The Value of Online Learning

Gareth Pooleon -Online Learning

There have always been different types of teachers and different styles of learning. And in the cyber age, with the emergence of online learning and the virtual classroom, it is becoming evidence that there are different types of virtual education, too.

While there are those who insist that virtual learning, sometimes called distance learning, will never be able to replicate or replace the benefits of in-person classroom learning, studies are showing some surprising things about virtual learning. In the first place, virtual learning is not a system in which a student is faced with nothing but a computer screen and interactive educational programs. Online classes at the public school level are led by certified teachers, and one of the most surprising virtual learning may be that on average, students get more one-on-one time with their teachers than they do in a conventional classroom.

And online classes are not necessarily any easier than traditional classes and courses are. Sometimes students are surprised by this: they assume that taking a class or two online is going to be easier. While some aspects of online learning may be easier – no commute necessary, for example – the curricula is just as demanding as it would be in a brick and mortar classroom. Online classes have also been shown to be beneficial for unmotivated students, and for those who are self-starters and have good self-discipline.

Gareth Pooleon is the lead principal at the K-12 Oregon Connections Academy, where he oversees the school's curriculum and operations, and ensures the academic success of individual students.

More and more students are turning to online educational opportunities as they advance through their school years. There are nearly three million students who are enrolled in fully online degree programs at the college undergraduate level, and another six million who are taking at least one of their college courses online as part of a degree program.

With the technology behind the Internet more sophisticated and powerful than ever before, online education is coming into its own. And the reputation of online learning is also improving, and helping to fuel its growth. When Internet-based education first appeared there was some skepticism from educators who said it could never replace traditional forms of learning. But the evidence has shown that not to be true: online learning can be just as effective as learning in the conventional classroom.

Online education advocates cite many advantages to taking virtual courses. They include the wide variety of programs and courses that are now available at the University level, from nursing to neuroscience, and the availability of every academic degree. Another commonly cited advantage is the lower total cost. While not all online degrees are less expensive than traditional colleges, the associated costs almost always are. Many students also find the learning environment more conducive to learning than the classroom. The cliché is students doing coursework in their pajamas, or at a coffee shop. But students are also freed from having to fight traffic to get to school, or competing for parking, or leaving work early to get to class.

Gareth Pooleon has been involved with virtual education for more than seven years. He began as an Assistant Principal at the Oregon Connections Academy, a tuition-free, statewide virtual school, in 2007, and since 2014 has served as its K-12 Lead Principal.

Benefits of Online Learning

Online learning has the potential to provide a richer and more thorough educational experience that is possible within the confines of the traditional classroom. There is a great deal of innovation that has gone into the development of Internet-based educational material, especially those that must stand alone.

Online learning has the same issues of quality and effectiveness that affect the traditional brick and mortar classroom. Often these issues are compounded by the technology that delivers it and involve the lack of direct, face-to-face contact between students and teachers, and between students and their peers.

Virtually every sector of modern American life has used some form of online learning, from primary and secondary education through corporate learning. The constantly-evolving Internet technologies have made it easier and more effective than were its earliest incarnations, and because of this, it has been embraced with greater and greater enthusiasm. There are many terms that are used in online learning that are interchangeable, or so similar that the distinctions are very subtle. These include the name for the system itself: known as online learning, web-based education, virtual learning, or distance learning.

For a quality virtual education experience, it helps to have mature and self-motivated students. The greatest learning outcomes are derived by those students who commit themselves to the subject matter. Some of the issues that exist in the traditional classroom are present in online education. Cheating, for example, has been an issue for as long as the classroom has existed, so only those students who are most motivated to get the most out of their classroom will not be tempted by this all-too-common pitfall.

Gareth Pooleon is the K-12 Lead Principal at the Oregon Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public school with students spread all over the state.

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