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Education | 5 Minutes

Online Education: The Wave of the Future?

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Online Education: The Wave of the Future?

We often  hear that because something is the “wave of the future” we should jump on board  and go with it. This new thing must be good if it is the wave of the future.  Certainly this phrase is being used regarding online education, but it behooves  us to examine  the nature of this “wave,” for there is no shortage of proponents and critics  when it comes to using the Internet for educational purposes.

The face of  education is changing rapidly due in large part to the Internet. A student can  now obtain a portion of or an entire college degree over the Internet. It is  estimated that more than 1 million K–12 students are taking courses online,  nearly a 50% increase from only two years ago. This number is expected to  increase significantly in the upcoming years. The time will soon come when the student  who completes his education without taking any courses online will be a rare  exception. Let us consider some of the philosophical and practical issues  involved.

No one would  argue with the benefits of having live, face-to-face interaction in the  educational process. But is all face-to-face instruction better than all  non-face-to-face instruction? Which is to be preferred, mediocre or average  instruction face-to-face or expert instruction online? This is not to suggest  that all online instruction is expert or that all traditional education is  mediocre, but it is an important question. The question does force one to deal  with the issue of whether or not we believe that one method is superior to the  other . . . in all cases. I would much prefer to be taught online by an expert  on any given topic as opposed to being taught face-to-face by someone who is an  average or poor teacher.

The argument  has been made, however, that education must take place within the context of community  and this community can only exist in the form of a brick and mortar school.  Community is certainly a vital aspect of Christian fellowship, but the question  arises as to whether the school is truly the center of community life. For the  Christian, is the school truly the primary hub of community?  The school can be a community, but is it the community?   The church, of course, is the center of community life for the believer.  Fellowship revolves around interaction with brothers and sisters of the church  family. Otherwise, where   does that leave the home school crowd, the  elderly, singles, and couples without children? If the brick and mortar school  is the hub of community and fellowship these folks are obviously left out.

Furthermore,  this argument assumes there is no community aspect to online education.  Certainly, the community of an online school is not the same as that of a  traditional school. This does not mean that there is no community. I have seen friendships  develop and grow in this environment.  I  have observed interaction among students, parents, and teachers that has been  mutually edifying.  But don’t  misunderstand. The “virtual world” should not replace the real world. My point  here is that it is wrong to assume that there is no community aspect among  students who are a part of an online school.

I have  observed two distinct beneficiaries of online education. First, families who  are committed to educating their children at home have the option of getting  some help in the areas in which they see themselves as less qualified. I have spoken  with countless families who are committed to classical Christian education and  live in areas where it is impossible to find a good Latin teacher, or find any  Latin teacher, to help in this vital aspect of their child’s education. They  can certainly learn Latin and teach it to their children, and many do a fine  job of it. This becomes increasingly difficult, however, with multiple children  and many responsibilities to juggle.  These  families have the option of keeping their children at home and offering them  instruction by an expert in the field. The same is true of other subjects (Omnibus,  Biology, Calculus, etc.) depending upon the area in which the parent may have  weaknesses.  No one is an expert in  everything!

Other families  see the benefits of spending more one-on-one time with their children in the  earlier years (teaching them to read, etc.) and taking advantage of the online  courses for fourth grade and up or seventh grade and up. The online option  allows those who are philosophically committed to having more direct oversight  over their children’s education to maintain that relationship and at the same  time receive quality assistance.

The second  beneficiary of online education is the small Christian school. I have been  involved with several small Christian schools over the years, and I know that  limited budgets can mean that a teacher wears many hats. I have been everything  from a girl’s volleyball coach to a missions coordinator, and I have taught a  broad range of subjects, including Math, Bible, Spanish, and Rhetoric. The list  goes on and on. The truth is, I was not truly qualified to serve in some of  these roles. Small schools do what they have to do. A small Christian school  may not have the budget for a Calculus or Omnibus teacher. These schools now  have the option of maintaining their normal schedule and  joining in an online class with a qualified  instructor at a fixed time in the day. That seems like a great solution to me.

So, is  online education the “wave of the future?” It is likely that this is indeed the  case. Like most “new” things in the past, it will likely meet with skepticism.  Just as traditional education can be  excellent or quite poor, online education can be the same. However, understood  in the right philosophical context and applied in appropriate settings, online  education will continue to be what many families have told me it is: a  tremendous blessing.

By Bruce Etter

With over 20 years of experience teaching in Christian schools, Bruce Etter has developed an expertise in Omnibus curriculum. He is both a highly sought-after Omnibus instructor as well as contributor to all six volumes in the Omnibus textbook series. Currently serving as the Headmaster of Veritas Press Scholars Academy, Bruce earned his M.A. in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary and his B.A. in Bible from Columbia International University. He and his wife, Julie, are parents of five children, Isaac, Sarah, Zachary, Jack, and Micah.