As Ontario’s leading academy for online high school courses, we at OES tend to naturally sing the praises of online learning. When you see the success stories first-hand, every day like we do – the students who flourish in a self-paced environment, the students who reach a potential they didn’t even think possible – it’s hard not to be full-throated in your praise.
But we’re also willing to admit something that not many online schools admit: Online learning might not be for everyone. Young learners come in all shapes and sizes; some benefit from the freedom and individualization of an online education, while others benefit from the rigid structure of a brick-and-mortar classroom. Our intent has never been to steer all students to online learning; rather, we aim to foster an environment where every student has the choice.
In that spirit of choice, let’s weigh the benefits of these two educational models. What are the advantages of learning online? What value does classroom learning hold? And how can students, parents and/or caregivers make a suitable, informed choice?
The Benefits of Online Learning
Because we have “home advantage,” let’s start with the benefits of online learning.
The benefits below are empirically supported, which is a fancy way of saying they aren’t just theoretical; we can authenticate each of these benefits from peer-reviewed research, student surveys and our own anecdotal observations.
Here are a few reasons to consider online learning – either for yourself or your high school-aged kid.
That’s exactly what online, self-paced learning does. With self-paced learning, the student sets the tempo for their studies. If they need longer on a unit, they take longer. If they can race through a topic confidently, they do that. This model ensures that each student – regardless of prior proficiency or skill – gets the education they need, on a timeline that makes sense to them.
If you’ve yet to try learning at your own pace, we suggest giving it a go! Self-paced learning has helped countless students achieve their highest academic potential.
The Asynchronous Classroom: A Flexible Alternative
While we’re throwing out terminology, let’s look at a couple of other terms pertinent to our comparison: “asynchronous” and “synchronous” learning.
Asynchronous learning involves an environment where students and teachers engage with the course at different times – similar to the self-paced model mentioned above. Most online schools are asynchronous: unconstrained by time and place, with each individual student learning separately. By contrast, a synchronous learning environment is your traditional brick-and-mortar classroom; the course happens in real-time in a constrained physical space, and every student learns in chorus.
Each has advantages, depending on the learner (and we’ll discuss the advantages of synchronous learning below). Educational experts like asynchronous learning because it’s flexible. No student is left behind because of physical absence, forced to play catch-up if they miss a lesson. And students can flexibly situate their coursework within the greater context of their academic and extracurricular pursuits. Many students consider online learning a convenient way to earn high school credits.
Accessibility and Protection in Online Spaces
Another commonly cited benefit of online learning is accessibility. Students complete their online coursework from the comfort of a home computer or the flexibility of a mobile laptop. They aren’t required to commute, which can be an educational barrier for people with mobility needs. Nor are they required to reside in one place, which can be a barrier for families who need to move or travel regularly.
Moreover, online schools exist apart from the high drama and interpersonal politics of a physical classroom. Therefore, students who have experienced bullying may find that online courses offer a safe space for learning.
Round-the-Clock Support for Realizing Potential
Online schools like OES are proud to offer round-the-clock support. In a perfect world, every student with the ambition to succeed would succeed. We strongly believe that with enough learning opportunities and support, any motivated student can excel in their coursework.
We put that philosophy in motion by offering layers of support. A student struggling with a math concept or English text can reach out to their teacher for support. If they cannot reach a teacher (let’s say it’s 11 pm on a Sunday), OES offers unlimited, 24/7 tutoring services for students.
If a student fails because they didn’t have adequate support, it is ultimately the school that has failed. The hallmark of a great school is fostering potential through ample support.
Dynamic Approaches to Multimedia
As we’ve covered on this blog, students tend to favour one or more “learning styles.” Some are auditory learners who readily absorb information by listening; others are predominantly visual learners who benefit from charts, graphs, pictorial representations, etc.; and some learn best by reading, writing, or kinaesthetically interacting with material.
Online learning aims to accommodate every learner through a dynamic, multimedia approach to education. While some traditional classrooms lean heavily on written texts and spoken lectures, online schools freely explore the gamut of informational media.
Those wishing to learn more about this topic (and don’t mind a dry academic paper) should check out the influential “Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning” by Richard E. Mayer, available through Cambridge University. The seminal paper explores how humans learn more meaningfully when presented with dynamic information.
Online Learning, Soft Skills and a Future-Forward Education
School isn’t just about the concrete stuff – the numbers, dates, Shakespeare passages, etc. A high school education should also nurture “soft skills,” personal attributes that will serve students in their professional careers and interpersonal relationships.
By dint of its self-paced, asynchronous and digital nature, online learning fosters a number of critical soft skills:
- Time management
- Motivation and work ethic
- Digital literacy
- Online communication skills
- Adaptability, etc.
These soft skills benefit students as they leave their high school classrooms and enter the wide world. Because online schools emphasize digital tools, communication modes and “netiquette,” they better prepare students for workplaces and relationships of the future – which will be increasingly digital. Read more about online learning and soft skills in this University of Birmingham article.
