With the increase of online learning, there also comes a greater attention placed on keeping it safe and engaging. Although electronic devices and Internet access are a part of everyday life, we should be prepared for any challenges that may arise.
Online Learning Risks
Recent studies have shown that when online usage increases – no matter the age group – so too does the exposure to potential threats and harms. With the most vulnerable being young children, they are at most risk for:
- Seeing content inappropriate for their age
- Being contacted by predators who want to exploit them
Although the level of adult supervision varies for each family, there are sensitive situations in which there is no safety support at all. Of course this raises the question about how schools plan to create safe learning environments while keeping students engaged.
The History of Online Learning
Some would argue that the road paved for today’s online learning reaches back before the 1900s when semi-automated computers came into the picture. However, for time and history sake, we’ll just start with the early 1900s (until about 1959) when distance education began to evolve through radio and television broadcasts.
Though we were still a few years away from what we now see as online education, it was in the mid to late 1900s that the breakthroughs into the worldwide computer network would happen. The University of Illinois would be one of the first colleges to use Intranet systems to give students access to recorded lectures and course materials.
Fast forward to about 1990, and you’ll find fully accredited colleges offering online degree programs using what we call LMSs (learning management systems). Over the next decade, these systems would include email, real-time instruction and participation, and the Google search engine.
Exposure to threats during this technological surge was slim to none, until now. We now live in the “Information Age” where even the most distant villages and households are connecting to the Internet. This means more people and more information shared like never before.
Luckily the Department of Education has since established legislation regulating educational requirements, but today’s events are calling for an entirely new kind of legislation that protects students who choose to utilize online learning options. Until these loopholes are made more clear, there are ways to keep your children safe while learning online.
How to Keep Online Learning Safe
Although online learning isn’t quite new for the modern homeschooling family, we still are not exempt from the dangers of outsourcing our children’s education with a virtual course. These tips and suggestions can and should be taken into consideration by anyone who plans to use the virtual classroom as a means of learning for their child.
Assess the safety risks of the learning platform.
While most educational platforms offer a fairly safe learning environment, they cannot be in total control of what happens beyond their website. Check to see if the learning management system (LMS) is using tools that offer extra child protection. If these are not noticeable, consider asking a teacher, principal (if doing distant learning), or contacting the LMS company directly.
Set clear boundaries with your child.
Whether your child is having to do distant learning or opting in for online courses as part of their homeschool schedule, set clear boundaries with them. This may include setting specific learning times, disabling certain websites, and/or adding parental blocks. The idea is to establish the primary reason for why your child will be using the Internet in the first place. And to have consequences in place for crossing the boundaries.
Establish expectations for online learning.
Going hand-in-hand with setting boundaries is establishing online learning expectations. These may include:
- Having an appropriate at-home learning space
- Protocol for communicating with the teacher (and other students)
- What to do if they encounter a problem
- Consequences for failing to meet expectations
Check your online safety skills.
As technology advances, new programs, services, apps and the like will surface. In some cases, a simple firewall may not be enough. Look for extra resources that can be downloaded and activated on your computer (or learning device of choice) to help keep your child safe. We have used resources such as Covenant Eyes, as well as built in parental controls both on our Windows-based PC and Apple iPads and iPhones. But most important, it is imperative for you as the parent to educate yourself. I promise you, no matter how much you think you know about the internet and social media, it’s likely your children (over the age of 12 especially) know more than you do. Don’t ever assume you are ahead of the game, and don’t slack on keeping up with the latest trends, because your kids definitely are.
Make changes when necessary.
When something doesn’t work, the worst thing you can do is to continue enforcing it. If you find that your child is not doing well with online learning, or that they may have crossed some of the boundaries you have set, take a break and find an alternative solution.
Sometimes children are not ready for what they are given. It’s equivalent to giving a child a steak knife and expecting them to not get cut. Perhaps your child needs a little more time to mature before utilizing the online option. Something else to consider is sitting side-by-side with them if you can.
How to Keep Online Learning Engaging
In the midst of keeping your kiddos safe is also keeping them engaged in their new way of learning. For some students, going to school online doesn’t seem so exciting. On the same token, some students struggle with staying motivated and engaged. Here are some ways to heighten the engagement for your child who is doing online learning:
- Give your student some control in what they are learning about. Allow delight-directed learning or interest-led electives, not just core subjects. When children take ownership of their learning, they’re more likely to stay engaged with it.
- Have your child complete most of their work when they have the most energy. Do you have a morning person? Make sure you utilize the morning hours for schoolwork. On the flip side, you’re night own may work better in the afternoon or evening hours.
- Allow your child to take breaks often. In our homeschool, Ben worked on a schedule based on the Pomodoro method which uses a timer to regulate a schedule of work and break times.
- Engage in their assignments with them (but remember not to do it for them!). Giving your child a break from reading assignments by reading to them, stopping videos to discuss what was presented, or merely sitting at the computer with your student, especially with younger kids or those who struggle with focus, can all be helpful ways to keep them engaged.
- Offer a reward system for a job well done. Likewise, intrinsic motivators can be a powerful tool. Help your student understand how what they are learning can help them make a difference in the world, increase their knowledge of a subject, or put them on a path to their future goals.
- Set up a learning center and decorate it with encouraging words and phrases. Just be sure not to add anything that will divert their attention or make it difficult to stay on task.
- Making learning social as much as possible. There are some great opportunities for “class environments” even when homeschooling. Companies like Outschool are a great place to start.
- Add some hands-on learning and reading assignments to online classes, giving your kids an opportunity to continue learning offline. Cooking, crafts, field trips, and art projects are just a few ideas.
Although these are just a few suggestions, they are a great place to start. The world of online learning certainly comes with its fair share of learning curves, but it is nothing to be feared. Do what you have to do and make decisions based on your unique family. And never be concerned about changing things up to make the environment, assignments, or atmosphere better for your students.