Before the Internet became as necessary to daily life as electricity or plumbing, learning had to be found beyond the walls of your home. As the public’s access to the Internet evolved, though, so did the learning process – you no longer need a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica to find out how many islands are in the Indonesian archipelago or what South American parrots eat. With this increase in informal learning comes a need for formal learning to keep up with the breakneck pace. By now, you are familiar with the mainstream avenues for formal online learning – the various colleges run entirely online and the auxiliary programs done off the side of an established university’s desk. Virtual learning is also starting to reach the younger demographic, with private primary schools now run online and experimental teaching philosophies being tested at high schools. The classroom is changing with the times, thanks to new technologies and an explosion in Internet access.
For most people, the hallmark advantage of an online education is its flexibility. Taking online courses does not rely on a geographic location or a certain block of free time availability to be beneficial to its users. However, the other side of the argument is that it lacks the personal touch of in-person teaching and the individual attention that an instructor can provide. Online universities are constantly reinventing their methods to fight that stereotype, using tools like Blue Jeans to facilitate video conferencing between students, teachers, and administrators, allowing for human contact without the travel expense. Lectures are not always simply videotaped, but broadcast in real-time so that the students watching in another country can raise their hand and ask questions like in a real classroom. Online schools can extend to child education, as well – refuges for the disabled, bullied, or rural who do not have access to the quality that best fits their needs. For example, kids who had to rely on a local network of parent-teachers in a homeschool can now turn to one of the microschools put up by the startup AltSchool, which designs playlists of material and lets the students learn at their own pace. This way they can get the level of education expected from a traditional school while still having the flexibility of online courses.
Even when the teaching a class’s material does not involve any virtual interaction, technology is impossible to escape. Modern classrooms have all the expected electronics, but some go further in their integration to include tablets and other interactive gadgets that let the students explore under supervision and learn through trial, gamification, and demonstration instead of just instruction. As Business Insider shows, simple technologies such as screen casting and using digital textbooks instead of traditional paper copies can help get kids engaged and focus on learning instead of getting caught up in a world that is ten years behind their comprehension.
There are few schools standing today that do not have some online element to their curricula, whether through the material they cover, the grades they post, or the homework they assign. Some have gone even further in their integration, though, using the Internet not just as a resource but as a key player in how the teachers and the students interact. New teaching and learning theories have sprung up with the new capabilities available to teachers, such as the blended learning technique practiced by several private and public schools. Blended learning combines online virtual classes in the education sector with traditional classes in an equal mix, so students can focus on what they want, but still have a teacher for each topic on hand as a resource and a guide through their education journey. Other teaching methods, like flipped learning, were invented before the Internet, but they were almost impractical before the advent of the Internet. In a flipped class, students read and research as their homework, and class time is spent in group activities and hands-on discussions. With the Internet, lectures can be filmed and viewed at the student’s pace around their busy extracurricular activities, but they get the structure of a school day without the boredom of a string of them.
The current generation of K-12 students are all digital natives – a block of people who have grown up surrounded by technology and are at their peak comfort when immersed in it. They absorb just as much information, if not more, from their phones and computers as they do their teachers – so why shouldn’t their schools take advantage of this and incorporate it into their classrooms? As technology evolves, so will the education, until there is full synchronicity between what the teachers teach and what the students learn every day.