As a virtual educator, I’m often questioned about the validity of such an approach with students in kindergarten through 12th grade. “Can kids really learn online? How can you possibly tell if they are doing anything? Aren’t they just at home playing games all day long?” The answers are simple: Yes, Technology, and No.
On a recent flight home from Washington, D.C., I sat next to a gentleman who handles education and training for members of the United States Military… and guess how they do it? Virtually. The U.S. Military is an excellent example of the power of virtual education and blended learning programs. We are all familiar with the concept of boot camp, and it conjures up images of men and women doing hundreds of pushups and trudging through the mud while being barked orders from a gruff, drill instructor. While this is certainly an aspect of military training, we civilians may be unaware of the high-tech 21st century addition of online training programs and the gamification of real-world scenarios. What is the value of this online training? Why not just buy these cadets an Xbox or take them out for a game of laser tag? The answer is information. Military leaders and trainers get a wealth of information from watching new enlistments interact with their more traditional training programs and with their game simulations. They know who excels in certain areas, and who needs extra support in others. They can even pinpoint appropriate career paths thanks to powerful algorithms and a wealth of essential data.
Let’s face it, if we have technology that is smart enough to show us advertisements on Facebook for a product we’ve just viewed on Amazon, we certainly have technology smart enough to help us to really know our learners.
In the traditional classroom, I had to rely on more subjective methods to determine student needs. In the virtual classroom, I have tons of information at my fingertips. I can quickly and clearly see that all of my students seem to have mastered the concept of citizenship, while they are struggling with the function of the electoral college (By the way, who isn’t?). I don’t waste unnecessary time reviewing concepts they understand, and I can shift my focus to areas of weakness. On an individual basis, I can set up one-on-one or small group help sessions for learners who require extra support in certain areas and allow students who have already mastered the concept to keep moving forward in their curriculum. How awesome for every student along the spectrum. This is the power of technology and individualized learning!
As all industries, including our military, use virtual technology to assist in training, virtual learning continues to innovate and improve. The wealth of information available in online education has allowed me to be a highly effective educator and always put STUDENTS FIRST.