Friday, January 24, 2014

Guest Post ~ Homeschooling and the Internet

Homeschooling and the Internet
Beginning in the late 1990s the Internet created new opportunities for students and their families who wanted to facilitate learning in an asynchronous (independent) environment. These opportunities began with online colleges which started to offer courses via the Internet in 1999. By the first years of the 21st century high schools and then elementary schools were including elearning in their curriculum.

Online education opened up new doors for families who wished to homeschool  -- or "unschool" -- their children. The percentage of school-age children who were homeschooled  increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 2.9 percent in 2007, representing  a 74 percent relative increase over the eight  year period. Although no formal statistics have been compiled since 2007, informal studies set the percentage of 2013 homeschooled students at 3.8% of the school-age population.

Parents give a variety of reasons for homeschooling their children. The most common reason seems to be a desire to provide religious or moral instruction, followed by a concern about the school environment (such as  drugs, safety, bullying,  negative peer pressure),  dissatisfaction with the methods or level of instruction, the child's health or special needs, finances, location (distance from the school) and a desire to educate the child within the family unit. Many parents feel that by providing their child with a nontraditional approach to education, they will enhance the child's interest in learning, ability to acquire information and  capacity for independently study.  

Today online education is a dynamic component of almost all homeschooling frameworks.  Homeschooling families have discovered the benefits of elearning which allows them to refine their children's education, present the curriculum in a vibrant and interactive format, encourage project-based and independent learning and promote creativity.

The United States Department of Education has begun to study the benefits of online learning in the schools. Their report, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices of Online Learning  was based on the results of 50 independent research projects and concluded that online learning is a more effective technique than traditional face-to-face instruction. Multi-media and web-based applications have gone a long way towards improving online classrooms and the scholastic results of students who learn partially or fully online shows marked improvements.

Homeschooling parents have taken note of online learning opportunities. eLearning tools and methodologies are helping to increase the numbers of families who are exploring home-based instruction.  Whereas, in the early years of distance learning, homeschooling parents tended to focus on the drawbacks of computer-based instruction -- reliance on technology, a reduced emphasis in the parent-child face-to-face interactions, the students' lack of familiarity with traditional book learning -- the discussion has now shifted from whether to include online learning in the home-based instruction to how to best include online learning in the homeschooling environment.

In reviewing some of the benefits of distance learning for homeschooling students it's clear that most students can complete a portion, or even all, of their coursework through online resources and tools. Early elementary-aged children generally need more supervision but by the 5th or 6th grade students can receive asynchronous assignments from their parent or other homeschooling educational professional and complete those assignments either semi-independently or totally independently. Many homeschooling families have become involved in groups which focus on how homeschooling parents and students can collaborate and support each other. These interactions enable homeschooling students to work together on assignments -- in person or via skype, webex or another web application. The students can work in pairs or in small groups as they expand the scope of a lesson and increase their own social interactions.

eGames are a popular tool for personalized homeschool learning. eGames are designed to respond instantly to whatever the player does. eGames are arranged in series of increasingly difficult challenges which fit the sequencing of the curriculum (i.e. after completing the fractions level a student will move up to the algebra level). eGames promote independent learning in an atmosphere of vibrant information exchange.

At the end of the day, regardless of whether a child is educated in a classroom or at home and regardless of which methodologies or tools are used, the facilitator will always be the key to any successful educational model. Lowell Milken an educational leader and chairman of homeschooling giant K12 reminds homeschooling and classroom-based educators alike that "The most direct and enduring way to reach the mind and imagination of the learner is through the mind, imagination and character of the outstanding teacher."

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