Insightful Depiction of Online Learning

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For those uninitiated in the world of online education, yesterday's Wall Street Journal article does a rare, balanced job of describing the finer points of online learning.

Writer Sue Shellenbarger presents the subject from different perspectives. The article explains how online classes work: interactive games and quizzes, collaborative projects and classes, and teachers interacting with students through virtual whiteboards. She explains that, although demand for AP classes has increased in the past 10 years, it's hard for budget-constrained schools to justify the added expense of offering the courses, so online classes provide an opportunity for those who want it.

Shellenbarger writes about a father who saves thousands of dollars in college tuition by having his two daughters take A.P. classes online.

"They get as much school work done in 3½ hours as it takes eight to do" in a traditional school day, Mr. Kirkpatrick says. Kayla Kirkpatrick says she likes moving through the material at her own pace, in contrast with a traditional classroom where "sometimes I'm really bored, and other times it is moving way too fast for me."

When it comes to managing their time wisely, with all those online distractions beckoning them, the students have figured out their own path:

To stay on track, she logs the assignments she must finish by the end of each day and highlights those that are completed. "I tell myself that when I get through X number of things, I can allow myself 10 minutes on Facebook," she says.

Ms. Larrivee, the student who is taking AP French, says splicing her online studies into the late-night or early-morning hours enables her to squeeze in more activities, including cheerleading, a communications internship and volunteering at a special-needs camp.

And we read about some of the frustrations of distance learning:

When taking her online course, Ms. Larrivee sometimes gets frustrated by the lack of a teacher and classmates nearby. She is graded on recordings of her French pronunciation exercises, but "I don't have someone I can physically have a conversation with about whether I'm pronouncing words well or using grammar the way I should," she says. While some teachers reply quickly to emails and instant messages, others take a day or longer to respond.

And when it comes to student performance, Shellenbarger writes that although no deep studies have been conducted, smaller studies show that those who take online A.P. classes fare as well or better than those who take them in class.


This is a great explainer, offering perspectives from different stakeholders. Read the full story here.