Virtual School Meanderings

November 13, 2013

Guest Blogger – Online Learning: Benefits vs. Areas for Growth

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Wanger and Adam Wisel. Lauren Wanger is a Rutgers graduate with a background in the social sciences, education and leadership. She has dedicated the last decade working in the educational field, and the last five years working as a virtual teacher, mentor and coach. Adam Wisel is a Rutgers graduate with a background in government, law, writing, and computer programing. He is currently working on researching the effects of virtual education on today’s students. As is the tradition at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry today.

e-learning-thumbIn 2009, members of Project Zero, a group that hails from The Harvard Graduate School of Education, stated that education would eventually be well supported lifelong, formal and informal for all and self-directed with support.  In addition, this environment would include peer learning, teachers as facilitators, and students as co-architects.  This type of education would be provided through a variety of media such as print, broadcasts, web 2.0 tools, and portable media, and would produce a global participant, thoughtful producer, consumer, and citizen (Weigel, James, and Gardner).

E-learning is a solution to some of the problems we find in traditional classroom settings, dictated by the wants of our students and the trends in technology.  There is a clear need for education to be rapidly delivered, better suited to meet the needs of today’s students, and less expensive for schools.  In addition, there is also the requisite for instruction that can be delivered in any place, at any time, with neither time constraints nor barriers. Learning environments should be interactive, individual and immersive (Gustafon, 2002).  Many e-learning programs and online schools offer this learning approach.

While the benefits of online learning are limitless, there are still many areas that pose a challenge and provide online schools with opportunities for growth.


1.    Release from being Prisoners of Time

A primary advantage of e-learning is that virtual programs allow students to learn on their own time and at their own pace.  This is a key difference between traditional and virtual learning programs.  Restrictive and set time blocks are not always conducive to learning for many students, as they lack flexibility that many 21st century learners desire.

Virtual learning programs release us from being “Prisoners of Time”. The Prisoners of Time report states that people learn at different rates, ways and with different subjects.  However, in traditional schools, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff are held captive to the clock and calendar.  Student growth is bound by schedules, buses, and vacations instead of standards for students and learning. (Report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994, 2004).

2.    Develops A Growth Mindset

Using positive and specific feedback when evaluating student work is a great advantage of virtual learning. In addition, many online programs encourage mastery of content, and students are permitted to resubmit their work based on teacher feedback.  Not only does this allow students to master content, but it also helps elevate their academic confidence.

Many online instructors are using feedback to develop a “Growth Mindset” with their students. This is based on a body of research by Stanford psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Her research supports the idea that people with “growth mindsets” believe they can learn, change, and develop needed skills. These students are better equipped to handle inevitable setbacks, and have the mindset that hard work can help them accomplish their goals (Dweck, 2006).

3.    Self-directedness

A third benefit of virtual learning environments is that it may lead to an increase of students’ self-directedness.  Self-directedness is a skill that can be developed, and that is highly useful and beneficial in fostering success as students enter adulthood.  Prior research states that self-directed learning is needed in order to succeed in an online learning setting. However, more recent research uncovers the reverse relationship. That is, self-directed learning increases with the number of virtual classes taken, and can be fostered in adolescents through online learning. Students who had completed online classes had higher self-directed learning readiness scores as determined by The Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (Wanger, 2011).

The issue of self-directedness is important because if we choose not to become self-directed learners we may find ourselves both obsolete and unemployed (Guglielmino and Guglielmino, 2003). Whereas, to contrast, those with high-levels of readiness for self-direction in learning, have been linked with high levels of performance in the workplace” (Guglielmino and Guglielmino, 2003).


1.    Fostering Communication Amongst Students

Communication among online learners has been an ongoing challenge for many virtual programs.  Collaborating with other students is essential as it is a 21st century skill that students must learn.  Online schools have been working to find a solution that increases student-to-student interaction.  Many online schools and universities have discussion groups where students can post their ideas and others may reply.  However, many students feel there is a lack of communication between peers as evidenced by the Voice of the Student Surveys.

Some online schools have implemented the use of collaboration projects as a part of their curriculum. In addition, teachers offer live, online lessons where students meet in a chat room to converse and collaborate.  While collaboration projects are mandatory, they only occur once a semester.  In addition, attendance for the live lessons is inconsistent among classrooms.  While some online instructors may have greater success facilitating communication among students, others still fall short in this area. Authentic communication among online learners is a topic that will continue to be addressed as we find solutions to expand opportunities for student-to-student communication that is meaningful.

2.    Developing Leader Programs

While professional development is plentiful in a virtual setting, some online schools do not offer a formal leadership internship that develops teachers who want to transition to an administrative or leadership position.

Many individual school districts offer leadership programs.  For example, the Broward County school district of Florida offers a program called Leadership Experiences and Administrative Development (LEAD). This program offers teachers who are interested in pursuing an administrative position a one-year long program where they create a portfolio linked to the leadership standards outlined by the state Department of Education.  In addition, they also work with principals and assistant principals to acquire hands-on experience.

It is important that online schools offer a similar leadership program that provides the necessary tools for teachers to advance to an online administrative position. This is especially important due to the many differences between leading in a brick and mortar school versus leading in an online setting.

3.    Internet access and the Issue of the Digital Divide

It appears relatively fundamental, but in order to succeed in an online learning environment, a student will need basic technical skills, access to the internet, and a working computer. We run into cases where students cannot complete their work because they do not have reliable internet access. Students can try to work in places where internet access is provided, but sometimes this can be quite challenging and act as a road block to student success.

The Digital Divide is still a current problem for especially for rural and poor Americans
( Many online schools were created to provide access to higher-level courses to underserved populations. It is these underserved populations that may have connectivity issues, and therefore this is still a very relevant challenge that must be addressed.


Dweck, C. (2006). The Mindset of a Champion. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from

Guglielmino, L. & Guglielmino, P. (2003). Becoming a more self-directed learner: why and how. Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.

Gustafson, K.L. (2002). The future of instructional design. In R.A. Reiser & J.V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (pp. 333-343). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Wanger-Hernandez, L. (2011). Uniting Online Learning and Self-Directed Learning – A New Relationship. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from

Weigel, M., James C., & Gardner, H. (2009). Learning: peering backward and looking forward into the digital era. International Journal of Learning and Media, 1(1), 1-18.

Again, this guest post is contributed by TLauren Wanger and Adam Wisel. . As is the tradition at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry today.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Guest Blogger – Online Learning: Benefits vs. Areas for Growth […]

    Pingback by Statistics for November 2013 | Virtual School Meanderings — December 3, 2013 @ 9:33 am | Reply

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