5 Differences Between Homeschool and Online School

When researching options for their children’s education, many parents confuse online school with homeschooling. It’s understandable, because both methods feature parent involvement and other benefits while learning from the comfort and safety of home. However, here are five key differences that can make an online public school or an online private school an excellent choice for many homeschool families. 

1. Caring, expert teachers do the teaching

With homeschooling, parents serve as the child’s teacher for all K–12 subjects. They plan all lessons, assignments, and tests. To monitor the distance learning student’s comprehension and academic achievement, parents must also grade all student work.  At Connections Academy®–supported online public school or Pearson Online Academy online private school, homeschool students work with caring, certified teachers who are specially trained to engage students in online learning. They develop a personalized learning plan for each student.

Online school teachers periodically meet with students for real-time review or instruction in the virtual classroom. They also grade student assignments, evaluate comprehension, and provide ongoing feedback to students by phone and email. They’re available to parents and students to answer questions and may give extra one-on-one help when needed. 

Parents have the opportunity to serve as a Learning Coach. Although every family does this a little differently, many Learning Coaches choose to help keep kids on track by structuring the daily schedule; monitoring schoolwork completion; and providing reminders, encouragement, and motivation when needed.  

Virtual school makes it easy for parents to know exactly what their child is learning, because they have easy access to the curriculum and assignments through the school’s online learning platform. This enables them to tie school learning to real-life situations and discuss topics in terms of the family’s values and beliefs. Parents can also check the online grade book to keep track of their student’s progress. 

2. Online schools have a professionally developed curriculum

Homeschool parents often research and develop their own curriculum. Searching for and buying texts and materials for every subject can be very time consuming—and expensive. Other homeschool families purchase an existing curriculum but must still map out a learning schedule and prepare lesson plans for the year. The demands of these responsibilities, plus anxiety about whether their learners are getting everything they’ll need for college, are common reasons cited by homeschoolers who have switched to virtual school. 

Families who select an online public school don’t pay for tuition, texts, learning materials, or the professionally planned curriculum; these are provided free of charge by the school district, state education board, or other authorizing organization. Most of these organizations require students to take part in standardized achievement testing. For an online private school, parents pay tuition that includes curriculum and learning materials, and standardized testing isn’t required. 

At a high-quality online school, students learn using a comprehensive curriculum planned by experienced education professionals and subject matter experts. They select appropriate texts, resources, and learning materials, and then create lessons and meaningful practice activities designed to help students master each objective. Lessons may also include multimedia presentations and interactive learning tools. 

Students who attend Connections Academy or Pearson Online Academy also have a wide selection of courses, including electives for all grade levels. Choices such as music, art history, career exploration, computer programming, marine biology, and six world languages round out the curriculum. Honors, Advanced Placement®*, and gifted and talented courses are available to deepen or accelerate learning for students working above grade level. 

3. Virtual schools provide customized socialization through online clubs and activities

Like a homeschool parent, the parent of an online school student can layer socialization opportunities into a child’s schedule in a variety of ways. Some homeschool families do this through sports, scouting, 4-H, volunteering, or faith-based activities. Others take part in homeschooling meetup groups. You can customize your socialization plan according to your child’s interests and be present to guide the interaction. 

Online school students have time to interact and collaborate with other students during virtual classroom sessions. Online clubs and activities are a great way for kids to connect with others who share their interests. There may also be field trips, celebrations, or other school events available. Learn more from one parent on how socialization worked for her child while enrolled in a Connections Academy-supported school. 

4. Flexible scheduling within limits

Homeschool families have the highest degree of freedom, with the ability to schedule their learning and activities whenever and wherever they prefer. With online public school, attendance is based on a typical school calendar, and it’s important to stay on track for completing courses on time.  

Some virtual classroom sessions will be scheduled at fixed times, particularly in online middle school and high school. Former homeschoolers may take some time to adapt to these unfamiliar deadlines or routines, but most feel that it’s a reasonable trade-off, considering the other benefits they gain. 

Families who are accustomed to traditional public schooling find virtual school offers a surprising amount of scheduling flexibility. Lessons can be completed at any time of day and from any location that has an internet connection. Students can also study subjects in any order, can work on each subject daily, or have a different schedule every day. They can speed up the pace for lessons that are easily understood and slow down for topics that require more study to master. 

Virtual school allows kids to keep up with their education while also pursuing interests and achieving their dreams. The learning day can be scheduled around ballet rehearsals, soccer practice, part-time jobs, and community involvement. For this reason, virtual school students include elite athletes , concert musicians, professional actors, and world travelers! Check out these sample schedules by virtual school families to get an idea.  

5. Graduation and beyond is different

While many homeschooled or distance learning students go on to achieve remarkable things, it’s important to note that they may be required to take the GED exam to earn a credential recognized in higher education or by the workforce. Students graduating from a high-quality virtual school can earn an official online high school diploma without this extra step. In most years, they also have the chance to receive it at an in-person graduation ceremony, wearing a cap and gown with all the pomp and circumstance. 

Although many colleges and universities welcome both virtual school graduates and homeschoolers, enrolled online school students gain the advantage of having licensed school counselors who can coach and support them during the application and financial aid process. An established online school should also have a track record of college acceptances

In education, results can be defined in many ways, but the strongest measure of success is a graduate who is well prepared for college, career, and life. Regardless of which approach to in-home education your family selects, we hope these differences will help you choose to get involved—and stay involved—in guiding your child toward a bright future filled with promise! 

To learn more about online school and how to make it work for your family, check out these top tips on succeeding in virtual school. 


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