There used to be only one education option for kids who didn’t go to school. A parent or other instructor would homeschool them. But thanks to technology, two other choices are catching on: online schools and blended learning. Learn more about these alternatives to traditional school or homeschooling.
What are online schools?
Online schools are virtual classrooms. Students connect through the Internet with teachers and other kids who learn at home. The teachers work remotely and have a structured curriculum for the kids to follow. Students interact with other students taking the same classes. They can take just one class online, or all of their classes.
Online schools are different from homeschooling. They’re often provided by local school districts, charter schools, private schools and state education agencies.
Online courses that are used as part of the public education system must have teachers who are licensed by the state. Students have to take the same assessments as kids in public school, as required by federal and state laws. And just like traditional public schools, online schools must provide special education services and accommodations to students who need them.
Online learning has become so popular that some schools require students to take an online course in order to graduate. One survey showed that three-quarters of U.S. school districts offer online courses. Of those, 75 percent had some students in fully online or blended learning programs.
What is blended learning?
Blended learning programs combine online classes with in-person classes. This approach is also called hybrid learning. Many programs hold both portions—in-person and online instruction—in a school building. The online learning part usually takes place in a computer lab or some other area outside the main classrooms. The amount of time a child spends in a traditional classroom setting versus working with online modules depends on the program.
How can you find the right program?
Online schools and blended learning programs can be a good option for some kids with learning and attention issues. Taking classes from home can help reduce distractions. It also gives kids more time to learn and lets them have extra time to complete assignments.
To choose the right program, it’s important to ask schools how they handle your child’s type of challenge. Understanding their teaching methods can also help you decide if they’re a good fit. For example, if your child has auditory processing disorder, an online school that assigns work in writing rather than verbally might be best.
You may want to ask about social opportunities. If your child is in a blended learning program, he still can interact with peers at school. But purely online schools can be isolating. Some schools will bring kids together for field trips, clubs and other activities.
What is accreditation?
Not all online schools and blended learning programs are the same. In addition to those offered by school districts, some are offered by for-profit or not-for-profit groups. There isn’t a national standard for certifying that these schools meet protocols that other schools do. This is called accreditation. You may want to contact your school district to find out how your state handles accreditation. You can also check with AdvancED, the largest educational accrediting agency in the U.S.
It’s important to know whether credit for the classes you’re considering will be accepted by your district. Your school district is the best source of information about that. Ask for written confirmation.
What’s the cost?
If your state or district provides a full-time online school, it’s usually free. But if your child takes some classes online and some at his public school, you may have to pay a per-course fee for the online courses. And if you choose to sign up for classes privately, you have to pay the entire bill.
Schools may provide computer and Internet access for kids to take their online classes in the building. If your child is taking online classes at home, however, you’ll need to provide a computer and Internet access. (Find out ways to get your child a free or low-cost laptop.)
Online school and blended learning programs can give your child more education options. Finding the best fit can make learning a whole new experience for your child.