Online Learning Would Be Ideal–For a Few

Recently, conservatives have expressed hopes that the switch to remote learning during the time of crisis will lead to major school reform, to models that will decrease our dependence on federally funded schools. If online education approaches are improved and refined during this time of transition for schools, I wouldn’t argue against that. However, I don’t believe that this temporary switch should revolutionize the way we do education in the United States.

Students who are advanced and ready for this model will do well. However, our typical student who is struggling with literacy and other crucial academic skills will fall further behind. For example, many students have difficulty reading and/or understanding what they are reading, even in the upper grades. Their difficulties can be traced to either a lack of knowledge, lack of phonics instruction with decoding practice, or both. Technology can be a great tool to help with individualized skill practice and immediate feedback for these students; however, they will suffer from a lack of in-person instruction.

I think that individuals promoting this independent learning model may take for granted that students will be able to assimilate new information at the same rate that he/she has been able to throughout a lifetime. Unfortunately, many American kids today grow up in a home where their early verbal skills are not cultivated, and they are not provided with books or read to by parents. They arrive in Kindergarten behind their peers in vocabulary, and since vocabulary reflects acquired foundational knowledge, their learning goes downhill from there. Even for those that are given an initial boost by preschool programs start falling behind again by fourth grade. It is very difficult to overcome a home and a culture where reading and talking around the dinner table is not emphasized.

Unless very carefully organized and tracked, modeled more around traditional learning (albeit with challenging academic tasks supported and built in, including projects), many students are just going to drown in this model. It also requires self-discipline, to which many home environments are not conducive. How many of us are lacking in self-discipline at home, even when it comes to important tasks? Can you imagine what an eight-year-old or fourteen-year-old might do when asked to watch several minutes of Khan talking and writing on virtual board? They are going to find something more interesting to watch.

For me, the independent online model for your typical student is simply way better than nothing. It is not and should not be the primary future emphasis of American education.

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30 thoughts on “Online Learning Would Be Ideal–For a Few”

  1. You’re so right about all of this, I wouldn’t even know where to select what I agree with most.
    And  think: does  everybody really need the level of  education we now play at giving them over 16 looong  years?

    if people were taught to read proficiently by 4th grade,(used to be the  norm, but now,mapparently, it’s the impossible dream, because: where’s phonics?) and then, given an intensive course in how to research any topic, any literature,  which might come to interest them—

    couldn’t we produce a nation of polymaths?

    but let me point out one other aspect of “distance learning”: you must have a computer and internet access in the house, AND someone who knows how to repair and service, not merely use, those instrumentalities.   My daughter is finishing up her law school semester at home here.  If my BMD weren’t so proficient  in these matters,  I would be terrified.  It’s for damn sure I  could not  deal with any technical problems that might arise.

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  2. I think a hybrid model would work. In a way the online experience has been with us for years. In the old days people would read and educate themselves. As to Hyp’s point, those books didn’t have technical difficulties.

    YouTube or some other service can be extremely helpful because many many people can help explain difficult things. Everyone is different and they don’t understand the same ways.

    For what I understand, many kids were not taught the fundamentals. Hopefully online can help correct those deficiencies without embarrassing them. Sports is always about practicing the fundamentals to be good. In the same way, honing some of the basics will get these kids out of the “dumb” track.

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  3. Hypatia:
    and then, given an intensive course in how to research any topic, any literature,  which might come to interest them— couldn’t we produce a nation of polymaths?

    Yes . . . but, their ability to research effectively and to even have curiosity about topics will depend a great deal on their store of accumulated background knowledge. This knowledge comes from early experiences at home (going on walks, having conversations with adults, being read to), and then the good reading instruction you reference, plus excellent knowledge-based curriculum along with early spark of interest in leisure reading fanned into a flame. Here is E.D. Hirsch on the topic twenty years ago, but relevant as ever today.

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  4. Most people need hands-on vocational training. Too many are going to college and amassing debt they cannot pay off making communist professor frauds like Liz Warren wealthy. Online is of course important but only for a small fraction of the symbolically adept into the theoretical sciences. We need more plumbers, electricians, truck drivers, cops, medical people, firemen, soldiers et-al we don’t need social justice warriors.

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  5. 10 Cents:
    I think a hybrid model would work. In a way the online experience has been with us for years. In the old days people would read and educate themselves. As to Hyp’s point, those books didn’t have technical difficulties.

    YouTube or some other service can be extremely helpful because many many people can help explain difficult things. Everyone is different and they don’t understand the same ways.

    For what I understand, many kids were not taught the fundamentals. Hopefully online can help correct those deficiencies without embarrassing them. Sports is always about practicing the fundamentals to be good. In the same way, honing some of the basics will get these kids out of the “dumb” track.

