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What Parents Need to Know about Online Learning

Considering online learning for your child? Evaluate it the same way you would any school or program.

Do Your Research

To decide if online learning is right for your child, learn as much as possible about the school, program, course, and instructor.

Online learning can add fulfillment and flexibility to a traditional school day. Or it can be used in place of going to a school every day.

But online learning isn't right for everyone. Use the questions below to decide if a program is right for your child.

Questions About Yourself and Your Child

  • Is your son or daughter prepared for online learning? Success in an online course or program requires specific student attitudes and approaches to learning. To ensure academic success, your child should have:
    • Maturity to complete tasks with little supervision from the teacher
    • Motivation to complete work when you are not around
    • Time management skills to study and complete assignments
    • Technology skills needed to take on an online course

    Online students who are most successful are those who:
    • Have completed homework on a consistent basis in a traditional classroom setting
    • Have encouraging supervision at home
    • Have a positive attitude about school
    • Are conscientious and persistent in accomplishing goals

    If your child doesn't have these before registering for an online program, ask if the program offers ways to help your child become a successful online learner.

    Not sure if your child or teen is ready for online learning? Have him or her take this online learning quiz.

  • Does this online program or course match your child's long-term education goals? Before enrolling, consider how colleges and other institutions view credits or diplomas earned online. Will the program you chose be recognized and respected by colleges, employers, or the military?

  • Are you prepared to supervise and support an online learner? In online learning, your child will not be supervised during the school day by licensed teachers in a school. Does your schedule allow you to supervise your child's online learning?

    Will you be able to give your child the support needed to ensure success? Do you have the time and focus to provide the oversight and encouragement online learners don't get from being in a traditional classroom?

  • What level of enrollment is right for your child? Is your child planning to take one online course in addition to enrolling at a local school, or are they transferring into a comprehensive online school?

    Both types of programs are available in Minnesota as approved online public schools. Some allow students to be either full-time online students or to enroll in a few online courses to supplement their in-class education.

  • Which type of online class is best for your child? Would your child or teen do better in an online class that is self-paced or instructor-led?
    • Self-paced or self-directed courses generally have flexible times for the student to complete assignments. The student works individually with the instructor.
    • Instructor-led courses are more structured. They deliver the material in a progressive sequence that guides the learner to complete the course.
    • There are also cohort-based online classes. This means a group of students take the class at the same time. They interact with each other as well as with the instructor as they progress through the course.

  • Can I provide the technology required for online learning? Does your child have reliable access to a computer, the Internet, and other resources necessary for taking a course online? Does the school offer necessary equipment to students or include the use of technology its tuition or fees? Ask the school what type of technical support is available to your child. Is that support offered during the hours your child will be typically working?

  • Does my child have the necessary technology skills? Ask the school what level of computer skills are needed to successfully access and complete the online course. If your child needs improved skills, ask if the online program provides training. Also ask if an orientation is available for students of any skill level to familiarize them with the technology that will be used.

Questions About Online Programs or Courses

  • How good is the program or course? Learn as much about an online class or program as you would about a traditional class offered at your local school, including:
    • Teacher's background and credentials
    • Class prerequisites
    • Syllabus
    • Workload and study time needed
    • Credits
    • Transferability options

    Find out if there are any evaluations of the online course or teacher that you can review. Ask if you can see a sample lesson, list of class readings, sample assignments or examples of past teacher/student communications. Also, consider the values and vision the school conveys on its website, in its literature, and in communications with prospective students.

  • What information does the school collect about student achievement? To measure the academic growth of its students and graduates, does the online program or school use any of the following?
    • Standardized tests
    • Enrollment in advanced classes
    • Course completion rates
    • Opportunities for civic engagement
    • Involvement in internships or other work-based learning opportunities
    • Displays of student projects and assignments
    • Opportunities to honor student achievement

  • How do instructors interact and communicate with online students? Ask program staff or the instructor if there is a clear expectation for regular communication with and in response to students in the class. Do you and your child feel comfortable with the timing and how teachers and school staff interact with students?

  • What student support is provided? Some online classes come with services like tutoring, reference links, library access, mentoring, writing/math labs, and technical assistance to help the learning process. Are you able to access support services your child may need in an online course?

  • How is academic planning facilitated? All online courses taken from approved public schools can be applied to grade progression and graduation at enrolling public school districts. How does the program work with your enrolling school to provide continuous academic planning? Do all the courses your child or teen plans to take online match academic plans for grade progression and graduation? If your child were to transfer back to a traditional school, how will the online courses and credits apply to requirements for grade progression and graduation?

  • What special features or partnerships are offered by the school? Some schools offer special curriculum. This may include options like International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP), or Core Knowledge that can be accessed online. Ask if there is a special focus to curriculum and instruction, such as environmental study, project-based learning, or language immersion. If so, is that focus a good fit for your child?

  • What is a learning management system? Online classes are delivered using a secure learning management system (LMS). Each student logs in to a website created for the class. This contains instructional materials, interactive activities, online resources, the class syllabus, schedule, and a way for the instructor and students to communicate with each other. The LMS also keeps track of each student's assignments and grades.

    Before signing up for an online class, ask the school or program if you can see what their LMS looks like. Will it be easy for your child to use and find information? Are you able to see a sample lesson or access the class outline? If there is a technical glitch and access to the LMS is unavailable, is there a back-up plan for the student to continue in the course?

  • What about family involvement and communication with the school? Does the school encourage family involvement by giving families ways to communicate and interact with the program/school? Ask if there is a "parental rights and responsibilities statement" or "family/student compact statement" related to online courses.

    Find out how often educators communicate with families about their child. Does the school give periodic academic reports to students, parents, and enrolling districts? Are there opportunities for parents/families to conference with teachers, support personnel, and/or program administrators? Make sure you know how to contact the online teacher with concerns or questions.

  • Are graduate and family surveys available? Find out if the school has surveyed its graduates and their families. Ask what they say the strengths and areas of improvement are for the school and program. Has the school used these surveys to improve its program? If so, how?

  • Does the school offer extracurricular programs? What, if any, extracurricular activities does the school offer? If the school is a charter school, find out if there are agreements with the local district to participate in local extracurricular activities.

    The Minnesota State High School League has ruled that students in an online program may participate in extracurricular activities at the local level. If the student is taking online courses to supplement their local school enrollment, they can participate in activities at their local school.

    Also, if your child plans to play athletics in college, do the online high school courses meet NCAA approval?

Source: Minnesota Department of Education