Strengths and Weaknesses of Online Learning

weaknessesI recently read an article entitled “Strengths & Weaknesses of Online Learning.” The article mentioned the following advantages to online learning:

Flexibility in time and place…Synergy…Student Centered…Access to Resources…High Quality Dialogue…Level Playing Field…Creative Teaching…

I found this interesting, but the weaknesses really caught my attention. 

The weaknesses fell into six categories:

Technology…the students…the facilitators…the administration/faculty…the online environment…the curriculum…

As the administrator overseeing FlexPoint Virtual School, I wanted to take a minute to take a deeper look into the three of the six weaknesses listed in this article.  Having first read this article with a few months remaining in the school year, there was still time to implement new strategies by the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The single biggest obstacle in online learning is the ease and ability to procrastinate.

While this article did address “the students,” “the facilitator,” and “the administration” as being root causes to why sometimes online learning doesn’t work, they didn’t really address the concept of procrastination.  Avoiding procrastination involves teamwork between these three groups.  Students will take the path of least resistance more often than not.  Training may be needed for facilitators and/or administration to “buy into” the concept of online learning, especially training that addresses the concept of progress monitoring with interventions.  Unfortunately, this was not addressed in the article. (We can help with this!)

Having been with Florida Virtual School for more than 15 years, I have witnessed the damage online learning can have when assumptions are made.  When we don’t have proper pace monitoring by the adults who have a vested interest in the successful completion of the online coursework, we very often see negative consequences that hurt students the most.  As the academic school year winds to an end, final grades are due for students’ online coursework.

In the virtual classroom, credit isn’t issued until students successfully complete all of their work.  When students are left in charge of their own pace without any kind of pace monitoring by the stakeholders of the student (parent, facilitator, administration), there is a risk of students earning failing grades for work not attempted.  Bright students, who are more than capable of doing the work, may let other things interfere.  Procrastination is a killer in the online learning environment.  We will have situations where we have to issue an “F” because we get the “time’s up” directive from a district requesting final grades.  No one wants to enter zeroes into the gradebook and issue a failing grade to a student with a 95 percent class average on work completed, but because of zeroes on uncompleted work, ends up failing.

Take action while there’s still time!

If you haven’t been monitoring your students pace/progress, it’s never too late.  While we always prefer stakeholders get involved early and consistently with monitoring their online students, better late than never is always welcomed.  Students can make up good chunks of work in shorter time periods with online learning, but they can’t do it all in a matter of a week.

With most district programs now wrapping up, strict intervention plans implemented over the last few weeks have helped to save some students from themselves.  What can you do if your student is still finishing up an online course?  Here are some tips for helping see your students successfully across the finish line:

  • Learn how to pull group progress reports. (We can help!)
  • Have your online instructor create a new pace chart with the remaining time in the course.
  • Print pace charts for your computer lab with a count-down timer.
  • Have both positive and negative interventions to help keep students accountable.
  • Teachers can instruct and inform parents how they can help monitor student work (guardian accounts can be created).
  • Schedule weekly check-ins with students.   Have students log into the course and show you their gradebooks.  A quick glance at the gradebook shows the number of assignments completed/remaining but also the current grade in the course.
  • Have a weekly update with educators and parents.

There is no magic formula to get students working.  There are no shortcuts, but holding students accountable consistently is the key. If you’re not monitoring student progress at the school level, you can expect your end-of-year results to have a direct correlation to the amount of time invested in monitoring progress.

Post by Matt Vangalis, FlexPoint Virtual School Principal

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