Online education powerfully combines aspects of distance learning and open learning with the expertise of an experienced online instructor who guides the learning process. Distance learning is generally defined as any mode of learning where the study takes place wholly at home but the materials are still “physical,” like computer programs, books, cassettes, CD-ROMs, and videos. Open learning is where study takes place off site the majority of the time, but requires some infrequent attendance at a center. It includes mediums that are both physical and electronic. Online learning is where the study takes place over the Internet, either live or via email lessons sent to the student’s inbox.
The online instructional program should include seven governing goals:
1. An online community is established and interaction is monitored by an educator. An online community of learners increases the likelihood of success for students. Without a social or emotional connection, technology further distances the learner from the desire to connect with the content (Palloff & Pratt, 1999).
2. Online instruction should follow a set format and needs to be consistent according to preset specifications across all programs, while adhering to core standards for learning.
3. Assessment that includes immediate feedback should be customized to align with student progress through smart software which monitors results of student-self assessment, parent assessment and program/educator assessment.
4. Parents need to be part of the teaching-learning process. Online learning lends itself well to parental involvement. The flexible nature of online learning is ideal for parents who don’t have time to meet with educators. Parental resources should be available for parents to review 24/7. Programs need to be simple and easy to use so that parents have equal access to the important information available to them. Children may be able to help their parents, but this should not be an expected part of the program.
5. Age appropriate Internet links need to be a part of each online lesson module, with smart programs checking for dead links. The links should support the concept or skill being taught in the instructional program.
6. Instructional material should be available for a broad cross-section of students from grades K-12.
7. While completing instructional material, students will learn that the Internet is a tool that can enhance learning, independence, self direction and can provide for the efficient use and validation of reliable information.