Online Learning as a Mainstream Solution

There is growing recognition among traditional learning providers such as schools and colleges that online learning can provide a solution to some of their greatest challenges. In these days of budget cuts and falling school rolls, it has become ever more difficult to provide children and young people with a full range of course options, especially at GCSE and A’Level or higher. Some schools and colleges have addressed this issue by offering joint courses with neighbouring schools. Although this is an effective solution in some situations, it can be costly and impractical in rural areas where schools are spread far apart and pupils may have to travel by bus for an hour or more to reach shared classrooms. Online schools such as the UK-based Interhigh offer a different alternative – lessons are delivered through live online classes to students who may be widely spread geographically.

My son is in a class of 12 children for most subjects and they sign in to school from across the globe. Some of his teachers are also outside the UK, giving a wonderful, international feel to classes. The classes are interactive and engaging – I’m sure he is much more involved than he would be in a traditional classroom with 30+ children and many distractions. Over the months, the children have all become good friends, there is a real community atmosphere.

Diane Smith, Parent.

Government ministers in New Zealand have recently proposed the development of online schools, to be known as Communities of Online Learning (COOL), for school-age children. The schools would be offered as an alternative to attending a regular school. New Zealand schools already have the option to enrol children with Te Kura for subjects where no teacher was available. Te Kura is a distance learning provider for children from early childhood to Year 13. It is New Zealand’s largest school with around 25,000 pupils enrolled at any one time.

Of course, at college and university level, online education is long-established, with many institutes now offering online learning options for the majority of their courses. Access to online learning allows students to learn from the best minds in their field, wherever they are located. Online learning is a particularly popular option among mature students who need to fit study around work and family commitments.

Online learning is also cheaper to provide than traditional learning, helping cash-strapped students to keep costs down. ‘Cheaper’ in this context does not mean ‘worse’; in many respects, online learning offers much broader options allowing us to create learning opportunities that accommodate the individual’s unique learning needs. But making the most of the possibilities offered by online learning does require teaching staff to adjust their thinking and approach teaching in a new way.

I think what we’re saying is that online learning is not an alternative to traditional learning, rather it’s an additional option. In many cases, we can provide our students with the best learning experiences by combining online learning with traditional, face-to-face classroom experience.

Julia Davies, Teacher

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