By Lindsey Wright
Despite the fact that public schools are mandated by federal law to support the educational needs of all students, parents of kids with learning disabilities and ADHD know that doesn’t always happen. To fill in the gaps, parents often find themselves seeking alternatives outside the traditional classroom–including online courses. But like most alternatives, the online learning environment has its pluses and minuses.
Benefits of Online Education
Perhaps the most obvious advantage to enrolling your child in online courses is that without unkind classmates there will be no teasing. In middle school especially, the bullying and shame associated with not working at the same pace as other students can be debilitating, but in a learning space where classmates are unaware of one another that problem does not exist. Students can work at their own pace without fear or embarrassment, which can allow them to flourish academically.
Thanks to a wide variety of course offerings online, you’re apt to find classes in any field of study to suit your child’s needs and interests. And those classes can be tailored to his learning level rather than his grade level. The breadth of selection allows for personalized pacing: your child’s weaker subject areas can be bolstered, or he can tackle higher-level material that supports his strengths, including online college courses.
Furthermore, this kind of personalized education affords the opportunity for one-on-one instruction, which is an absolute must for most kids with LD. In traditional classroom environments, many students clamor for the teacher’s attention. In online environments, instructors are able to provide individualized comments and are often available for meetings via chat or video conferencing. And let’s not forget that since your kids will be at home, you too can support them with their coursework.
Additionally, many online courses are designed with universal accessibility in mind, so there are several options for kids with LD who may also have hearing or sight issues. Assistive technology is compatible with many courses, and videos have captions more often than not, which can be of great value.
Risks and Shortcomings
As good as all that sounds, web-based learning isn’t without its pitfalls. At the opposite end of the spectrum, getting instruction at your child’s pace could mean that she may develop the habit of putting off work indefinitely. Without the imperative of a face-to-face interaction, it may be too easy to shrug off work. For children who still need to improve their organizational skills this can be a big problem.
Teachers sometimes design online course materials with heavy graphics, which can contribute to visual overstimulation, distraction, and confusion for some. Moreover, the availability of the Internet can make it difficult for kids to focus on their classwork—it takes just a couple of clicks to switch to Facebook, YouTube, or something else. Students with attention issues may find this kind of instruction much more difficult to handle, and most any child left alone at home with the options of studying or playing will probably choose play.
Another problem is that of socialization, which can be difficult for any child studying on his or her own at home. Homeschoolers often have this problem; kids can get lonely or feel frustrated that they have to do additional study at home when they perceive that all the other kids only study at school. If web-based classes are supplementary to classroom education, this may be a minor issue, but even so, finding ways to help your child continue to make friends can be difficult if a good deal of after-school time is devoted to online learning.
Kids hoping to get credit for online courses may face another hurdle. While legitimate web-based schools are regionally or nationally accredited, that doesn’t guarantee that your district will accept those credits. Speak with your school administrator to verify that the accreditation meets their requirements.
Whether or not your child is a good candidate for online courses is something only you can decide. You know how your child learns best, and what his strengths and weaknesses are. Ask other parents their opinions and do your own research, but the final decision should be made with your child’s specific needs in mind. Be sure to ask his opinion as well; your child’s understanding of the situation may surprise you.
Lindsey Wright writes about emerging educational technologies, including web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the future of education.