With more school systems opting for distance learning, experts weigh in

As more school systems shift to a virtual start to the school year, many parents are asking if online learning can be as good as in-person instruction. The answer is not so clear.

Christine Greenhow, associate professor of educational technology at Michigan State University, points to evidence that supports online learning.

“We have meta-analyses that suggest…that online learning, if well-designed, can be as effective in terms of student outcomes as in-person learning,” she said. “But the well-designed part is really key.”

That would involve frequent interactions between teachers and students, which was often not the case in the spring, she said.

Greenhow said distance learning can be most challenging for young children and those with limited tech resources, among others, but it can also help some students by allowing them to go at their own pace.

“Can online learning be better for some students? Absolutely. Can it be worse? Absolutely,” she said.

Natalie B. Milman, professor of educational technology at George Washington University, said not enough is known yet about the impact of distance learning on younger kids.

“There’s been very little research on young children learning online,” she said, while adding that the general consensus is that in-person learning is best for young children.

Milman said it’s not that distance learning is bad: “It’s just not the best for all learners at all ages,” she said.

Sabrina Wesley-Nero, associate professor of teaching at Georgetown University, believes high quality in-person learning is generally more effective, because in-person learning “helps us maintain a whole child focus in a way that’s just a little bit more challenging with distance learning,” she said.

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John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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