The Online Education Experience: One Size Doesn’t Fit All


As parents continue to navigate needs related to health, safety, independence, and flexibility, the benefits of K–12 online learning are more widely recognized. And so, a challenge presents itself to parents and students: Is the online education option created/adopted by my child's brick-and-mortar school in response to an immediate need as robust and fulfilling as one founded by an institution solely vested in providing quality online education? 

How do students really participate in the online education experience, and which type of institution best supports this model?

Pandemic-related emergency remote instruction: growing pains and systemic hiccups

According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly every American household with school-age children—almost 93% of families—pivoted into some form of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

Millions of students experienced a stark transition in the way they were expected to absorb and retain information in a matter of months. For each individual child, parent, and teacher, as well as the traditional brick-and-mortar education system as a whole, this transition was neither easy nor perfect.

Close ties: The connection between education and security

As Inside Higher Education points out, public schools faced large-scale crises when they needed to create an entirely new realm of teaching, effective immediately. Families that didn’t have the means or desire for a strong digital presence in their household—particularly low-income families or elderly guardians of school-aged children—were suddenly under pressure to gain or improve internet access and become familiar with new devices and applications like Zoom that even to some educators were still foreign. Rural school districts became ensnared in concerns of broadband quality and connectivity, while low-income districts were left to wonder after the nutrition and wellbeing of their now home-bound student body.

Some students of low-income families were systematically left behind altogether as federal and local policies struggled to keep up with the rapidly-changing challenges the pandemic posed, such as the children no longer eligible for free and assisted meals because their parents sought to keep them enrolled in distance learning even after traditional school had reconvened for various health and safety reasons. As much as anyone can agree children should be granted stability and security in their education. Like a barge can’t make zero-point 180-degree turns, shifting from in-person learning to distance learning was an incredible feat.

While brick-and-mortar schools did their best to introduce a new delivery method of education under duress—they did what they could with the timeframe and resources given!—students at dedicated online institutions experienced much less instability.

The online education experience: During the pandemic, and after

As we said, what public schools are doing to keep up with 21st-century accessibility needs in the education sector is commendable. In the 2017-2018 school year, barely a fifth of American public schools offered their course lineup in online versions, but that number has surely risen as districts nationwide work to accommodate growing requests for remote learning to remain an option. Permanently.

The remote public school program examined in the April 2021 NY Times report instilled a never-before-seen love for school and learning—as well as a welcomed ease of access. But, as the Times described, the classes were still live, meaning the students were required to be present and tuned in at specific times.

While still a net-positive in the pursuit of liberated, fully-online K–12 education, isn’t requiring students to report to their laptops at regularly-scheduled times essentially requiring them to attend a Zoom classroom? And isn’t that just a new backdrop for the traditional school day?

How much control do those students and their parents have over their education? And, especially in contrast to the students at Laurel Springs School, who can decide when and where they tune into their classes—morning, evening, weekday, weekend? The synchronous online model relies on livestream connectivity and the attendance of teachers and fellow classmates on any given day to be successful.

Online synchronous learning: hidden consequences?

While more anecdotes of students enjoying the online offerings of a public school like the one found by the Times surely exist, so do plenty that outlines alarming trends of adverse mental and behavioral health impacts seemingly brought upon students by the very same programs.

Public schools with online programs that haven’t carefully curated social supplements to the distanced learning approach the way that schools wholly developed and structured for online learning have may be posing mental and behavioral health challenges to children and parents.

The parent in the Ed Source report is an echo of fears felt across the country: Feeling unsure if their children can “handle distance learning again” as episodes of acting out, anxiety, depression, or bad behavior increase in students trying to absorb an online education in a traditional chronological mold.

Institutions specialized in the online learning approach closely monitor our students’ wellbeing, as well as their academic performance, and enrich their lives with social opportunities through clubs, activities, in-person events, and social networking—all tailored to the experience of a full-time online student.

Choosing a dedicated online education experience

The world of education will continue to change, and technology will become ever more prominent in the experience. Learn more about the students who thrive at Laurel Springs. Then book a seat at one of our upcoming Virtual Open House events during which you can explore our online K–12 learning experience.