The Benefits of Classroom Learning
As mentioned in the introduction, our aim is to ensure that every student (and parent/guardian) makes an informed choice about their education. Some may weigh the advantages of online learning and in-class education against their own preferences and decide that in-class is right for them. That’s fantastic; it shows thought, self-reflection and self-education.
With that in mind, let’s cycle through a few commonly cited benefits of classroom learning. Then, we can briefly discuss the process of choosing what’s right for you.
Instructor-Led Learning and In-Person Engagement
Whereas online learning is (often) self-paced, in-class education is what’s known as “instructor-led.” Rather than individual students setting their preferred pace, the entire classroom moves to the beat of a single drum – the teacher’s.
Some students find this model advantageous. They like the element of human engagement, a real live person relaying information at the front of a class. While it should be noted that quality online high schools like OES work tirelessly and creatively to ensure student engagement, some students just prefer that human touch.
Synchronous Classrooms: The Structured Approach
Brick-and-mortar classrooms are instructor-led and “synchronous” – the two go hand-in-hand often. As we learned above, a synchronous classroom happens in real-time, in a constrained physical space; each learner engages with the course at the same time. (Synchronized, in other words).
This model essentially builds a rigid structure around a course. Not everyone benefits from structure (some parents believe their kids need structure when, in fact, they benefit from self-discipline and self-motivation). Still, some students do thrive with constraints and routines. Some students need that 9 am bell to signal a transition into learning. They feel positively motivated by learning alongside peers. And they’re happy to cede the pace of their education to a teacher.
Socialization in Physical Classrooms
For better or worse, brick-and-mortar classrooms force socialization. In some unfortunate cases, these forced interactions lead to systems of interpersonal hierarchy and bullying. But in other cases, they spark the beginnings of long and fruitful peer relationships. Parents reading this probably still keep in touch with at least one classroom peer from high school.
We hasten to note that online schools don’t preclude students from forming in-person relationships. On the contrary, a flexible schedule leaves plenty of time for online students to foster friendships beyond the digital walls of their high school. Similarly, online students are encouraged to form in-person study groups – taking notes for online courses, helping each other with upcoming projects and sharing tools for online learning.
But they won’t be the “forced” social interactions of a brick-and-mortar classroom.
Brick-and-Mortar Classrooms and Daytime Supervision
Lastly, to understand the appeal of brick-and-mortar classrooms, we have to peer into the history of high school education. Traditionally, one of education’s primary functions was daytime supervision – looking after dependents during working hours so that adults could bring home the proverbial bacon. Certainly, remote work has altered that arrangement a tad. But the reality remains for many parents: they work on-site from 9 to 5 and don’t feel comfortable leaving their teens at home.
In these cases, a parent might seek a traditional school to assume a supervisory role. Of course, on-site working parents can still make online education work. Students can work flexibly around a working parent’s schedule, or complete daytime studies in a publicly supervised space like a library.
What’s Right for Your Young Learner?
Now that we’ve cycled through the relative benefits of online vs. classroom learning, the million-dollar question remains: Which one is right for you?
There’s no hard-and-fast answer here. Perhaps we’re biased, but we believe that every student should have the opportunity to at least try an online, asynchronous, self-paced education. How will you know if your young learner thrives with self-motivation and flexibility until you try?
To help in your decision-making, let’s review the merits of each model.
Here’s how online learning benefits students:
- Self-paced learning allows students to personalize their education, carefully mulling over concepts they find tricky and speeding through concepts they find easy.
- Asynchronous learning is flexible, allowing students to pursue extracurricular activities or take time for their mental and physical well-being.
- Remote learning is accessible to students with mobility needs and differing family lifestyles.
- Exemplary online schools like OES offer ample support to prime students for success.
- The multimedia components of an online course accommodate diverse learners.
- And digital education prepares students for the future, which will undoubtedly feature online work and communication.
By contrast, here’s how traditional classroom education benefits students:
- Instructor-led learning has an element of human engagement that students may find motivating or comforting.
- Synchronous learning establishes rigid structures and routines, which can help some students stay on-task. Likewise, some students thrive by benchmarking themselves against peers.
- Physical classrooms are social ecosystems, requiring students to interact. Some students find these interactions rewarding.
- Physical classrooms provide daytime supervision, reassuring working parents that their kids are safely monitored.
Hopefully, these benefits spark a conversation in your home about the nature of education, the right models for success, and creative approaches to academic success. Our advice: try an online course. Even just a single course. Maybe it’s an ENG4U online course or an MH4U math course – something that your young learner typically struggles with. See if the self-paced model and ample support help them achieve a higher level of understanding than in their classroom education. If they like the experience, you can always return to try more courses.
If you have any questions about online education OES, consult the FAQ page of our website or reach out directly.