Taking Students Beyond the Classroom with Online Learning
Most of us are familiar with the natural high we get when super-excited about something. Similar to an adrenaline rush, our bodies react with a sudden burst of energy and our senses are on alert. This happens to me with learning opportunities that intrigue and challenge me. As an educator, I strive to provide student engagement that will ignite that same fire inside, motivating learners to dig in and charge full speed ahead.
How to accomplish that? For starters, consider every day learning experiences. Here are some examples that encourage people of any age to get on board with learning:
- You and your child visit Niagara Falls, and he is amazed and exhilarated by the awesome sights and sounds, which he captures on his smartphone.
- You and your family go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and everyone is captivated by the amazing multimedia and interactive displays.
- At the movies, you watch The Theory of Everything, about Physicist Stephen Hawking, and you’re so fascinated that you immediately order his biography to read more about him.
These are real-world experiences that inspire us to learn more, and a toolbox of digital technology can help us take advantage of these exhilarating moments.
Today’s educational offerings go far beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar environment, expanding the “when, where, and how” of learning experiences. Technology tools give us powerful new ways to expand what we see, hear, interact with, and enjoy. When incorporated into online courses, these tools deliver dynamic learning that meets students where they are and takes them where they need to go. But consider this: online courses go even further, propelling students with additional information, inviting them to push their cognitive capacity in new directions. That’s the magic of online learning!
How does this play out? Let’s explore a realistic scenario. Suppose Amelia is enrolled in online biology such as the course available from K12. Before she begins, her teacher talks with Amelia about her individualized learning plan. She’s ready for honors biology, so Amelia logs in to the course, which gives her immediate access to the syllabus, e-book, instructional resources, grading guidelines, and more. Right away, Amelia gets organized. As she experiences the content with interactive animations, video clips, and peer-to-peer discussions, Amelia’s interest in biology topics intensifies.
How does this differ from sitting in a high school classroom? Since Amelia is bright and conscientious, she moves through lessons at a rapid pace. Without time spent waiting for other students to keep up, Amelia has time for in-depth investigation of topics that interest her. Using recommended resources and web links in the course, as well as her own online searches for related information, Amelia goes the extra mile to apply her skills and build knowledge. She visits websites about living systems, locates recent research reports, and views detailed graphics that illustrate key concepts. All this is at her fingertips. As she studies, Amelia is super-charged. Given the opportunity, she picks up the ball and runs with it, demonstrating initiative to pursue what has captured her imagination.
During this time, the online teacher is monitoring Amelia’s progress, keeping track of what she has learned, looking for any gaps in her understanding, and encouraging her to keep moving forward. Online quizzes, tests, and assignments provide immediate assessment feedback to show Amelia how she’s doing, and this leads to better self-regulation of her learning efforts. She discovers that she’s keenly interested in Charles Darwin, so Amelia spends a few days diving into digital resources to uncover more about his life story and scientific theories. She decides to use her creative talents in developing an interactive timeline. She shares this with other biology students, presenting the timeline in one of their synchronous sessions.
Amelia is enthused about the required honors project. She works collaboratively with a team to prepare material for a lively debate. Her leadership skills are put to the test as she finds ways to help students come together to plan strong arguments for their case.
Where’s the magic? First of all, Amelia is in charge of her own learning. She engages with the course at a pace that’s right for her, she has the freedom to explore more, and she’s motivated to be productive and creative. Secondly, she appreciates the anytime, anyplace availability of content, so coursework can fit into her full schedule. Most importantly, Amelia is excited and energized about learning!
Online learning is a “smart solution,” according to Susan Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Students who engage with online learning perform better, on average, than students taking the same course in face-to-face environments. Student-centered learning is a win-win for everyone. The flexibility and effectiveness of online learning make it a great option for many learners. No wonder more than two-thirds of today’s learners say they want to use technology to support their own learning.
Image – John McStravick / CC by 2.0
Melissa King, director of early learning and product advancement for K12, has more than 35 years of experience as an educator. She holds a Ph.D. in science education from George Mason University and master's degree in linguistics from the University of California at Davis. She recently served as lead content specialist for a new blended program for pre-K learners. Dr. King has co-authored several books, published articles in educational journals, developed curriculum products, and conducted teacher training at the national level. She developed and taught graduate courses for the University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Kaplan University. Dr. King has been a public school teacher and also served as a gifted resource specialist, ESL specialist, and teacher mentor. She has also lived and studied abroad and is a Fulbright awardee.