I attended college and grad school for approximately eight years. I would say about 75% of my courses were completed through distance learning. During my experience, it was clear to me that there were benefits of attending school online. The three main benefits I encountered related to: 1) participation 2) environment 3) the freedom to climb ahead in the curriculum.
I realize my college experience may not compare to an elementary school student’s experience. But some aspects may be similar. My daughter completed the end of her first-grade year online last year due to the pandemic. She experienced the same benefits as I did.
In her case: she did participate much more than she did in her classroom, her environment was more comfortable than in school, and she was able to do a few days of work in one day, and then take a four-day weekend.
For some families, distance learning may help kids thrive in school and have a more meaningful experience than when in an in-person class. A lot of their experience will depend on their resources, their level of familial support, their parents’/caregiver’s schedule, and the child’s interest in school.
Distance-learning caused me to participate much more than I would have in an in-person class. In real life, there is no way I would speak up first in class, debate with a classmate, or question a teacher. But in an online classroom, I would be the first to post in a discussion board, challenge someone’s opinion with no hesitation, and ask a teacher to elaborate on his/her thoughts.
Sitting behind a computer screen rather than face-to-face with peers and teachers gave me courage and confidence in the classroom. A study in 2009 by Rick Harrington and Donald Loffredo revealed that, not surprisingly, “introverts prefer online classes while extroverts prefer in-person classes” (Costa, 2017). I volunteer in my daughter’s class often, and I would say more than half of her peers would be labeled as introverts. This is not to say that extrovert students should not be where they prefer (in the classroom). But it does mean that this large group of introverted students would likely participate more through distance learning than they would in the classroom.
I also liked that online, it felt like I had more time (and more freedom) to ask teachers for clarification. Through distance learning, I could send my teacher an instant message, an email, or a question at midnight knowing I wouldn’t disturb him/her, and they could just check it in the morning. In a physical classroom, I would have to run up the teacher’s desk after class, wait in a long line of students, and feel rushed to get the answer without wasting too much of his/her time. Either that or raise my hand in front of everyone (cringe) and feel embarrassed asking a question.
Studies have shown that other students also feel like I do and appreciate that online learning provides more access to asking teachers questions (Friedman, 2016). Allowing an environment where all students would be comfortable participating is taking a step toward an equitable classroom.
Another thing I viewed as a benefit of distance learning was the fact that I was learning in my home environment. Although classrooms are organized (most times), usually set an environment for learning, and usually have helpful educational materials, I loved that in my home environment, I was the only “student.” I did not have to deal with peers’ pencil-tapping, sarcastic student remarks, or a variety of teachers’ curriculum delivery styles. I benefited greatly through distance learning via a consistent curriculum, clear sets of instructions and due dates, and foolproof directions of how to find what I needed to complete assignments.
In the classroom, misunderstandings can happen if a peer tries to get help from a peer who misunderstands the content, or if the teacher teaches something in a different way than in the textbook or another teacher.
Online: the directions in the curriculum are essentially concrete and can be referenced directly if there is any confusion. Aside from a clear curriculum, a home environment decreases the societal conflicts that can happen with in-person school. Peer pressure, relationship problems (friendship and romantic), disciplinary problems, conflicts between student and teacher, and so on can have an influence on what a student is learning. Research also supports the idea that when students learn at home, they benefit from: freedom in seating choice (they don’t have to sit at a desk), freedom in scheduling (they don’t have to start school at 7 a.m., they can start later in the day), and freedom in pace (they don’t have “start and end times” to learn new material). Distance learning in their home environment generally allows them more “choice” in how they learn (Strauss, 2020).
Freedom to climb ahead in curriculum-
In an in-person school, there are designated times and days that one will be in class. In a distance-learning situation, there is a chance to create extra days off by doing more work than required in a day.
My husband has a very random work schedule. A few times last year, he would get a Friday off and we could take off on a 3-day weekend to the beach. On these occasions, we were able to complete my daughter’s Friday lessons on a Thursday and not think about school again until Monday. In a typical school setting: we could not have just “skipped school” to do that. We have also completed homework while on vacation through distance learning. There is also freedom in the time that one completes their homework. On a busy day, a kiddo can complete their homework in the evening if need be.
Aside from creating extra “days off,” the ability to work further than required in one day is great for kiddos who greatly understand their current material and do not need extra time or assistance (Kleiman, 2020).
I understand that distance learning is not beneficial for all families. For some families, it will be near impossible due to work demands, lack of education experience, and other important factors. To these families: I strongly recommend leaning on your school, community, and online resources.
One online resource I found is through “Oregon Metro.” Here is the link: https://www.oregonmetro.gov/tools-partners/education-resources/resource-conservation-and-recycling-education/distance-learning.
This website provides community workshop information and educational materials. Also, “Oregon.Gov” provides a framework, toolbox, and standards for “Distance Learning for All” at this link: https://www.oregon.gov/ode/educator-resources/standards/Pages/Distance-Learning-for-all.aspx.
Lastly, I found an article on “Care.com” that provides 7 options for free tutoring. The article is at this link: https://www.care.com/c/stories/3253/7-free-tutoring-options/.
Best of luck to you all in your distance-learning journeys. This will not be easy for many families, but there are some very helpful resources out there to assist.
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.