Homeschool vs. Online School: What’s the Difference?
When researching options for their children’s education, many parents confuse virtual school with homeschooling. It’s understandable, because both methods involve learning from the comfort and safety of home. Parents can be closely involved in their student’s learning with either approach, too. However, there are key differences that can make an online public school or an online private school an excellent choice for many families.
Real, live teachers who value parent involvement
With homeschooling, the parent serves as the child’s teacher for all subjects. He or she plans all of the lessons, assignments, and tests. To monitor the student’s comprehension, the parent must also grade all student work.
At a Connections Academy®–supported online public school or International Connections Academy online private school, students work with certified teachers who are specially trained to engage students in online learning. They develop a personalized learning plan for each student. Online school teachers periodically meet with students for real-time instruction in the virtual classroom. They also grade student assignments, evaluate comprehension, and provide ongoing feedback to students by telephone and email. These caring, experienced teachers are available to parents and to students to answer questions, and they may give extra one-on-one help when needed.
Parents do not act as teachers, but they do have the opportunity to serve as a Learning Coach. Although every family does this a little bit differently, many Learning Coaches choose to help keep kids on track by structuring the daily schedule, by monitoring schoolwork completion, and by providing reminders, encouragement, and motivation when needed.
Virtual school makes it easy for parents to know exactly what their child is learning, because they have easy access to the curriculum and assignments through the school’s online system. This enables them to tie school learning to real-life situations and to discuss topics in terms of the family’s values and beliefs. Parents can also check the online grade book to keep tabs on their student’s progress.
In middle and high school, online students have multiple teachers who are subject-matter experts. Connections Academy families tell us this is particularly helpful for math, science, and world language courses.
A professionally developed curriculum
Home school parents often research and develop their own curriculum. Searching for and buying the books and materials for all of a student’s subjects can be very time-consuming—and expensive. Other homeschoolers purchase an existing curriculum but must still map out a learning schedule and prepare lesson plans for the year. The demands of these responsibilities, plus anxiety about whether their children are learning everything they will need for college, are common reasons cited by homeschool families who have switched to virtual school.
Families who select an online public school do not pay for tuition, texts, learning materials, or the professionally planned curriculum; these are provided free of charge by the school district, state education board, or other authorizing organization. Most of these organizations do require students to participate in standardized testing. For an online private school, parents pay tuition that includes curriculum and learning materials, and standardized testing is not required.
At a high-quality online school, students learn using a comprehensive curriculum planned by experienced education professionals and subject-matter experts. These educators develop objectives for the knowledge and skills students need to learn. Next, they select appropriate texts, resources, and learning materials, and then create lessons and meaningful practice activities designed to help students master each objective. Lessons may also include multimedia presentations and interactive learning tools.
Students who attend Connections Academy or International Connections Academy also have a wide selection of courses, including electives for all grade levels. Choices such as music, art history, career exploration, computer programming, marine biology, and six world languages round out the curriculum. Honors, Advanced Placement, and gifted and talented course are available to deepen or accelerate learning for students working above grade level.
Like a home school parent, the parent of an online school student has the opportunity to layer socialization opportunities into a child’s schedule in a variety of ways. This is important for developing your child’s self-confidence, as well as his or her communication and leadership skills. Some families accomplish this through sports, scouting, 4-H, volunteering, or faith-based activities. Others participate in homeschooling meet-up groups. You can customize your socialization plan according to your child’s interests and be present to guide the interaction.
Online school students do have some time to interact and collaborate with other students during their virtual classroom sessions. Online clubs and activities are a great way for kids to connect with others who share their interests. There may also be field trips, celebrations, or other school events available.
Flexible scheduling within limits
Homeschool families have the highest degree of freedom with the ability schedule their learning and activities whenever and wherever they prefer. With online public school, attendance is based on a typical school calendar, and it’s important to stay on track for completing courses on time. Some virtual classroom sessions will be scheduled at fixed times, particularly in middle and high school. Former homeschoolers may take some time to adapt to these unfamiliar deadlines or routines, but most feel that it’s a reasonable trade-off considering the other benefits they gain.
Families who are accustomed to traditional public school find that virtual school offers a surprising amount of scheduling flexibility. Students appreciate that lessons can be completed at any time of day, and from any location that has an Internet connection. Night owls can sleep in; early birds can begin as soon as they awake! Students can begin with their favorite subject or save it for last. They can also study each subject daily or have a different schedule every day. More importantly, students can speed up the pace for lessons that are easily understood, and slow down for topics that require more study to master.
Students use this scheduling flexibility in order to pursue personal interests, such as horseback riding or music lessons. The learning day can be scheduled around ballet rehearsals, soccer practice, part-time jobs, and community involvement. For this reason, virtual school students include elite athletes, concert musicians, professional actors, and world travelers! Virtual school allows kids to keep up with their education while also achieving their dreams.
Graduation and beyond
While many home schooled students do go on to achieve great things, it’s important to note that they may be required to take the GED exam to earn a credential recognized in higher education or by the workforce. Students graduating from a high-quality virtual school can earn an official high school diploma without this extra step. They also have the opportunity to receive it at an in-person graduation ceremony, wearing a cap and gown with all the pomp and circumstance.
Although many colleges and universities welcome both virtual school graduates and homeschoolers, enrolled online students gain the advantage of having licensed school counselors who can coach and support them during the application and financial aid process. An established online school should also have a track record of college acceptances.
In education, results can be defined in many ways, but perhaps the strongest measure of success is a graduate who is well prepared for college, career, and life. Regardless of which approach to in-home education your family selects, we hope you will choose to get involved—and stay involved—in guiding your child toward a bright future filled with promise!
What do you see as the advantages of educating your children at home? Share your thoughts in the comments.