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  • Debunking Myths about Online Learning


    In the mid 1990’s I was presented with an opportunity that would forever change my life and would completely reshape many of my views about education and what it means to “go to school.” It was during this time period that I was selected to be a founding member of the first state-wide virtual school program in the United States. I was hired to develop and teach online social studies courses for a new online school. Other than having never taken an online course, never developed online curriculum, nor ever taught online, well, I guess I was uniquely qualified for the job!

    If I may fast forward to today, I look back at those early beginnings of online learning and am amazed at how quickly online learning has grown. After all, in the program that I reference above we had a mere 70 students enrolled online courses in that first year. Best estimates now are that over 3 million K-12 students take a least one course online each year.

    Many online learning pioneers will agree that the effort to debunk misconceptions about online learning was often as challenging as building and delivering their online courses. While not all online learning programs operate with the same guidelines and expectations, after two decades of being involved in providing and supporting online learning, here is a short list of some common myths about online learning:

    Myth #1: Online courses are easier than traditional face-to-face courses.

    “Easier” is likely to be in the eye of the beholder. For some students the online learning environment is more conducive to their preferred learning style so in that regard they may find online courses to be more enjoyable, but that does not necessarily mean easier.   Every year we would survey students in our online program in the effort to receive student feedback on what they liked and did not like about their online course experience. We even surveyed the students who dropped out of their online course. The #1 reason provided to us by the students as to why they dropped out, or what they found to be the most surprising, was that their online course was much more rigorous than they expected. Students shared that the time commitment necessary to succeed in their online courses exceeded their expectations.

    Myth #2: Online courses are only for students who are high achievers.

    I personally think that the actions of adults helped to spawn this myth. Simply put, many adults who were/are responsible for promoting and approving students to take online courses often have very little experience (if any) in taking online courses themselves. As such there can be a perception that since the courses are “online” and require a level of technology awareness, well, only upper level “techie” students may be do well. This is simply not true. Some off the most successful online students that we enrolled in our program were not doing well academically in their traditional school. In the online school they received more one-on-one attention from their instructor, could work at a pace that was suitable to them, and found the courses more engaging than the traditional classroom.

    Myth #3: Online courses provide little interaction between the teacher and student.

    The role and expectations of the online teacher is an important consideration when selecting an online learning program for students  I suppose that if one enrolls in a program that is not highly facilitated by a teacher and relies more on computer-aided instruction then this myth could have some truth to it. However, high-quality online programs utilize teachers who are not only experts in their subject area and teaching pedagogy but will also require a high level of communication with the student and even the parent. Using tools such as online chats, threaded discussions, blogs, and yes, even that old piece of technology the telephone, it is rather easy for online teachers and students to connect and build a working relationship in an online environment. From my own online teaching experience, I can say with absolute confidence that I was able to get to know many of my online students more closely than those in my traditional classes.   Teaching is about building relationships. Quality online programs and teachers can do this effectively online, if not more so in some cases, than our traditional classrooms may allow.

    Do you have some myths of your own or perhaps some questions, concerns, or successes that you would like to share? If so, I welcome the opportunity to hear from you.

    NJASA has recently announced the creation of New Jersey Online Learning Services, offering students in your district the opportunity to enroll in a variety of high-quality online courses. Please consider participating in our free webinar series in which an online learning topic is addressed each month.

    If you have questions about online and blended learning as well as what options may be available to you, e-mail me at: bfriendconsulting@gmail.com