A mother and son working on a laptop

in Education, Parenting

How Technology and Online Education are Making Homeschooling More Accessible

Technology is changing how we teach our students, but also where and when we teach our students.

As digital learning resources grow, so do the number of homeschooled students in America.

Who are these students who learn from home, and how can parents facilitate learning outside of the traditional classroom? To answer these questions, we need to take a deep dive into modern homeschooling and how the Internet is changing education.

Homeschooled Students Are Increasingly Diverse

What does the average homeschool student look like? While stereotypes persist of shy kids or parents with strong ideologies, the homeschool population is diverse — and growing. Emma Brown at the Washington Post reported exactly how fast homeschooling is growing in America:

  • In 2012, 1.77 million students were homeschooled, an 18 percent increase from 2007.
  • This group of 1.77 million students represents 3.4 percent of the entire K-12 student population.
  • 25 percent of parents say they homeschool their children to give them a safe school environment.
  • 19 percent of parents homeschool their children because of dissatisfaction with the education system.

While three percent of the population shouldn’t be overlooked, the number of actual homeschooled students is believed to be much higher. There are some states where parents don’t have to inform the government of their plans to homeschool their children, making it hard to calculate exactly how many students are actually homeschooled.

Homeschooling Isn’t Necessarily Religious

Homeschooling is often associated with religious education, but the percentage of parents who say religion is their main reason to homeschool continues to drop. While many homeschooling materials come from religious sources, there are plenty of secular materials available for homeschooling parents.

“Each family and child is different and went into homeschooling for different reasons,” Jaweed Kaleem writes at The Atlantic. “[Some] decide to homeschool because their kids have learning disabilities and weren’t performing well in public school — for them, finding a secular form of education isn’t a priority.”

The Homeschool Population is Increasingly Diverse

Along with becoming more secular, the homeschooled population is becoming more diverse. In another article for The Atlantic, Jessica Huseman explains that African American children are one of the fastest growing homeschool demographics.

Huseman found that many black families choose to homeschool their children not just to provide individualized attention, but also to prevent racial bullying and stereotyping from peers and teachers. One student, Marvell Robinson, was the only black student in both his kindergarten and first-grade classes. This, combined with his Asperger syndrome, made him the victim of bullying and a source of frustration to his teachers. His mom decided she could do a better job herself by using available homeschooling materials.

Homeschooling Supports All Learning Levels

While homeschooling certainly offers opportunities for students with learning disabilities and kids who might fall through the cracks in traditional public school, it’s also an outlet for overachievers who feel limited by their age and grade level.

“Compared to three decades ago, many more out-of-school academic resources are now available for gifted learners, which makes it easier than ever to access advanced learning opportunities,” Ingfei Chen writes at KQED. “Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) … has long offered self-paced, computer-based instruction through brief, pre-recorded multimedia lectures via web browser.”

Instead of trying to fit one student into a model meant for thousands, parents can adjust models to match their child’s individual needs and talents. All of this individualized attention pays off.

A mother and daughter working on a laptop

Technology Takes the Pressure Off of Parents

One of the main objections that parents raise about homeschooling is their own qualifications. If they didn’t do as well in school, will they be harming their children by trying to teach them?

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education recently broke down the demographics of the average homeschool family and found that parental education of homeschooled students lined up almost identically to parental education of all other students. In other words, the same parents in the carpool line at school are just as qualified to homeschool their children.

The numbers:

  • 14 percent of parents had a graduate or professional degree.
  • 25 percent of parents had a Bachelor’s degree.
  • 30 percent of parents had a vocational degree or some college experience.
  • 20 percent of parents had a high school diploma or GED.

What actually makes homeschooling more realistic today is technology, which lets parents tap into online resources when they reach subjects they’re unsure of. Students can also reach out to digital tutors for help when they get stuck.

In fact, many creators of education materials for homeschoolers know who is going to do most of the supervising and teaching. In the past few years, many new materials have been designed with the parents in mind, so they can follow along and understand what their kids are learning.

“You don’t need a credential to use these materials,” Kelly Bagdanov writes. “Most come with step by step instructions. … In addition, many homeschool parents, frustrated with what is out there in terms of curriculum, have written and marketed their own, and it is excellent.”

This has created an entire community of resources for parents who are new to the world of teaching.

Even if you’re comfortable in some subjects, turning to online education can help you fill in any gaps. STEAM classes and foreign language are two strong examples of that.

