If you were thinking about online education, 2020 is the year. Families are flooding to it in droves. There are many great options on the market. But it is important to discuss how to do it well. This discussion is important for both families who have used the online model before and those who are new to it. Online education is a wonderful tool but it must be used correctly. As I will show, parents must set the standard and principles for students on how to use it well.
In looking at online education, it is helpful to recognize a gap between the two generations using this digital tool. The two generations can be described as digital natives and digital immigrants (Marc Prensky popularized these terms). A digital native was born and raised in the time of the internet. Digital natives were born around the late 1990s and after. On the other hand, a digital immigrant was born before the time of the internet so in the 1980s or before. Digital immigrants are coming to digital technology as an adult which means there is often a learning curve for them. But this learning curve is not insurmountable because parents have grown up with other technological tools like dial phones, televisions, and radios.
Most parents of children in online education are probably immigrants or early natives. I would consider myself an early native. I grew up a little before the internet in the 80s and early 90s so I can vaguely remember the time before the Internet. I vividly remember the dial-up internet: sshhh, beep, boop, ssshhh, etc. So I am right on the edge of the transition. Most parents, I work with, are older than I am, so they fit into the immigrant category. This means that many parents are trying to figure out the technology while their kids are jumping right into the technology. The children often have a more adept knowledge of the tools than their parents.
While it can seem like the digital natives are more at home in using digital technology, this does not necessarily mean that the younger generation has a proper understanding of the right use of this technology. The older generation and the younger generation are both learning how to use these tools well. This means that we need to get wisdom in this area and this is true for both immigrants and natives.
The New Model
The danger for both groups in this switch to online education is to have in mind the old models of education and then to read those old models into the online platform. This error is to approach online education like it is a regular brick and mortar school that is just at home. It is not really that way at all.
I am an online educator and I think it is a wonderful model but the model is not what people might think it is. It is not the brick and mortar room where students and teachers are getting together in the same room. We know in online education that teachers and students are at a distance from each other but there is an appearance of being together because you can see each other and talk to each other live. Even though the teacher and the student are gathering together online in some sense, they are not together. This is the key to understanding the technology and using it well.
It would be better to describe the online model as a homeschool model which gives students and families the ability to access high quality tutors at a distance. From this angle, we see that the tutor is not in the home with the student so much as the student is in the home with access to long distance tutors.
The online model is actually family-centric. The student and teacher are not in the same room with each other. It is actually the students and parents who are together in the same space. This means that the family, specifically the parents, need to carry the weight of the culture and atmosphere of the school. This means that the parents need to discipline the student. This means the family needs to provide the educational environment for the students. In this model, the family is local, the teacher is not. The family shapes everything about the culture of the online school.
It is better to think of online education as a parent driven academic program. Parents have always been the central point in education but online education highlights this reality in a stark way.
This family centric model means that the key shaper in the student’s life is not so much the teacher as the parent. In a brick and mortar model, the teacher has more of the influence on the student because the teacher and student are in the same location. Online education, being at a distance, means the teacher does not have the same kind of impact on the student’s life. The teacher still does have an impact but it is minimized in the online model. This means the parent takes on a larger role in the formation and shaping of the student in the educational process.
Formation in Education
Formation is a local event. People gathered in the same physical space shape each other in community. The online model can still shape people by an online community but it is mitigated in this impact. The local community has a greater impact than the online community. This is the way God made the world and we should embrace and promote that reality.
There are some online models which include a local gathering of teachers and students. This local element harnesses the power of the physical community which adds a greater impact that is not part of a strictly online education. Good school communities will recognize the need for local events to gather students and teachers together.
If we understand how online education is parent driven, then we can better see the positive impact that online education can have. It can open the way for students and families to gain access to some of the best teachers in the world. But in order to harness these opportunities in the best way, the student and family must be self-disciplined and self-motivated. The online model is not suitable for any other kind of student.
A lazy student, who does not do the work, or who relies on the teacher to do the work, will not thrive in the online model. The online model can offer many great resources to the student who is diligent and hardworking, but it can also offer many dangers to a student left to himself and undisciplined. This means that parents, the local community, need to take responsibility for instilling good habits and a proper work ethic in students.
It is common for parents of online students to place their children in one large room so everyone is learning and working together. This is a great way to provide accountability and encourage discipline. It is also important for parents to give students breaks to be outside and to be with others in person in community. Too much screen time is unhelpful. Parents need to set the boundaries and parameters.
Students who have learned the virtue of self-discipline and hard work in their families will thrive well in online education and grow as students, having gained access to wonderful educational opportunities beyond the home.
All of this is to highlight the old saying: you get out of it, what you put in. If you put in laziness, distraction, bad habits, that is what you will get out of it. If you put in hard work, self-discipline, enthusiasm, then you will get much out of it. This is true in all educational models so this is not new to online education. But this principle is highlighted in a strong way with online education. This means that parents have their work cut out for them. Parents must instill students with a joy and desire to learn and work hard. The online teacher, being at a distance, will not be able to give these virtues to the student. A diligent, hardworking family is a prerequisite to online education. Parents who have worked diligently with their students will find that online education is a blessing to both them and their students.