Wednesday’s Parent: 6 key online learning questions

Online learning. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Online learning. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

I don’t have a crystal ball to foresee the future shape of education, but if I did, it would probably be a virtual one. That’s because online learning is increasingly permeating daily life from the home to the office to the classroom. It doesn’t take a seer to know families need to get comfortable with their choices to help in both college prep and choosing a college. Here are six questions about online learning answered:

What is a basic integration of online learning? Students may go to a specific online site to read or watch supplemental materials to a traditional classroom or tutoring experience. Access may be free, require signing up, or paying a fee. There is little or no personal interaction during the time online.

Can online learning provide personal interaction? Chat rooms, discussion forums and social media can provide correspondence in real time. Video presentations can add that live lecture vibe especially if the instruction is done via a live online session. However, unlike in a traditional classroom, each individual learner may be independent and out of sight.

What are MOOCs? The term MOOCs is an acronym for Massive Open Online Courses where thousands of students can attend “class” via their access to a computer. Students set and achieve their own learning goals. There may or may not be assignments and tests. They may be free or for a fee if taken for college credit. The degree of technical support may vary along with privacy and confidentiality.

What’s next in online learning? The college-bound can expect to have more online learning experiences in brick and mortar colleges as schools integrate this cheaper educational model to hold down costs. Many online for profit and non-profit schools exist already but the University of the People is “the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited, online university,” according to Forbes. Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, students pay for their exams, so a degree would cost a more affordable $4000, the article explains. Compare that to the highest higher education total cost of attendance for the single 2015-2016 school year which is on it’s way to exceed $70,000.

What are the major online learning pitfalls? Because of less or no face-to-face in-person interactions, students have to be more independent and self-motivated learners or they may drop out. They must find other ways to hone their social and soft skills colleges and employers crave. Participating in extracurricular activities, joining professional groups and working in internships can help fill the social gap to develop communication, leadership and teamwork abilities. The pressure is on to keep social media and other online interaction noses clean. The commercial value to students and their completion rate of online learning courses and degrees are unproven compared to traditionally earned diplomas in the business and education marketplace.

What are the major online learning advantages? Students who take MOOCs in high school and do well may stand out as proving they are college ready. They also have the opportunity of learning from a wide selection of interests with an instructor that may otherwise be prohibitive based on cost and location. Students will likely see more businesses like Starbucks and Walmart that will pay all or part of the costs for their employees to take courses toward a certain degree online only from a particular college.

Read Suzanne’s post: Should Your Student Consider Online Learning?

READ more: Parents may help their college-bound kids hone the top soft skills 


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.