More and more of America’s K-12 students are taking courses online–a trend that’s drawing ire from some, and accolades from others. Last week The New York Times ran a piece that examines the increasing popularity of distance learning, and whether the quality is on par with brick-and-mortar classes. A little over two years ago, I wrote a similar piece that was published as the cover story of the Harvard Education Letter. Harvard Education Press is featuring that same article in a book due out next month, on education and technology.

While reporting the Harvard piece, I saw the merits of using online classes: they offer schools a chance to provide more and different courses, and allow greater flexibility for students and teachers. But the drawbacks are also compelling. A K-12 student who uses online courses in a full-time capacity isn’t able to socialize in the same way he or she would in a traditional classroom. The socialization process is where kids learn to deal with myriad personalities–and they discover that they’re not going to get along with everyone. The interpersonal arena of the classroom breeds in kids the soft skills they’ll need to flourish as adults in the workplace. The best route, I think, is for a student to supplement a brick-and-mortar education with some online courses. That’s especially true because there’s just not enough research out there that shows how online learning is affecting students–overusing it could be detrimental. One the sources in my story underscored this point:

Dr. Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association in Tallahassee, Fla., believes much more research needs to be conducted before drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of online education. “Virtual learning is very young. It’s in its infant stage compared to the age of the educational system itself,” Blanton says.

Few things are more important than the quality of education we provide our children. It’s a gift no one can take from them. As technology gallops apace, its reach will extend ever deeper into education–so we, as parents, educators, journalists, policy-makers–owe it to them to keep a close eye on technology’s role in shaping the minds and hearts of those who’ll one day lead our country and our world.

Links cited above

  1. Honestly, I have the same concerns about homeschooling. While I’m excited about being able to tailor my son’s education to his level and his needs, I wonder if I’ll be able to find a co-op or something so he doesn’t miss out on the social skills that are so important. I recently read another article about how having recess monitors is preventing kids from developing social skills—the one time of day they have to freely interact with their peers, they’re micromanaged in every conflict. They don’t learn how to resolve conflict on their own. How has the world changed so much, so quickly?

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