Five myths in K-12 online learning

by Kathryn Kennedy

In a recent blog post by ABC news station WXYZ Detroit, Dr. Langen out of Baker College Online shared her thoughts on the top five myths of online learning in higher education. Although in general terms online learning is more advanced in post-secondary education than in K-12 education, these myths apply to K-12 education as well in ways that we explore below.

Myth #1: Online courses are easier.

This myth definitely resonates in the K-12 field, especially from parents, students, and some teachers and school administrators, who are new to online learning. They believe that because a course is not face-to-face that it somehow lacks rigor. While programs differ from each other, there is no reason to believe that rigor correlates with the instructional mode.

In addition, although educators sometimes assume that K-12 students are going to be able to learn online without any orientation to the new learning environment, the experience of most online schools and courses suggests that in fact students need an orientation. The assumption that students will take to online learning with little or no help is often detrimental to the student because their lack of preparation causes disengagement and frustration with the learning process. Dr. Langen also talks about the frequently used mantra of online learning – any time, any place, any pace. When examining this idea in the reality of what works for students in K-12 online learning, research and practice have shown that students need to have some structure (oftentimes a pacing guide), a dedicated place for learning, and to come to an understanding of when and how they learn best.

Myth #2: Faculty don’t know their online students (and/or online students don’t know each other)

In K-12 online programs, this also tends to be a myth. A majority of online programs have online teachers dedicated to teaching courses. There are some courses that are independent courses where there is less teacher involvement or sometimes none at all; this model is not one that is advocated for among those who have been in the field for awhile. Some programs are more self-paced and don’t offer as much student-to-student interaction. The courses that are more cohort based are ones that typically encourage if not require student-to-student interaction. In research and practice, a common theme is that teachers, especially ones who have also had experience in face-to-face teaching, express that they know their online students better than they ever knew their face-to-face students because there’s more one-on-one time as well as additional time spent with the students’ parents or guardians.

Myth #3: Employers don’t value online degrees

While this was a major concern when K-12 online programs first started back in the early 1990s, worry has dissipated around this topic since the field has grown so much and since online learning in higher education has also expanded. Online learning is becoming more and more acceptable to colleges and work places, especially since both of these spaces are seeing more and more online learning for professional advancement.

Myth #4: It can’t ALL be online…online degrees still require some time on campus

There are many online programs in the K-12 sector that are fully online, and they have demonstrated that students can learn entirely online. However, the number of students attending a fully online school has remained low even as it has grown slowly. Even in states that have had online schools for more than a decade, no more than about 2% of all students choose a fully online school. Instead, much of the growth appears to be in blended learning, which offers students a mix of face-to-face and online coursework/learning. Some educators find that certain subject areas are better served in a face-to-face setting than others, such as science content, which often benefits from a lab setting. However, the rise of lab simulations and virtual labs are gaining momentum and creating learning environments that are authentic for K-12 students. In some of the programs featured in the DLC, students have the option to learn 100% online, or to attend a physical school for part of their instruction. These programs often rely on teachers and/or mentors to advise students about on-campus options and the benefits of online vs onsite instruction and interaction.

Myth #5: Online programs are all the same

This is a major misconception that is common in the media and even in some published studies, which often don’t draw a distinction between full-time online schools, supplemental programs, hybrid schools, and other flavors of digital learning. In addition to these major elements of school design, K-12 programs also vary in the way they offer student support, the way they foster interaction (teacher-student only and/or teacher-student and student-student, etc), the feedback requirements for teachers, and more.

These myths have remained for about two decades, and digital learning advocates are sometimes frustrated by the need to address persistent misconceptions. It’s easy to forget that new students, parents, educators, and policymakers are constantly encountering digital learning for the first time. The need for continued explanations of basic digital learning topics is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

B-1-30, Blog PostKathryn Kennedy