    You make some great points as well, 10 Cents.  Technology is excellent support for some specific areas of education. For example, online multi-media is a wonderful gift to education. All teachers should be making use of it.  Individualized skills practice with immediate feedback is another one. All schools should be making use of technology for this purpose.

    Thank you for making the comparison to sub-skills in sports. Many idealistic educators who use phrases like “drill and kill” and hate the idea of teaching facts and having students review them forget that even in sports, skills have to be broken down into manageable pieces and practiced until automatic. Most kids don’t suddenly acquire the ability to play the game.

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  6. Hypatia:
    but let me point out one other aspect of “distance learning”: you must have a computer and internet access in the house, AND someone who knows how to repair and service, not merely use, those instrumentalities.   My daughter is finishing up her law school semester at home here.  If my BMD weren’t so proficient  in these matters,  I would be terrified.  It’s for damn sure I  could not  deal with any technical problems that might arise.

    Yes, you just reminded me of another point. Young people aren’t necessarily good at figuring out new technology, no matter what education innovators would have you believe. There is a learning curve for online platforms that require investment of time and energy, and maybe cause additional frustration, too.

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  7. Jack Sarfatti:
    Most people need hands-on vocational training. Too many are going to college and amassing debt they cannot pay off making communist professor frauds like Liz Warren wealthy. Online is of course important but only for a small fraction of the symbolically adept into the theoretical sciences. We need more plumbers, electricians, truck drivers, cops, medical people, firemen, soldiers et-al we don’t need social justice warriors.

    I partially agree with this. If I didn’t need to get back to work, I would engage you further on this topic.

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  8. Jack Sarfatti:
    Most people need hands-on vocational training. Too many are going to college and amassing debt they cannot pay off making communist professor frauds like Liz Warren wealthy. Online is of course important but only for a small fraction of the symbolically adept into the theoretical sciences. We need more plumbers, electricians, truck drivers, cops, medical people, firemen, soldiers et-al we don’t need social justice warriors.

    Yes, and those people should get it, with no nonsense about everybody-should-go-to-college.

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  9. sawatdeeka:

    Hypatia:
    and then, given an intensive course in how to research any topic, any literature,  which might come to interest them— couldn’t we produce a nation of polymaths?

    Yes . . . but, their ability to research effectively and to even have curiosity about topics will depend a great deal on their store of accumulated background knowledge. This knowledge comes from early experiences at home (going on walks, having conversations with adults, being read to), and then the good reading instruction you reference, plus excellent knowledge-based curriculum along with early spark of interest in leisure reading fanned into a flame. Here is E.D. Hirsch on the topic twenty years ago, but relevant as ever today.

    Isn’t he then “cultural literacy” guy?  I’ve always been a fan.

    Yes, okay.  But if we’re gonna make everybody pay heavily in taxes for public education, including the parents who may not be that “cultured” themselves, and who work 2 or more jobs to feedand shelter their kids (here I’m thinking of my adult literacy students!) then shouldn’t our schools be able to instill that love of learning, that cultural curiosity, too?   They have the kids for what 30-35 hrs/week,  9 months outta  the year, for twelve years!   Well, they ain’t doin’ it .  And with their superior time and resources, they oughta be.  And they oughta be able to do it in far less than twelve years.

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  10. Hypatia:
    Isn’t he then “cultural literacy” guy?  I’ve always been a fan.

    Yes. He sent me a signed book because of an impromptu online competition in which he reluctantly decided that I’d won also, due to a technicality.  😀   I’m keeping it forever, even though I can’t read his handwriting in the inscription.

    Hypatia:
    then shouldn’t our schools be able to instill that love of learning, that cultural curiosity, too?   They have the kids for what 30-35 hrs/week,  9 months outta  the year, for twelve years!   Well, they ain’t doin’ it .

    Some are, and some aren’t. Their effectiveness can depend on their instructional philosophy. Those with high-flying ideals about instilling critical thinking (over and instead of knowledge) miss the mark, while those with more traditional leanings enriched by technology and access to books are more successful. Local Montana schools do well, even while dealing with what amounts to lack of parental engagement (okay, academic neglect).

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  11. Online learning is not for the faint of heart. It requires more self discipline than being in a classroom. All campus-based instruction has been moved online at my university. It doesn’t impact me directly because I am already in the online graduate space, but I am worried about undergrads who may lack the self discipline needed to succeed with online learning.

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  12. The OP and various comments have emphasized different levels of education from pre-K to post-secondary. For instance, Jack’s  point about vocational training does not pertain to lower levels because everyone needs to learn to read and compute at a basic level. at least. Hands-on learning is essential for trades but not for readin’ and ‘rithmetic. Plumbers are never going to be trained mostly online – well, not until VR technology gets a lot better.

    sawatdeeka:
    However, our typical student who is struggling with literacy and other crucial academic skills will fall further behind.

