A serious question now faces all educators and society at large. What age is too young for online learning?
In the modern era, technology has swept into the public and private education system at all levels. Students are making more use of the internet and computers than ever before in the history of education, and students are being introduced to technology-based learning at ever earlier ages. A preponderance of research shows that technology-based education has great benefits for modern students.
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This line of thinking has led teachers and schools to go a step further and push fully online education toward students as well. Fully online classes have ballooned in college education, and they are increasingly offered to high school students. In a less overt way, online education has moved further down the educational line into middle school and elementary school as online classrooms take over homework and facilitate supplementary lessons.
Reasons Online Classes Work for Older Students
College and high school students often get some great benefits from education that is mostly or even entirely online. It allows these older students to set their own schedules and pacing, which gives them a freedom over their learning that they both crave and benefit from. Adult students may also be tackling many more responsibilities such as jobs or families that make traditional classroom schedules difficult or impossible to adhere to.
The subject matter also tends to be different for older students. Work is primarily reading and writing based. Students are expected to absorb far more information from textbooks and then reproduce that information in essay or test form. Analyzing the student’s work and skills often does not require the direct observation or intervention from a teacher.
Older students are also better adept at technology and the internet. They may be more skilled at typing and researching online compared to younger students. They are also more likely to have direct access to a personal computer and the skills to use it fully and appropriately.
Reasons Elementary Students Do Not Benefit From Online Learning
Despite increasing interest, awareness and skills with technology, elementary students do not benefit from fully online learning. There are both academic and developmental reasons for this.
Academically, elementary work and grading is often based on the observations and direct interaction with a teacher. A teacher often cannot adequately gauge a student’s skills based on computerized tests alone. Both teaching and testing elementary skills in all subjects relies on interaction between the teacher and student. Younger students also benefit greatly from direct observation and interaction with a supportive adult. A computer cannot replace the human element in a young child’s education, no matter how well developed the software.
Developmentally, an elementary student has entirely different needs than a high school or adult student. Elementary school is not just an academic environment. It is also a social environment. Students are learning important social life skills such as peer interaction, teamwork, sharing, respect and how to deal appropriately with a wide range of individuals. These are skills that young children are especially sensitive to. A fully online learning environment that is removed from direct peer interaction would prevent students from adequately developing these skills. This can be partially seen in home-schooled students who enter traditional school later in life. While they often excel academically, they are unprepared socially. Children also learn a great deal from observation of both peers and adults. This observation only works in a social setting and cannot be duplicated electronically even with educational videos.
While online learning certainly has benefits and its place in the larger scheme of education, it is important for educators and administrators to keep a proper frame of reference in regards to online learning. Even the partial intrusion of online learning may not benefit younger students who thrive on the interactive environment that can only be delivered in a physical classroom setting.