10 kids who make the grade with online learning

Online schools have long been an option for those who are earning a higher degree, but among students in grades K-12, online learning is catching on like wildfire. A 2011 report from the Evergreen Education Group found that 250,000 students were enrolled in full-time online high schools during the 2010-2011 school year, an increase of 25 percent over the year before.

That number is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. A report from research firm Ambient Insight (ambientinsight.com) found that over 2 million Pre-K-12 students took at least one course online in 2009; the firm projects that by 2014, about 10.5 million students will participate in online learning.

Who can benefit from online school?

Dr. Kathleen Tate, program director of M.Ed. in teaching and associate professor at American Public University, believes online learning can help students develop the skills they need "to be more successful within and beyond the virtual classroom." She said, "Children in online classrooms develop technical skills, communication, collaboration, independence, self-monitoring, research skills and problem-solving perhaps more rapidly than in traditional classrooms."

Though anyone could benefit from taking courses online, there are a few select groups of students that gain significant advantages from the virtual classroom.

  1. Advanced learners. Those who need more of a challenge can often find it online. Olivia, an eighth-grader from Idaho, did just that. "She takes advanced courses, and her teacher and parents accelerate her individualized learning plan to match her pace," said John Olsen, Vice President of Operations at K12 Inc. "Olivia also takes advantage of extra enrichment by participating in an online book club and editing and designing her school newspaper."
  2. Athletes and performers. Without online school, student athletes or child stars might have to choose between their work and their education. Online learning means they can focus on their studies between jump shots and scenes.
  3. Those in remote, rural areas. Students who live in very rural areas might not have access to the classes they would like to take. Online education ensures that with a good Internet connection, geography does not have to hold these students back.
  4. Students who are being bullied. Bullying has become a serious problem in recent years, and some parents are nipping that problem in the bud by choosing to home school their children instead. They turn to online programs to help ensure that their children get the best education possible.
  5. Those with significant obligations. Some children grow up fast, especially when they have adult obligations, such as helping to pay bills for the family or taking care of a sick or disabled parent. These kids can benefit greatly from a classroom that is always there, allowing them to work at their own pace.
  6. Children with health issues. "Some children may have medical issues that would prohibit them from optimal learning in a face-to-face classroom," Tate said. "Online learning is flexible and can allow students to work at their optimal times based upon medication schedules and doctor appointments."
  7. Students who travel frequently. Students who have a changing home base might find sticking to a traditional school schedule difficult. This is especially true for children whose parents are in the military or work in foreign affairs. Online education moves with them, so they don't fall behind.
  8. Regular students who need something "more." Does your student want to learn a second language? Are they interested in things that their traditional classes might have touched on, but didn't explore in-depth? Students who are happy with their traditional school system yet feel the need to learn more than what they get from the classroom can enroll in extra classes that feed their curiosity.
  9. Those with disabilities that make classroom learning difficult. "Some students who have severe disabilities may do better in an online classroom," Tate said. "Students who might face extreme challenges with focusing might better engage in a multimedia environment that has fewer distractions than a face-to-face classroom. Since the discussions, lesson, and information remains posted in the online classroom, students can take more time as needed to view material at a pace that suits them."
  10. Students who want to earn college credit. Those who want to earn college credit but simply don't have the time to attend on a set classroom schedule can seek out those credits online. In many cases, they can earn those credits from the college they hope to attend after high school.

One face of online learning

For some students, online learning is their best hope for a brighter future. Take the case of a young woman who attends an online high school in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"She said that until she enrolled in the online program, she never believed she would still be in high school at this point," Olsen said. "This young woman has enormous family responsibilities, including caring for her ailing grandparents and working to supplement the family's income. She said that when her success in high school depended on being present in a school building for a set number of hours per day, she knew she would fail.

"Now that she is able to complete her lessons when her schedule allows for it -- such as in the waiting room at doctors' offices -- she can get her work done and move forward in her individualized learning plan. Today, she is on schedule to graduate from high school next year."

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