    Not necessarily. Online education need not be entirely passive: just YouTube videos. The same kind of individualized attention that a struggling child can get in the classroom is transferable to the online environment. It is labor intensive, but no more so than it is face-to-face. The automated, interactive learning modes can free up teaching staff to devote more time to one-on-one attention to students.

    The status quo is that teachers already have little time to help your typical student who is struggling and they do fall further behind. That’s how we are at the point that “…many students have difficulty reading and/or understanding what they are reading, even in the upper grades.”

    Addressing the topic of elementary through early college education, most of the material can be delivered remotely. It would include a combination of lectures, frequent quizzes to test understanding, and individual tutoring. “Lectures” includes showing students how-to examples, e.g., how to diagram a sentence, how to do subtraction.

    This approach has two advantages over the status quo:

    1. All the labor devoted to repeating lecture/demonstration material does not need to be repeated. A few excellent teachers doing their thing is better than tens of thousands with a spectrum of abilities putting together a lesson.
    2. Students far from good schools could still get a good education. The school comes to them.

    The Khan Academy was started over a decade ago by a guy who just wanted to help his cousin. I checked out their stuff in the early days and the quality was good, especially considering the modest resources put in. Khan initially put all the material together himself but has long since added many other people. Couple this with some individual tutoring and you have the beginnings of an integrated educational system. It still needs integration of the parts and testing is an issue. Socialization and physical fitness also need to be addressed.

    The tutoring piece of the puzzle is also in place. I have some first-hand knowledge since I worked with Tutor.com in my spare time (just for fun) for about fifteen years, beginning in 2001 when they were just starting out. Over that period, I helped over ten thousand students who were having trouble with their algebra, calculus, and physics. At the time I left them, the tools were still primitive: mostly text-based communication with a whiteboard and file transfer. I’m sure they’ve improved the capabilities since they were bought by Princeton Review but I don’t know the details because it’s been five years since I was connected with them.

    To those of you with kids at home: most US public libraries have contracts with Tutor.com to provide the service free to cardholders. The US military has a contract with Tutor.com for military families.

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  13. JJ:
    Online learning is not for the faint of heart. It requires more self discipline than being in a classroom. All campus-based instruction has been moved online at my university. It doesn’t impact me directly because I am already in the online graduate space, but I am worried about undergrads who may lack the self discipline needed to succeed with online learning.

    Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Students who lack the self-discipline to do the college-level work maybe don’t belong in college. As someone else already noted in this thread, not everyone should go to college.

    When I was in college, plenty of self-discipline was required. We were left to our own devices and there were plenty of distractions. Class attendance was not required and didn’t affect your grade in many classes. I knew plenty of students who didn’t take their schoolwork seriously even though they lived on campus. I con’t think discipline is a problem particular to the online environment.

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  14. I have learned a lot and have been challenged by being part of the two R community I was part of.  I also in my way got others motivated.

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  15. I so agree with you on this, but I think the real problem is that there is pretty much a one size fits all approach to education in this country. There are a lot of kids who are just different learners. My youngest is an auditory and tactical learner, and due to this she is struggling because she isn’t a visual learner and many classrooms are set up for visual learning. Also because they lump in by age and not ability they miss an opportunity to cultivate a student who may say be a higher level in math but reads at a current grade level, so they couldn’t advance in grades but those math skills won’t be enriched as they could be. Or other variations. Education needs to be customized, like so many things because each individual is unique with unique skills that are usually not fostered in our current system.

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  16. Often times kids with “learning disabilities” will know great amounts of knowledge when it comes to games, sports, and music. They know the minutiae and this is often self taught.

    It is hard to teach someone who is not hungry for knowledge. Also it is hard not to teach someone who is like a sponge soaking up all the knowledge they can.

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  17. Mate De:
    I so agree with you on this, but I think the real problem is that there is pretty much a one size fits all approach to education in this country. There are a lot of kids who are just different learners. My youngest is an auditory and tactical learner, and due to this she is struggling because she isn’t a visual learner and many classrooms are set up for visual learning. Also because they lump in by age and not ability they miss an opportunity to cultivate a student who may say be a higher level in math but reads at a current grade level, so they couldn’t advance in grades but those math skills won’t be enriched as they could be. Or other variations. Education needs to be customized, like so many things because each individual is unique with unique skills that are usually not fostered in our current system.

    I have a lot of comments to make on this,  but I can’t, because I already took my afternoon writing on these issues, and now I need to make up time on my job.  😀

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  18. drlorentz:

    JJ:
    Online learning is not for the faint of heart. It requires more self discipline than being in a classroom. All campus-based instruction has been moved online at my university. It doesn’t impact me directly because I am already in the online graduate space, but I am worried about undergrads who may lack the self discipline needed to succeed with online learning.

    Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Students who lack the self-discipline to do the college-level work maybe don’t belong in college. As someone else already noted in this thread, not everyone should go to college.

    When I was in college, plenty of self-discipline was required. We were left to our own devices and there were plenty of distractions. Class attendance was not required and didn’t affect your grade in many classes. I knew plenty of students who didn’t take their schoolwork seriously even though they lived on campus. I con’t think discipline is a problem particular to the online environment.

    There is something about being around people that helps me get my work done. This has been true for me probably from five years old until now. Not everyone is like this, I know.

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  19. sawatdeeka:

    Mate De:
    I so agree with you on this, but I think the real problem is that there is pretty much a one size fits all approach to education in this country. There are a lot of kids who are just different learners. My youngest is an auditory and tactical learner, and due to this she is struggling because she isn’t a visual learner and many classrooms are set up for visual learning. Also because they lump in by age and not ability they miss an opportunity to cultivate a student who may say be a higher level in math but reads at a current grade level, so they couldn’t advance in grades but those math skills won’t be enriched as they could be. Or other variations. Education needs to be customized, like so many things because each individual is unique with unique skills that are usually not fostered in our current system.

    I have a lot of comments to make on this,  but I can’t, because I already took my afternoon writing on these issues, and now I need to make up time on my job.  😀

    I’ll be patient Sawatdeeka. I would love your insights.

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  20. sawatdeeka:
    There is something about being around people that helps me get my work done. This has been true for me probably from five years old until now. Not everyone is like this, I know.

    I agree completely; it helps most people. However, online learning does not exclude that possibility. All it does is remove the teacher from the students and includes some automated parts.

    Imagine this: Students in a community are taking an online class on ancient Greek history from one of the world’s premiere classicists (and friend of VDH). There are lectures and other course materials. The students in this community can get together in person to discuss the lectures and collaborate on the work. There is some in-person element to the class but also enables students to get the benefit of a top notch professor who’s also interesting to listen to. I took the class about ten years ago, albeit without interacting with other students.

    It’s not just for college. Khan Academy has material for people of all ages. Nothing is stopping people from getting together spontaneously, or in the case of kids their parents can use these resources to homeschool. When we homeschooled our daughter, there wasn’t too much collaboration with other parents but it didn’t need to be that way. A more mature system would organize students locally to satisfy our desire to be with others to learn.

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  21. drlorentz:

    sawatdeeka:
    There is something about being around people that helps me get my work done. This has been true for me probably from five years old until now. Not everyone is like this, I know.

    I agree completely; it helps most people. However, online learning does not exclude that possibility. All it does is remove the teacher from the students and includes some automated parts.

    Imagine this: Students in a community are taking an online class on ancient Greek history from one of the world’s premiere classicists (and friend of VDH). There are lectures and other course materials. The students in this community can get together in person to discuss the lectures and collaborate on the work. There is some in-person element to the class but also enables students to get the benefit of a top notch professor who’s also interesting to listen to. I took the class about ten years ago, albeit without interacting with other students.

    It’s not just for college. Khan Academy has material for people of all ages. Nothing is stopping people from getting together spontaneously, or in the case of kids their parents can use these resources to homeschool. When we homeschooled our daughter, there wasn’t too much collaboration with other parents but it didn’t need to be that way. A more mature system would organize students locally to satisfy our desire to be with others to learn.

    It’s funny you say that Drlorentz. During this time where I have been forced to homeschool my kids. My youngest sucks most of my time (she’s in 3rd grade) so my oldest will FaceTime a friend Or two in her class and they end up working together in a group. They did this all without any prompting from the parents but because a lot of parents are working while homeschooling the kids ended up figuring out a work around. So it is possible to have both an online integration and personal.
    also we aren’t going to be quarantined forever. There are hybrid models out there. Regina Caeli is a hybrid model.

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  22. Eventually, affect sensing AI cameras and mics will monitor your learning and act to reengage you on a personalized level. Lectures and classes will be selected based on what style you respond too.

    I think this sort of learning will not be “online” as much as AI.

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  23. Mate De:
    During this time where I have been forced to homeschool my kids.

    If you are “homeschooling” because the government school sent the kids home and you are trying to help the kids make reasonable progress on the syllabus that came from the government school, then we need a new term, because that is not homeschooling.

    In homeschooling you get to pick the syllabus, curriculum, resources and grade level for each subject for each child.

    I cannot imagine anything that would make education a greater failure than we already have, except what we are now doing.  We are now expecting each family to help all kids keep up with the one-size-fits-all government school curriculum.   All the disadvantages of the government schools but without the resources of the government schools.   Burdening families by making them homeschool, but without allowing them the flexibility and individualized curricula that homeschoolers expect.

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