4 key questions to ask to choose a good online course for your child

In an attempt to slow the spread of Coronavirus, many schools and educational organizations across the world have been shifting into virtual classrooms.  In the time of virus crisis, learning has turned out to be more online driven. In lieu of letting children attend class in person, many parents are seeking out online resources, websites and apps to keep their kids’ minds engaged at home.  More schools and companies are investing in providing distance learning opportunities.  

Since online classrooms seem to be the only solution now to keep your child learning while minimizing contagion, you are maybe considering seeking a suitable online course for your child. However, with many marketing tactics at play and unaccredited programs on the market, it’s important for parents to do your research and gain a strong understanding of the specific program you’re signing up for your kids.  In this article, we provide you with some helpful factors that you should take into consideration when choosing an online course for your kids.

Good Online Course Options & Offerings

The best online courses mirror the quality of the in-person classroom experience.  They do so by utilizing technologies to create accessible and engaging environments.  Engaging students in online learning is key, especially when face-to-face interactions, both between students and teachers, and among students and their peers, do not occur. 

Some initial best practices being implemented include interactive measures to encourage online student engagement, effective use of technology to make for easily accessible and well-produced materials, opportunities for mentoring, peer collaboration and more.

Here are some questions to explore when selecting a good online course for your kids:

1. How is the course designed?

The e-learning development process should be ongoing.  Good online courses will continue to find unique ways to keep online students engaged with out-of-the-box thinking.  Many online courses lack multimedia elements or provide the same format each week, which can make for a boring experience.  You should look for courses that have invested in e-learning innovation and are utilizing multiple formats for interaction, including multimedia elements to create an engaging learning experience for your child.

Technology can make or break online student engagement experiences. When participating online, the quality of the video, audio, graphics and design are key to student retention.  Before enrolling an online class for your kids, you should ask to let your child experience the demo lesson to get a gauge of the quality of technology being used or the interface?

Is the website and are course materials accessible to those with varying learning needs? If your child misses a live lecture for example, is there any way for her to review the missed materials and assigned homework?  If she encounters technical issues during the class, is there any way to ensure there are tools to help her receive immediate support?

On the flip side, some courses utilize complex technologies, which complicate the online learning process.  Making students download many apps and plug-ins can have the opposite effect. Students can get frustrated when technologies don’t work properly and spend too much time troubleshooting issues and not enough time actually learning.  Instead, look for courses that use reliable technologies that are universally supported by different browsers and devices. Your child should be fully aware of how to access resources on the provided platform.

2. How big is the class?

It’s helpful to consider factors such as class size and completion rate.  The more students a teacher is responsible for, the harder it is to teach.  This statistic can help you gauge how strong a course is and how much time the teacher is able to allocate toward students to ensure their success.

Is the course attracting a lot of students?  What is the student to teacher ratio? It’s important to know how much attention your child can receive from the teacher.  Many online course instructors offer online office hours, which can prove helpful when things are not made clear, especially when your child takes up online courses that provide recorded lessons, which don’t allow for live assistance and Q&A.

3. Is there an opportunity for peer interaction?

When evaluating online courses, an important question to ask is whether the course was specifically designed for online use.  A well-designed learning environment can make the difference between an enjoyable and frustrating online course. The student’s online experience should be intuitive, interactive and engaging, so look for evidence of this when you’re selecting a course.  Does it use a cutting edge platform with interactive content? Are group projects part of the course? Online programs can often feel isolating and group assignments can foster a sense of community and camaraderie. Kids can learn a great deal from working with their friends and benefit from the opportunity to collaborate with them. Studying for exams with peers, even virtually, can also be a helpful tactic to ensure your child is prepared to complete the course successfully.  There are some online classrooms that are easy to use and navigate, even if your child is not a computer expert. Modern virtual classroom technologies allow your child to interact with her teacher and classmates intuitively and provide a personal feel to the online environment.

4. How qualified are the teachers?

This is not only about teacher’s certifications, years of experience, but also their ability to inspire and interact with their students.  One could argue that having an engaging instructor is even more important when face-to-face interactions are lacking.

Teaching is an interactive process.  Teacher-directed instruction plays an important role, especially in online classes. A teacher’s guidance will be even more important to facilitate the whole class and keep everyone engaged.  A good teacher will have many instructional approaches for learning the same material, hands-on learning, immediate feedback on errors, and other methods that may benefit students with learning difficulties.  Here are some suggested questions to ask about teacher qualifications and teaching approaches: What are the teachers’ credentials? Are they highly qualified to teach their academic subjects? How much of the instruction will be teacher-directed?  How much and what kind of contact will a student have with the teacher? How quickly will the teacher get back to my child if he has questions or gets stuck on an assignment? How will my child’s learning be evaluated? Will the evaluation include mastery in real-world applications?

When you hear the terms “online learning,” “distance learning,” or “virtual classroom,” you might imagine a student working alone at a computer on an old-style, self-directed correspondence course, with minimal instructor contact. But, in fact, today’s more sophisticated online schools may offer students such features as “real-time” classroom discussion with the teacher and other students, regularly scheduled, assignments based in the real world and the chance to join group projects. To find out if a program is a good match for your child, both academic and technical, research thoroughly, try to ask these key questions, consult reviews from other families, and let your child experience the demo class if possible.