The rise in popularity of online education has been a growing trend promoted by a number of circumstances, including the universal transition to online services, improved access to connectivity, upgraded delivery platforms, evolved digital teaching methods, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought online learning into the mainstream.
While home-schooling is mainly parent-led, online schooling offers a teacher-led, structured school programme delivered via an online learning management system, which follows a mandated curriculum that is regulated and monitored by either a South African, or an international examination body.
The pros of online schooling
Vicky Moraitis, COO of the Think Digital Academy, explains which kids are best suited to online schooling: “Any student who does not fit the traditional school mould is suited to become a successful online student. Be it a gifted student who wants to fast-track their education, or a struggling student who needs to focus more on academics, perhaps a student who is ill and struggles to keep up with the classroom pace, or a high-performance athlete who would like to dedicate as much time to growing their talents as to growing their academics. It’s a great option for all adventure-seekers, record-breakers, rocket-igniters, forward-thinkers, the creators, the innovators, and the leaders – because one size certainly does not fit all when it comes to education.”
Although it is not for everybody, it is easy to understand why online schooling is such a rapidly growing choice for many parents – it offers a number of very appealing benefits, including:
- Flexibility: Online schooling offers flexibility in terms of scheduling and location. Students can access their lessons and coursework from anywhere with an internet connection, and they can access at times that suit their personal schedule. This saves time and money on commuting to school every day. It is also ideal for parents who travel a lot and would like their children to accompany them on their travels, or for families who live in remote parts of the country with no access to a nearby school.
- Individualised pace: Online education enables students to progress at their own pace. They can review material, revisit lessons, or accelerate their learning based on their individual needs and abilities.
- Access to diverse resources: Online platforms often provide a wide range of digital resources, including multimedia materials, interactive tools, and educational software. This can enhance learning and provide opportunities for more engaging and interactive experiences.
- Self-motivated learning: Online schooling promotes self-discipline and independent learning skills. Students have the opportunity to take responsibility for their education, learn how to manage their time effectively, and develop self-motivation.
- Customised learning: Many online programs offer adaptive learning technologies that tailor content and instruction to the individual student. This personalised approach can cater to different learning styles and preferences, potentially leading to improved academic outcomes.
“It’s a great option for all adventure-seekers, record-breakers, rocket-igniters, forward-thinkers, the creators, the innovators, and the leaders…”
Of course, as with all forms of education, online schooling also has its drawbacks. The very structure of online learning is just not suited to some students due to the drawbacks it poses.
However, Vicky believes that all these drawbacks can be quite easily overcome: “We prefer to see them as ‘opportunities for improvement’ rather than ‘drawbacks’. Some concerns that parents may have could include, overuse of screen time, which can be limited to school work and perhaps 30 minutes after school for leisure. Teaching children the importance of balance, routine and self-discipline are essential skills that will be needed in their work lives.
Lack of face-to-face interaction can be mitigated by arranging after school activities such as play dates, enrolling them to club sports or cultural activities and also using weekends as opportunities to schedule fun activities with family members and friends. Online schooling does not deny children of any traditional school virtues, it simply encourages parents to get more creative in their planning.”
Drawbacks of online schooling include:
- Limited social interaction: Online schooling can be isolating as it often lacks the social interaction and face-to-face engagement found in traditional classrooms. Limited social interaction may impact the development of social skills, teamwork, and peer relationships.
- Potential for distractions: Online learning requires a high level of self-motivation and focus. Distractions at home, such as family members, noise, or electronic devices, can interfere with concentration and impact the quality of learning.
Lindsay Calder, Learnalot’s Marketing Manager, says that one of the biggest potential risks is keeping students on track and motivated: “A potential risk with online schooling is that a student can easily be distracted and lose focus, and as a result, quickly fall behind, resulting in them losing motivation. It is essential that an online education provider has systems and processes in place to mitigate this before it can become a problem.
An online student needs to be monitored to ensure that the student is staying on track with the study schedule.” She says for this reason, it is important to make sure that the online school that you choose has a monitoring and mentoring system integrated into their online learning resources that monitor each student’s progress on a daily basis.
- Technological challenges: Online schooling relies heavily on technology and internet connectivity. Technical issues, such as loadshedding, slow WIFI speed or software glitches, can disrupt the learning process and cause frustration for students and parents. This is especially relevant in South African homes that do not have solar installations yet, as the online schooling can be severely impacted by loadshedding.
- Limited hands-on activities: Some subjects, such as science experiments, physical education, or fine arts for example, may be challenging to replicate effectively in an online environment. Lack of hands-on activities and practical experiences can limit the breadth of practical learning opportunities.
- Kids with learning challenges like ADHD may find it harder to concentrate with the visceral in-person feedback of an actual classroom and teacher.
“A potential risk with online schooling is that a student can easily be distracted and lose focus.”
It’s important to note that the pros and cons of online schooling can vary depending on factors such as age, learning style, personality, access to resources, and the quality of the online programme.
Finding the right balance between online and offline learning experiences, along with parental involvement and support, can help maximise the benefits of online schooling while addressing its limitations. Says Lindsay: “It’s imperative that parents looking to enrol their child into an online schooling programme find one that meets their child’s and family’s unique educational and lifestyle needs for live teaching, access to recorded lessons, and teacher support.”