In any group of people with school-age children, a mention of online learning will likely be met with some eye rolls, shaking heads, or vocal denouncements. In many circles, online learning earned a bad reputation following the pandemic and the emergency remote learning that took place in 2020. These remarks are unfortunate as online learning is not the same as emergency remote learning. Online learning has been in place for two decades, but a vast majority of families first experienced any type of virtual learning with the pandemic. There are critical differences between quality online learning and the version experienced by the masses in 2020. Online learning provides a curriculum created specifically for the online environment, teachers who are trained for online instruction, and the structures to support students and families.
Emergency remote learning was haphazard and differed from student-to-student, teacher-to-teacher, and school-to-school. Some teachers attempted to turn in-person instruction into a digital format. Others assigned packets of work to be turned in periodically. Some students were assigned tasks on educational apps and learning websites that were offered at no charge to school districts. It was, after all, an emergency! No one was prepared. Teachers and administrators did their best to provide learning opportunities for students, but the picture described above is not the best practice for delivering online instruction. True online learning, like that provided by Indiana Online, offers a rigorous curriculum based on state standards with clear learning objectives. Assessments are designed to demonstrate student mastery, and learning activities are created to help students acquire the knowledge to achieve mastery. Lessons are purposefully designed and align with national standards such as Quality Matters® and the National Standards for Quality Online Learning®. Content is brought to life through engaging and interactive lessons and meets standards for accessibility ensuring that each student can be successful. With more than 170 courses spanning grades 5-12, Indiana Online is a leader in online learning for this reason.
Teachers were thrust into emergency remote learning with limited understanding of the expectations during the pandemic. Each school and district determined their own expectations and those varied across the board. Many teachers were expected to provide instruction through platforms in which they had no prior training, and some even came into the pandemic without basic technical skills. Few had training teaching in an online environment and with limited resources as schools closed and access to the school building was sometimes restricted. With online learning, teachers are hired to intentionally teach in an online environment. They understand the task at hand and want to teach online students who want to learn online. Online teaching requires a specific skill set in addition to the pedagogy of the classroom. Whether full-time or part-time, most of the licensed teachers at Indiana Online come to us with virtual teaching experience. Regardless of their prior experience, all Indiana Online teachers are provided with professional learning opportunities. Depending on the needs of the individual teacher, they might receive training on accessibility, growth-focused feedback, learner engagement, professional responsibilities, supporting struggling learners, or using Zoom to engage students. Each new teacher is also provided a mentor. Our teachers are invested in the online learning experience and seek advancement opportunities through leadership positions. Most importantly, the teachers at Indiana Online are skilled at connecting with students in an online environment and building lasting relationships. Teachers meet with students regularly depending on the students’ program structure. For asynchronous learning, our teachers connect with students via their preferred modality (e.g. phone call, Zoom, text) at least once a week. Depending on the students’ learning needs, teachers will set up small groups or 1:1 instruction to review concepts. For synchronous sessions (live Zoom), teachers and students follow a master schedule meeting a minimum of four days each week. Whether they’re teaching synchronous or asynchronous sessions, Indiana Online teachers are dedicated to helping students thrive rather than just survive online learning.
In the K-12 environment, the majority of schools did not have a platform available for online learning prior to the pandemic. Schools and administrators scrambled to find a user-friendly, cost-effective platform to offer instruction to their students. Most schools did not have policies in place to help students and families have a successful online learning experience and many didn’t have effective means to support students in multiple locations with varied access to technology. Online learning provides the structure that emergency remote learning lacks. Through student information systems, online learning organizations have the ability to manage student data in real time. Meanwhile, learning management systems provide a vehicle for sharing important information and seamlessly delivering content to learners. Online learning also offers established policies and guidelines for students and families. At Indiana Online, our personalized orientation, student handbook, onboarding activity, and academic integrity contract provide a foundation for successful learning to take place. Knowing the expectations from the start is an important step in setting up students for success. Many of these policies were lacking or unclear during emergency remote learning, but they have been clearly defined at Indiana Online for almost two decades. For instance, at Indiana Online students can work at their own pace, have multiple attempts to submit assignments, and do not receive late penalties. Foremost, Indiana Online offers comprehensive services for students through our student services team. Not only do we provide academic and behavioral support for struggling students, but we also monitor student progress weekly to ensure success in an online environment. One of our four program specialists focuses specifically on students with accommodations. Working in conjunction with a teacher of record at the student’s school of record, our specialist is able to provide an additional layer of support by attending case conferences, compiling student performance data, and offering tips and suggestions to students, families and schools.
Indiana Online holds our administrators and teachers in the highest esteem and does not fault them for the measures that were taken to provide learning opportunities during the pandemic. Educators did amazing things during that time and we applaud them for their creative solutions, inspiring perseverance, and flexibility in shifting environments. The purpose of this article is not to demean their efforts in any way, but to counter arguments that online learning is ineffective. Online learning provides a robust academic environment unlike what was experienced by many during the pandemic. As the Online Learning Consortium recently referenced, “In distinguishing between the two [remote learning versus online learning], we sometimes use the lifeboat analogy—the lifeboat is great if the ship is sinking, but the onboard experience cannot be compared to that of a luxury cruise liner.” At Indiana Online, we were built to educate students in an online environment, not simply as a means of survival in turbulent times. If you are interested in learning more about Indiana Online visit our website.
The members of the National Council for Online Education include the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). (2022, February 8). Emergency remote instruction is not quality online learning. OLC. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/emergency-remote-instruction-is-not-quality-online-learning/