Distance Learning: Why Online Courses Work

Distance learning has caught fire. No longer limited to the university level, 44 states now offer significant K-12 online learning opportunities—either supplemental, full-time, or both. States recognize the importance of having an online learning option to address the public’s demand for school choice/reform, 21st century workforce preparation, and practical solutions for school closings caused by weather or illness (e.g., swine flu).

Estimates indicate that enrollment in K-12 online courses is growing by as much as 30% a year. According to the 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Education—Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning—over a million K-12 public school students enrolled in a technology-based distance education course in the 2007-08 school year. While the majority of research has been done with older online learners, the report’s analysis of 51 studies shows that students who took all or part of a class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.

Technological advances have fueled the explosive growth of K-12 online learning over the last decade, but there are other reasons for the growing popularity. Online classes meet diverse needs in ways that cannot always be addressed in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Populations most served by K-12 online courses are students who:

  • cannot access traditional classrooms due to physical or cognitive disabilities.
  • want access to courses, resources, and instructors that are unavailable where they live (e.g., rural or underserved regions).
  • require flexibility to study at their own pace. Scheduling flexibility appeals especially to high school students who have jobs and family obligations.
  • are homeschooled. The availability of online courses and K-12 virtual schools gives homeschooled children greater educational opportunities.

Distance Learning: Tangible Benefits
While K-12 online learning has become the “go-to” alternative for students whose needs are not fully met in the traditional classroom, it’s benefits are recognized for all students. Many parents want more control over their children’s education, and online courses allow families to tailor studies to students’ abilities and interests. Families are also attracted by the surprisingly tangible advantages of online learning, including increased student-teacher communication and improvement in:

  • critical and creative thinking
  • time management
  • researching
  • using computers
  • learning independently
  • problem-solving
  • decision-making.

Advantages of an Online Writing Course
Of all the subjects taught successfully online, writing is truly a natural fit for distance learning due to the simple fact that online communication relies so heavily on the written word. Every aspect of taking an online writing course builds writing skills, from communication with the teacher to the actual assignments. An online writing course also promotes personal accountability and helps young writers set goals. The one-on-one interaction with the instructor motivates students to want to write and complete assignments on time.

The nature of teacher feedback is another important difference in online writing courses. Receiving teacher feedback is more personal and less intimidating online than in a classroom. As every writer is sensitive to critique, the privacy of the online setting helps students be receptive to revising their work. In turn, students have a much easier time asking questions about their writing in a virtual learning environment without worrying about how they’ll be perceived by the group. Students also benefit from the undivided attention of the teacher, who isn’t being pulled in all directions simultaneously by 30 other students. Online students get the individual writing help they need and their questions and concerns are fully addressed. Writing improvement can usually be seen by the end of one course.

Online Courses Are NOT Created Equally
The quality of online learning courses and programs can vary a great deal. As in any instructional setting, the effectiveness of distance learning requires an adequate level of the teacher’s involvement. There’s simply no substitute for a highly engaged, certified teacher who is experienced in conducting an online class and understands the needs of the student. Teachers should know how to navigate in the virtual world and manage their time in order to provide frequent communication and timely feedback to students. A great online instructor will create a supportive online presence that makes students feel comfortable and motivated to learn.

Effectiveness also hinges on how well the online course is organized. Creating an online course isn’t just a matter of putting traditional lesson plans online. An experienced online education provider knows how to construct a web-based course so that it enhances student learning while taking advantage of the technology.

Is Distance Learning for Everyone?
While some students take to distance learning like a duck to water, others may not adapt as readily. Students who respond best to verbal cues may have trouble initially with online classes. However, even when students need a period of adjustment, they will still learn and benefit a great deal from the experience. While every student has his/her unique learning style, exposure to different teaching methods is an essential ingredient of a well-rounded education. The best strategy is to choose an online course on a subject of interest and jump in with both feet!

The Social Side of Online Learning
Parents worried that virtual learning hinders the development of social skills can easily remedy their concerns by involving their children in sports and other social activities. Yet online courses are not unsociable. On the contrary, there is a social component to online study that builds important skills, such as self-expression and self-discipline. Virtual classes require students to communicate by writing and follow through in completing assignments and responding to class-related emails. Like online social networking, students become engaged in the “conversation” with the teacher and the other students online.

Distance Learning: High School Graduation Requirement
Distance learning is here to stay. In fact, distance learning has a long history, beginning with the advent of correspondence courses in the 1890s. Courses taught via television date back to the 1950s, and in the mid 1990s, colleges began to offer courses online. While no one believes virtual classrooms will replace the traditional, some experts do predict that within five years, every high school student in the nation will be taking some kind of online course. Already, some states require students to take at least one online course as a high school graduation requirement. Several colleges are also requiring online courses in their curriculum. In the near future, a student entering college without distance learning experience could be at a disadvantage.

Time4Writing: Designed for Distance Learning
Time4Writing courses were designed from the ground up for online delivery. Developed by certified teachers with distance learning backgrounds, Time4Writing makes student progress and satisfaction its #1 priority. Time4Writing teachers are not only highly skilled writing instructors, they are also experts in creating positive and successful online learning experiences. Students “graduate” with improved writing skills and confidence due to the special attention they receive throughout each course.

Time4Writing online courses offer a highly effective way to build fundamental writing skills and learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily improve their writing ability and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher experienced in virtual education. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing online courses.