“Most homeschool families are comfortable with the core curriculum subjects and can dive right into choosing a program that fits their family; however, a second language is different because they don’t feel they can teach it if they don’t speak the language,” Theresa Bruns writes at Middlebury Interactive. This often leads parents to find tutors or hold off on foreign language enrollment until the child is older — losing precious brain development time.

However, there are resources for language learning, as well. Language exchange sites, for example, allow students to chat across the globe in multiple languages to put their skills to use. This means your child could be learning French with the help of a student her age living in Paris.

Two kids working on computers in class

Public Schools Are Teaming Up With Homeschool Families

Through the help of the Internet, public schools and homeschool families are able to work together to form mutually beneficial relationships.

According to Leo Doran at EdWeekTech, online students also count toward the district’s total enrollment numbers, which can help them secure funding. This has led some public school systems to offer free enrollment and courses as a way to lure parents of homeschoolers. The students receive a free online education while the schools receive more funding to offer better classes.

Some experts believe online schools are the education of the future. Virtual schools are available in 26 states, and 316,000 students are enrolled online across the U.S. Many of these schools are integrated — meaning the student learns online but goes to a classroom for testing or projects — though there are some completely digital options available. Suren Ramasubbu at the Huffington Post lays out some of the reasons schools are going to digital-only options:

  • Online learning places the class time and location in the learner’s hands.
  • Personal classes create a comfortable environment for introverts and autistic students.
  • Sharing and digital enrollment help overcome teacher shortages in America.
  • One-on-one classes enable customization based on the individual’s needs.
  • Technological advancement allows for the innovation of new learning tools.  

Online students learn the same content as traditional students, but the faster learners don’t get bogged down by waiting for their classmates to catch up, and other students can take their time on trickier subjects.

“Parents can skip lessons that children excel in, or they can slow the pace if children struggle,” Jenny Wise writes at Ask a Teacher. “Additionally, parents who need assistance in teaching a concept or supporting their children’s learning can email teachers and learn alternative teaching strategies to better meet their kids’ learning styles.” 

There are More Online Resources Than Ever

Many homeschool experts believe we’re just starting to see the beginning of the online education industry. As the digital world expands, so will resources for parents and students.

“It used to be you had to go to a special institution to get information about a subject, but we live in the technology age, and you can find anything you need on your phone,” Jeremy Stuart, creator of the documentary Class Dismissed, tells Wired.

“It’s no longer about how to access information; it’s about how to use the information, how to sift through it to determine how to apply it to your life.”

At this point, there isn’t much difference between working from home as an adult and homeschooling as an elementary school student. Heather Woodie at Blog She Wrote says that video conferencing is one of the best tools for her homeschooled students. Her kids can use Google Hangouts to listen to a lecture and then Skype with other students to collaborate on a group project. The teaching models are largely the same, even though the students and teachers aren’t in the same room.

Technology facilitates homeschool education in ways parents couldn’t dream of before the Internet. Instead of parents trying to remember everything they learned in math class 20 years ago, whole families can tap into lesson plans and online educational videos. Online learning also gives parents the flexibility to add field trips and excursions to facilitate a love of learning and exploration.

“The university in my town has a lot of programs open to the public that are specifically to encourage children’s interest in STEM fields,” Beth Buck writes at The Survival Mom. “Our local university had an engineering expo for middle and high school students this last spring. Many local schools brought their students on field trips, but as it was open to the public I went along with my elementary-aged kids and we had a fabulous time.”

Most teachers dream about connecting lesson plans to the real world, and online learning provides concrete opportunities for that.

A little girl drawing

Most Parents Combine Digital and Traditional Learning Methods

Homeschool parents can pair technology with traditional methods of learning to get the best of both worlds. In an article for The Home School Mom, Lawrence Williams, Ed.D. says many parents use a mixture of traditional learning methods and technology in homeschool education.

He identifies three primary examples of technology as an asset to students learning from home: communication with remote teachers, research outside of the library, and sharing with other students.

But while Internet connectivity could one day make the classroom obsolete, it will never be a complete replacement for a teacher. This means parent supervision, especially for younger students, is crucial to the online education process.

“There are heaps of misinformation, incorrect facts, and articles that are just plain fiction which can mislead your children and teach them improper information,” the team at SmartTutor writes.

“Bad technology does not exist in and of itself, but merely in the way that it is used. If you take the time to find reliable resources for your children, technology can be a great advantage for your homeschool curriculum.”

As you help your child navigate their education and find their passions, you might end up learning something, too!