Guest Post by Laurie Rappeport, a freelance writer and online teacher. Laurie has been living in Safed for 28 years and worked in the Tzfat Tourist Information Center for 13 years. She continues to be active in the field of Tzfat tourism, running a website with local updates. She is the single mother of five children, a number of them successfully homeschooled. She is now moving into the world of mother-in-lawhood and grandmotherhood!
Beginning in the late 1990s a new phenomenon developed as online colleges began offering opportunities for students to learn subjects via the Internet. Online degree programs quickly followed and by the early years of the new millennium high schools, and then elementary schools began to include elearning in their curriculum.
Today online education is a vibrant part of almost all schools. Homeschoolers have also discovered the benefits of elearning which enables them to refine their children’s education, present subject matter in a dynamic and interactive format, encourage independent learning and create engaging opportunities for the children to collaborate with other homeschoolers.
The United States Department of Education released a study, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices of Online Learning which was based on the results of 50 independent research projects. The study concluded that online learning is more effective than traditional face-to-face instruction. Today’s multi-media and Web-based applications have significantly improved the learning environment and scholastic results of students who learn partially or fully online. These opportunities have helped to propel the increase in homeschooling which, statistics show, is now growing at an annual rate of 7% – 15%.
The general view of the homeschooling population regarding online education has changed drastically over the last ten years. In the early years the majority of the discussion about online learning among homeschoolers focused on the drawbacks — undue reliance on technology, reduced ability to interact face-to-face in a homeschool setting, lack of familiarity with traditional book learning, etc. Today the discussion has noticeably shifted from whether to include online learning in the classroom to how to best include online learning in the classroom.
In reviewing some of the benefits of online learning for homeschooling students it’s clear that most students can complete some, or even all, of their coursework online. Whereas early elementary-aged children need more supervision, by the 5th or 6th grade, students can receive asynchronous assignments from their homeschooling educator and complete those assignments either semi-independently or completely independently. Many families have become involved in groups which facilitate collaboration among both parents and students. Such interactions enable the students to collaborate on assignments — sometimes via Skype or another web application — in pairs or in small groups, to expand the scope of a lesson and increase social interaction among participating students.
eGames offer another tool for homeschoolers to support personalized learning. eGames are designed to respond instantly to whatever the player does as they are arranged in series of increasingly difficult challenges which fit the sequencing of the curriculum (i.e. after conquering the fractions level, the student moves up to the algebra level). These games promote independent learning and offer an atmosphere of vibrant information exchange.
Online education is structured to ensure that students can learn in their own style and at their own pace, each in his or her individual learning style. In addition to egames, other online tools and apps create an invigorating learning environment for homeschoolers which ensure that each student gets the maximum out of his or her coursework.
Online materials and lesson plans help parents identify and implement both core curriculum and extra-curricular learning with their kids. Two of the best known resource sites for homeschooling are the Kahn Academy and the K12 project. The Khan Academy offers content on a wide range of subjects including the sciences, math, social studies, language arts and more. The Academy offers these resources for free and the parent/educator is responsible for creating the assignments for the student which will reinforce the material.
The K12 program, by far the larger of the two, has a structured learning program which offers over 500 structured learning courses for grades 1-12. Its chairman is known to have made strong statements about the benefits of integrating technology with homeschooling. Many of the programs are free, subsidized by the public school system. They are meant to individualize student learning and match appropriate curriculum to the needs and abilities of each student.
Homeschoolers are finding that elearning makes it possible for students to approach their studies from various angles. The parent provides the child with assistance as needed, but the ability for the student to proceed independently and explore related subjects easily as they arise offers a tremendous learning advantage for student and parent alike.
Families may be concerned about the costs of elearning, which may also include purchasing a laptop or tablet for each student. Studies have shown that, when all costs are added up, the savings on textbooks can more than make up for the expenditures on digital equipment, not to mention access to an unlimited rich world of online resources both for education and recreation.