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Taking Students Beyond the Classroom with Online Learning

By Melissa King, Ph.D

Most of us are familiar with the natural high we get when super-excited about something. Similar to an adrenaline rush, our bodies react with a sudden burst of energy and our senses are on alert. This happens to me with learning opportunities that intrigue and challenge me. As an educator, I strive to provide student engagement that will ignite that same fire inside, motivating learners to dig in and charge full speed ahead.

How to accomplish that? For starters, consider everyday learning experiences. Here are some examples that encourage people of any age to get on board with learning:

  • You and your child visit Niagara Falls, and he is amazed and exhilarated by the awesome sights and sounds, which he captures on his smartphone.
  • You and your family go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and everyone is captivated by the amazing multimedia and interactive displays.
  • At the movies, you watch The Theory of Everything, about Physicist Stephen Hawking, and you’re so fascinated that you immediately order his biography to read more about him.

These are real-world experiences that inspire us to learn more, and a toolbox of digital technology can help us take advantage of these exhilarating moments.

Today’s educational offerings go far beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar environment, expanding the “when, where, and how” of learning experiences. Technology tools give us powerful new ways to expand what we see, hear, interact with, and enjoy. When incorporated into online courses, these tools deliver dynamic learning that meets students where they are and takes them where they need to go. But consider this: online courses go even further, propelling students with additional information, inviting them to push their cognitive capacity in new directions. That’s the magic of online learning!

How does this play out? Let’s explore a realistic scenario. Suppose Amelia is enrolled in online life science such as the course available from K12. Before she begins, she and her parent look at the syllabus to understand what she’ll be learning so she can be prepared when she begins. She can also get a sense of all the hands-on materials offered by K12 because learning online doesn’t mean she’ll be stuck in front of a computer all day.

And because she’ll be learning without a teacher, guided by K12’s award-winning curriculum, she can set her own pace and progress through the course in the way that best suits her needs. Amelia logs in to the course, which gives her immediate access to the lessons, activities, e-book, instructional resources, and more. Right away, Amelia gets organized. As she experiences the content with interactive animations and video clips, Amelia’s interest in life science topics intensifies.

How does this differ from sitting in a high school classroom? Since Amelia is bright and conscientious, she moves through lessons at a rapid pace. Without time spent waiting for other students to keep up, Amelia has time for in-depth investigation of topics that interest her. Using recommended resources and web links in the course, as well as her own online searches for related information, Amelia goes the extra mile to apply her skills and build knowledge. She visits websites about living systems, locates recent research reports, and views detailed graphics that illustrate key concepts. All this is at her fingertips. As she studies, Amelia is super-charged. Given the opportunity, she picks up the ball and runs with it, demonstrating initiative to pursue what has captured her imagination.

Where’s the magic? First of all, Amelia is in charge of her own learning. She engages with the course at a pace that’s right for her, she has the freedom to explore more, and she’s motivated to be productive and creative. Secondly, she appreciates the anytime, anyplace availability of content, so coursework can fit into her full schedule. Most importantly, Amelia is excited and energized about learning!

Online learning is a “smart solution,” according to Susan Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Students who engage with online learning perform better, on average, than students taking the same course in face-to-face environments. Student-centered learning is a win-win for everyone. The flexibility and cost-effectiveness of online learning make it a great option for many learners. No wonder more than two-thirds of today’s learners say they want to use technology to support their own learning.


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