General Education

5 Ways the Internet Has Changed Homeschooling

5 Ways the Internet Has Changed Homeschooling
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Jennifer Miller April 24, 2018

Ever-adaptable, homeschooling allows educators to adopt the latest and greatest technologies into their evolving curricula. Find out how homeschooling is keeping up with the fast pace of technological development — and improving learning in the process.

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This year marks my family’s 16th year of homeschooling.

It’s amazing to me how much the movement has changed since I began with my one small daughter more than a decade and a half ago. It seems that every year the opportunities expand and the resources double.

When we started, there were a handful of big-name curriculum providers and a couple warehouse-style purveyors of a hodgepodge of extras. The concept of online education didn’t exist yet. We went to conventions to network with other homeschoolers, but on the whole, educational opportunities were limited to what families created within their own communities.

Oh, the difference a dozen years makes. Now we’ve got e-readers, tablets, apps, digital coursework, open-source curricula, online degree programs, and virtual schools —not to mention more e-books on our mobile devices than existed in my entire elementary school library.

Technology is constantly changing, and some would argue that traditional education isn’t adapting quickly enough to keep up with it. While the mismatch of pacing may be an obstacle for school-based learners, it’s a major advantage for home educators — and, of course, their students.

Here are just a few examples of the ways in which the Web can transform learning for families.

1. Rote memorization is out; games are in.

Flashcards and repetitive drills used to be hallmarks of early education — from spelling to math to grammar rules to foreign-language vocabulary — but now we play games. Children are learning in line at the grocery store, on airplanes, in the backseat of the minivan — and they’re having a great time doing it.

Education technology has added fun to early development, much of which used to be, frankly, tedious — a trait particularly ill-suited to young learners. Gamification in particular, even of mundane topics (like multiplication tables) has transformed the ways in which students and educators approach learning. Instead of having to coerce children to do their homework, they’re choosing to do it because they are entertained by it.

Mary Poppins said it best: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!"

2. Communities have expanded from physical space to cyberspace.

For better or worse, the Internet is redefining relationships and our understanding of community. Education is no exception. Most of the homeschoolers I know participate in online groups to coordinate events, teach classes, share resources, and socialize — both on the Web and in the real world.

When I travel with my family, I simply search online for a homeschool group near our destination. Instantly, my kids and I are plugged into sports, music lessons, art spaces, and new groups of friends. It’s not unusual on any given day for my children to give me updates around the breakfast table on the lives of friends spanning three or four continents.

Homeschooled kids from all over the globe collaborate and compete with each other in lots of ways, including via game groups, educational projects, and message boards dedicated to their interests. These things simply didn’t happen a decade ago.

3. Open-source coursework has democratized access to education.

MIT continues to be a pioneer in this arena, but many other schools and organizations are getting on board. They’re providing — at no cost and with no strings attached — their curricula for anyone to use. Other schools and providers offer full, videotaped lectures and other resources.

Coursera provides the opportunity to take online classes at the college level, while iTunes U{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } similarly offers a smorgasbord of à la carte learning opportunities.

Fifteen years ago, higher education was largely the domain of the privileged, available only to a select few. That game is changing, thanks in part to technological interventions.

By and large, homeschoolers are relentless devourers of these new options. A high school student can now cobble together a high-quality and completely unique set of electives — including dual-enrollment opportunities, among others — from the vast array of options available in the digital world.

4. Virtual classrooms have enabled location-independent learning.

I’ve often walked into a kid’s room to check on the day’s schooling progress and found her lying on the bed with a screen open showing a dozen faces in little windows: the virtual classroom.

Employed by independent educational initiatives, as well as e-campus classes through major universities, the valuable face-to-face interaction that has been traditionally missing in distance education is now present in digital classrooms.

My kids have taken art, Spanish, writing, and more in digital classroom environments. Students who finish up their academics ahead of the typical grade-aligned schedule can now carry on with university-level work, even when they’re too young to dive into the social environment of a university campus. And teachers can give lessons to and from anywhere on the planet.

The location-independent trend in business — professionals taking their jobs out of the office and into the world — similarly made its way into education. Students no longer need to be tied to a brick-and-mortar building in order to have a robust classroom experience. Homeschoolers and world-schoolers are already embracing this new reality.

5. Google has redefined how we learn.

Parents now have a useful answer to the relentless “why" questions kids ask (and ask and ask): “Google it!"

Asking Google has become a way for any child, almost anywhere, to possess knowledge instantly. Ten years ago, the inquiry process would have required trips to the library and a good deal of time-consuming research. We have the collective mind of humanity at our fingertips, and it is constantly changing what we know, how we learn it, and how (and whether) we remember it.

Interest-driven and project-based learning are increasingly accessible, and the ongoing expansion of the Internet means that every day there is more out there to learn — and new, innovative ways to learn it. Kids (and parents!) should be encouraged to ask Google as a starting point, and then to dig deeper. The easy access we now have to answers should inspire us to ask more and more questions — and to ask them with our children.

As parents and educators (not to mention perennial students ourselves), we ought to embrace technology and think hard about how to leverage it for the benefit of humanity. Whether you homeschool or not, chances are that your kids are learning online, even when it’s not “school time." That’s something to celebrate.

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