. Some schools allow the students to see the teacher and interact with them only via chat. Others allow students to see and interact with both the teachers and students- it is a virtual classroom. Teachers are often highly qualified to teach their subject matter and engage with the kids. Students, also, can see and interact with their classmates, and often online friendships are formed.
Questions to Ask About Live Online Classes
- Does this school allow my students to interact in real-time, during class with the teacher and other students or not?
- When can my student engage and interact with the teacher and other students?
- Will the teacher simply be lecturing the student for the entirety of each class or is there an interactive component to the virtual classroom?
- What benefits are there to this type of learning over and above a self-paced, pre-recorded program?
What About Self-paced Classes?
- Self-paced classes refer to those classes where students log in to a platform and watch or listen to pre-recorded classes, either video or audio.
- Students work through the information at their own pace, doing the assignments when they are ready to do them and reviving a grade based on homework assignments, quizzes, tests and projects which are graded via computer or docent.
- Students do not engage with a teacher, but simply the material.
Questions to consider about Self-paced Classes Online:
- Is my student self-motivated enough to complete these courses?
- Is the quality of the program worth our time and money?
- Is there an option that is not passive learning?
- Is there a less expensive alternative?
What About Blended Online Programs?
Blended programs involve using a combination of self-paced information and live online interaction. Often, the students go through material at their own pace and then meet with a live tutor or have grading done by a live tutor on a regular basis.
Questions to consider about the blended program:
- When and how does live, interactive learning take place?
- How are the assessments done?
- What qualifications does the teacher bring to the class?
- Does my student have the self-motivation to complete the course?
Types of Online Schools
One-time Classes or Workshops
These classes are offered one at a time, by an individual or group of people who have gathered together to offer their expertise. Often you’ll see homeschool parents whose kids have graduated developing and offering classes in an area that they are passionate about.
This is a company that allows teachers to offer classes. There is no vetting of teachers' qualifications or world view, though teachers must often teach from a secular, “objective” point of view, especially if the program takes government funding, including vouchers. Teachers offer classes they want to teach, and set their own terms including pricing, length of course, etc. and then pay the overseeing company a percentage of what they make on the class. Teachers teach, the company takes care of logistics and may provide a background check. Prices and quality of teaching can fluctuate wildly.
Questions to ask about Marketplace Courses:
- Who is funding the company?
- Do I want to fund this organization?
- How will I determine the quality of the classes?
- How will I determine credit or grades for the work my kids have done?
Curriculum Suppliers Now Offering Online Classes
Many successful homeschooling curriculum companies have taken their curriculum to online classes, such as IEW, Memoria Press and The Well-Trained Mind. These companies have branded themselves and are furthering their brand through courses, with vetted teachers, set meeting times and grades. Classes meet 1-4 times a week live on-line with homework assigned and graded. The cost can be prohibitive and classes may fill quickly though.
Full-service homeschool programs offer live online and self-paced classes, testing, advising and more. A Full-Service program offers the flexibility that homeschoolers need, classes that suit your needs and a fundamental understanding and respect for the homeschooling lifestyle while helping you navigate the way from K-12th grade. They will help you successfully launch your students into higher education or the working world. These companies have often been founded by home educators who started umbrella schools in their local area and then went online to provide more robust services to families in their region and beyond!
Here are some types of full-service programs to consider:
This is a group of dedicated teachers or homeschoolers who come together to provide classes, usually pulled together by a long-time homeschooler who loves to teach and has some talented friends.
A Membership Site
This type of program is usually self-paced. Families pay a monthly fee and have access to whatever classes and services are offered. Fees may vary for the same site, depending on services offered.
What to Think About When Planning to Use Online Classes
There are a lot of great options out there and they offer many benefits to your child. Educators agree that these are some other educational components you need to think about when you are planning to use online classes in your homeschool. You should think through all these aspects of an online school or class if you think it is something that will benefit your family.
- Dynamic learning – requires the student to actively participate in the course material, responding to the teacher's questions, prompts, possibly using break-out rooms and doing group activities. Assessment tools can include quizzes, tests, as well as projects, presentations, essays or dramatic performances.
- Passive learning – allows the student to sit while they are being lectured to or show a presentation of some sort. Assessments are usually done via quizzes and tests.
- Asynchronous learning – communication is not in real-time and the teaching/ learning can take place at different times and different places. Because the learner views information and responses at different times and from different places, there is much flexibility. The teacher does not have to be “live,” and content can be delivered via written, audio or video recordings.
- Synchronous learning – communication is in real-time so teachers and learners meet at the same time although they are in different places. Learners view content at the same time so responses can be immediate. Because of the set meeting time, there is less flexibility than with asynchronous learning. The teacher is “live” via whatever platform is utilized for transmission.
- The Learning Management System/ Course Management System – (or LMS/ CMS) allows on-line schools and teachers to deliver course materials, correspondence, lessons, assessments, and grading and other features electronically.
Why Choose Online Classes?
With all the amazing resources out there why choose an online class or academy? Well there are many reasons your family may want to adopt this type of educational resource as part of your homeschool. Here are just a few we thought of:
- Outside accountability
- World-class teachers are just a “click” away
- Friendships and relationships form with students and teachers from around the world
- Colleges and universities are making use of online education and LMS/CMS- give your student a jump-start on understanding how an online system works
- The quality of teachers you might not find locally
- Exceptional and unique classes that might not be found in your community
- A wonderful supplement to a traditional day school or homeschool
- To build independence and pride in one’s academic achievements
- Because the Goldilocks Syndrome is at work, and our kids want a challenge
Adding an online class component to your homeschool can contribute to a well-rounded home education that can allow your kids to learn and grow in ways you've never previously considered! Online education is the education of the future!