Is Online School Good?

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Online school has been on the minds of many for the last few years. While there are many opinions about its effectiveness, what does the actual data say? Is online education as effective as traditional on-campus schooling? Recent research offers some clear answers. Here’s what you need to know. 

There Are Different Kinds of “Online School” 

Before asking “is online school effective,” we have to determine what we mean by “online school.” Virtual school that’s offered on an emergency or temporary basis by an otherwise campus-based school is not the same as an online school that was designed to be online and has never had a campus component. 

When campus-based schools have gone to virtual learning on an emergency basis, the results have been mixed, according to educators and researchers alike. However, in K-12 online schools that were designed to be online from the beginning, the research shows much better news. 

Education expert Christine Greenhow says that online learning can be even better(opens in a new tab) than in-person classroom learning but notes that online school has to be done right, allowing students the time to go at their own pace and think critically. In other words, just holding classes online is not enough. 

So, how well do online schools that were built to be online perform? Turns out there are multiple good things about online schools

Students in Online Schools Experienced No COVID-Era Decline in Learning 

Unlike campus-based schools that went virtual during the first months or years of COVID-19, Connections Academy has been an online school for over 20 years. Students and their families specifically chose the online learning offered by Connections Academy, and research shows that those students performed better during the pandemic than their peers at campus-based schools that went virtual. 

For their Q2 2021 Quarterly Research Review, The Pearson Virtual Schools Efficacy and Research Team (E&R team) replicated an NWEA study that showed a significant national decline in student performance during COVID-19. However, the results of the replicated study were significantly better for Connections Academy students. 

The E&R team found that Connections Academy students showed no COVID slide and actually showed gains and outperformed the national student sample. Likewise, when the E&R team replicated an analysis conducted by Renaissance Learning that demonstrated “lasting learning loss” due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2021, they found that, once again, Connections Academy students outperformed the national student sample as well as expected pre-pandemic performance. 

An Online-Based Curriculum Leads to Strong Student Participation and Test Scores 

Creating a good online school isn’t as simple as moving courses to the Internet. For students to stay engaged and succeed, they need a curriculum specifically designed for online school. When these insights were applied to Connections Academy curriculum, we saw improved learner outcomes.  

In the Q4 2021 Quarterly Research review, the E&R team analyzed the performance of students enrolled in Pearson courses. The Pearson courses are part of a curriculum that was designed for online school and is continuously enhanced. The team’s research found that, for the 2020-2021 school year, the enhanced curriculum was related to stronger student participation in courses, higher retention, and higher state test performance in science. 

Online Schools Promote Optimal Learning Behaviors 

Clearly, for schools designed to be online, we can answer the question of “are online schools effective” with an affirmative. But why do these high-performing online K-12 schools work so well? 

One answer, as the previously mentioned research shows, is the difference in curriculum. Courses designed for online learning are more likely to produce good learning outcomes. Additionally, The Pearson Virtual Schools Efficacy and Research Team (E&R team) has found that quality online schools promote certain learning behaviors that lead to better outcomes. These behaviors include: 

  • Staying on Track: Flexibility in time management can encourage students to devote the right amount of time to subjects. For instance, the E&R team found that the more time a 7th grade student spends on math in the first week of the course the higher the likelihood that they will pass.Page Break 
  • Working at the Best Time of Day: Once again, flexibility can improve outcomes. In this case, students can maximize their performance by studying at the time of day that’s optimal for their learning. For instance, the E&R team found that high schoolers who work on English/language arts in the morning outperform those who work on the same subject at other times of the day. Few in-person schools can offer students the flexibility to focus on subjects at the time that’s best for their personal learning outcomes.  
  • Utilizing a Learning Coach: Good online schools empower parents and guardians to be their child’s learning coach, giving the student a go-to resource. How effective is a learning coach? The E&R team found that the more often a learning coach checks in the better a student is likely to perform. 

When asking “is online school good,” the answer depends on whether you mean schools that have used virtual learning as an emergency measure or schools that were designed from the start to be online. In the case of schools that were specifically designed for online education—like Connections Academy—the evidence is clear: students can find a lot of success. To learn more about how students can thrive online, check out our article that offers the 8 top tips for succeeding in online school

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