Can Online Schools Outperform Traditional Schools?

Online education grows in popularity with each passing year. Florida requires high school students to take at least one online course before graduation. As of 2018, 35% of college students enrolled in at least one online course. About 17% of these students enrolled in exclusively distance education courses. 

With online education on the rise, you may be wondering if its results measure up to traditional in-person schooling. Education researchers have been debating this question for decades: 

Can online schools perform just as well, if not better than traditional schools?

Literature reviews uncover a slew of divided research. On one side, some researchers remain skeptical of online education, stating that face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced. On the other side, meta-analyses show no significant difference between students’ performance across online and in-person modalities. 

As we dive into the evidence, we’ll find that how classes are taught is far more important than whether they’re online or in-person. 

Common Concerns About Online Education

First, let’s begin by addressing some common concerns that people tend to have about online education.

1. Does online education provide less interaction for students?

Levels of interaction is an important concern because students often learn more through spontaneous, live discussion than raw course content alone. Social interaction opportunities contribute both to student and teacher satisfaction. This means that classes that rely solely on lecturing may shortchange students’ learning capacity. 

Straight away we can see that this issue concerns teaching methodology more than it does online modality. There are in-person classes that provide little to no space for discussion-based learning, and there are online classes where discussion-based learning is one of the primary methods of instruction.

In short, online versus in-person doesn’t matter. In both cases, student success depends on meaningful interactions with their teachers.

2. Are students at online schools more distracted and less motivated?

You may wonder if students possess the self-regulation skills needed to stay focused in an online format. It’s true that online education tends to require students to maintain a higher level of ownership over their learning. But it may surprise you how online schools can share many of the same accountability structures as traditional schools. These structures may include live meetings with instructors and discussion groups with peers.

This way students stay motivated and accountable to personal and academic growth.

3. Does online education provide more generic, test-based instruction?

This is ultimately a concern about quality content. Some researchers worry that online instruction relates to a “McDonaldization” of education. They worry that online instruction standardizes education into a neat, generic package devoid of uniqueness. 

Once again, this issue comes down to individual schools’ methodology choices. Online schools actually tend to provide more (not less) specialized education options. This is especially true for students who have limited course options based on where they live. 

Surveyed parents reported that access to otherwise unavailable courses was their top consideration for online education. Over 75% of respondents said this was an important factor. Online education grants students access to world-class resources, no matter where they learn from.

How Does Online School Performance Compare to Traditional Schools?

A comprehensive research review determined that online instruction methods perform just as well as in-person instruction methods. This means that when all other variables are accounted for, online versus in-person instruction does not significantly hurt or help student performance. 

Studies that conclude that in-person instruction outperforms online instruction tend to contain important oversights in controlling variables. For instance, many such studies fail to control for participating students’ past performance. These studies produce unreliable results because the in-person group can have more historically “A students,” while the online group can have more “C students.” 

Other skeptics overlook the need to control for teaching methodology. If you characterize in-person learning as colorfully engaging and online learning as isolated video-watching, then you’re not comparing online versus in-person at all. You’re comparing discussion-based learning versus lecture-based learning.

Experts conclude that, whether the format is online or in-person, students’ needs stay the same. To learn well, students tend to need social support, meaningful interactions with instructors, and a clear learning structure.

How Sora Meets Students’ Needs

At Sora, we have carefully designed a student-centered learning process. Our goal is to make high school fun, engaging, and rewarding for students.

Sora provides an exciting virtual high school experience for students everywhere. Our design avoids tedious lectures and video learning. We prioritize evidence-based learning strategies, providing a healthy balance of scheduled, live interaction, and flexible periods for project work. Students collaborate with their peers and teachers, tackling real-world problems through hands-on projects. They enjoy the flexibility to craft their own curriculum according to their learning style and future goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about our unique virtual high school and how we can prepare your student better for their future careers and fields of study, click here to reach out to our admissions team.

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