Thursday, November 18, 2010

10 Reasons Students Say They Prefer Learning Online

Ever wonder how students feel about learning online? At the recent iNacol Virtual Schools Symposium participants were treated to an experience that is surprisingly is rarely available at education conferences. We had the opportunity to hear directly from a panel of students who explained why they preferred learning online. Here are some of the reasons shared by these students and others I heard from explaining why students preferred this method of learning.

10 Reasons Students Prefer Learning Online

1. I can sleep in
While this may sound indulgent to the over-30 crowd who is often of the mindset that students need to be prepared for the 9 – 5 world into which they will graduate, the reality is this.
  • Adolescents need more sleep.
  • Adolescents often function best late at night and do not function well early in the morning.
  • The jobs today’s adolescents will have quite likely will not fit the traditional 9 -5 mold.

It makes sense that students enjoy the opportunity to learn when they are well-rested and most alert. Research studies indicate that students enjoy learning on a schedule aligned to their circadian rhythms rather than the schedule that in many districts was created to enable bus companies to operate most efficiently. As a result traditional school has classes full of students who every day feel the kind of tired that is akin to being jet lagged.

2. I can pursue my passions
A flaw with the American education system is that there is little to no focus on pursuit of our dreams and passions which is often driven by a system that rewards rote memorization and mediocrity. Several students who learn online are doing so because they are pursuing a passion that does not allow them to fit in to the traditional school system. How wonderful it is that students are able to begin exploring and developing their passions while they are in school. We heard from a student who competes in horse competitions, for others it might be music, writing, acting, or filmmaking. We must stop teaching subjects and start teaching students who can be writers, scientists, singers, dancers, and historians today.

3. I can focus on my work without distractions from my classmates
For many students school is a huge distraction, especially in high school where the focus in often more on socializing and fitting in then on learning. Students shared that in online classes, many of the regular distractions from socializing, to intercom announcements, to disruptive students, no longer existed and they could place their attention on learning.

4. I can move at my own pace
A tremendous benefit of learning online is that, when done right, students can learn at their own pace. For some, this might mean they can demonstrate competency upfront and get credit for the class. For others this may mean moving at a slower pace and receiving additional supports if necessary.

5. I don’t have to compete to share my thoughts and ideas
Students in online environments enjoy the equity in the ability to share thoughts and ideas. No longer is it just the student in the front of the room or the one with the loudest voice who is heard. When learning online the playing field is leveled and opportunities are in place such as commenting on posts, videos, and student work or participating in discussion forums. These environments provide students with varied opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas.

6. I can take more interesting classes
Providing online opportunities for students means providing more choice. Students can more easily pursue study in areas of interest. They are no longer dependent on the staffing limitations of their particular school or community.

7. I can learn with a schedule that meets my needs
There are a number of reasons that students might not be able to participate in the traditional classroom environment. These students have often been left behind. One might be caring for a sick relative; another required to watch a sibling, for some pregnancy or incarceration has interfered with education attainment. These students no longer need to be left behind if online options are provided.

8. I can learn despite health issues that might get in the way of a traditional class setting
Students who haven’t found success in the traditional environment due to health issues can thrive in online environments. While this might include a student who is hospitalized, has certain disabilities, or is suffering from a terminal illness, many students have less obvious issues that have made success in traditional school settings difficult. Perhaps a student suffers from a sleeping disorder, social disorder, or from an intestinal condition that just doesn’t fit with the bell schedule. These are just a few examples that in the traditional school setting result in students who end up leaving the system due to excessive absences/tardiness, or labeled as just not paying attention…because they are sleeping in class and miss the material covered.

9. I can easily communicate with my teacher when I need to
Students participating in online environments often share that they appreciate the ease and opportunities available to communicate with their teacher. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to get your teacher’s attention in a traditional 45-minute period and if you do, you may not want to have your discussion heard by the entire class. Online environments typically have structures in place where students can easily send private instant messages or emails to their teacher leaving them feeling much more supported by and connected to their teacher.

10. I can easily communicate with my classmates when I want to
A traditional classroom setting often discourages students from communicating with one another. It can be considered disruptive to instruction or limited by the physical placement of students. The online environment makes it much easier for students to connect with one another on topics of interest in both synchronous and asynchronous environments.

Though the technology exists to provide these environments for students, sadly, few students have, or know they have, such opportunities available to them. For most students, they exist, or are unable to exist, in an educational system stuck in the past that has not introduced them to such options. Why? There are several reasons which include being in a system that requires us to follow outdated policies that may have worked for yesterday’s students, but do not work today. Changing these policies in a bureaucratic, slow-moving, political climate can be a tremendous task. Additionally, many of the customers (students and their parents) don’t even know this option exists. And, another reason of course, is because schools (and parents) are used to doing things the way they’ve always done them. However, doing things they way they’ve always been done hasn’t proven effective for most industries and it shouldn’t be accepted for our students any longer either.


  1. Great list! I'm going to bookmark it for future reference! It was nice to meet you at the VSS. Best of luck!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! The word is definitely getting out about choices families have to educate their children!

  3. As a parent, I relate very strongly to this list and in particular point number 2.
    My dream is for our two children to find their passion(s). That takes time and experimentation.
    I am finding it very hard to tell them "first complete all your homework, before you do what interests you." I mean, is that not saying that homework is more important than finding your passion in life?

  4. @jrsowash, Thank you and ditto! I'm glad we were able to make the f-2-f connection.
    @Steph H, You are welcome and I agree!
    @Thomas, what a terrific point and what a struggle that must be as a parent! If homework was tied to passion...then we'd be getting somewhere. In the past when my boyfriend tried to help his son marry the two the teacher shot him down. Tisk Tisk.

  5. Number 5 really jumped out at me today. Think of all the invisible kids quietly keeping their thoughts to themselves.

  6. Homeschoolers have understood the benefits of non-traditional education for many years, and have, privately, been at the forefront of using technology to provide a blended education to our children. It is gratifying that the bureaucrats of the old brick and mortar paradigm are finally moving into the 21st century. I just hope they build a system that will provide access to ALL students, not just for some so that they can preserve the their jobs.

  7. I can keep on learning even though I have been suspended by school administration that can't think out of the box. I could even keep on learning if I ended up in jail.

  8. I recently attend the Florida Virtual School's Leadership Training and your top 10 list is right on the mark with their observations. My hope is that we continue to encourage a more customized approach for our students because one size does not fit all.

  9. I'm definitely able to relate and speak proudly of the MAT@USC program. Fits into my schedule, offers a level-playing field and flexibility in terms of time, participation and sharing ideas/ thoughts.

    Definitely check it out.

  10. Ohh, hard to get past that first reason, and then you claim that MOST adolescents will not have to work mornings? Actually, you said 9-5 shift, which is literally true, shift work or even the responsibility to be in one place for 8 hours is going by the wayside. But not working in the morning? Not true for MOST. Sure, a small subset have flexibility but still, and into the foreseeable future, the need to work in the day will still be the rule.

    Personally, I hate morning classes and I generally teach morning classes. I wish things were changing as you describe but they are not. Not yet, anyway. At least not for scientists , teachers and engineers. Since a large fraction of future jobs are in STEM, the numbers suggest things won't be changing soon.