Classroom Learning or Online Course: What is best for your teen?

As technology continues to influence and change our way of living, parents are now faced with the consideration of allowing their teenagers to prepare for or begin college through online courses for credit. During the past five years or so, a great deal of development in this area has been taking place, all with the backing of the U.S. Department of Education.

There are, however, a number of pros and cons when it comes to this modern method of study, and launching young adults out into the world is a heavy responsibility. Most parents want to get through the process with no regrets, so it is wise to take the time to determine if online classes would actually be a good fit for your teenager.


Let’s face it: not all kids and family situations are alike. What works well for some may spell disaster for others. With the growing number of options available in educating our children, this should certainly be considered from more than one perspective. Whether you’ve sent your son or daughter through public or private school, or even educated them at home, the subject of entry-level online college courses is very likely to come up at some point before or after high school graduation.

Considering all the angles when it comes to online education may mean doing some personal research and evaluation. Web-based education has some fantastic benefits, but there are additionally some serious drawbacks. Allowing a teen to stay home in front of a computer for extended periods of time could possibly have health or psychological disadvantages. Parents needs to assess things such as the physical condition and mental health of their children. Some parents may also wonder if they actually want to encourage more screen time in a lifestyle already loaded with digital activity.

On the flipside, there are cases where studying online may be a hindrance to teens with more outgoing personalities, leading to a sense of isolation, or at minimum feeling somewhat separated from other people. Those are the students that truly need to have face-to-face interaction with others and will learn better in that environment.

Another big consideration ought to be the student’s learning and communication style. Teens whose learning styles lean more toward the auditory than visual or who are more kinetic learners may do better in the usual face-to-face classroom setting than sitting in front of a laptop screen loaded heavily with text. If this seems like a big mystery, it may be sensible and wise to consult a professional for some input or learning style testing just to be sure. Some community colleges even offer this sort of help in their student services departments.

It isn’t uncommon for older teenagers to take a gap year before starting a rigorous academic program, and in fact it’s becoming something of a trend. While some use the gap year for travel and a complete break from school, others may combine a few courses of study with travel opportunities. Still other students simply need a time to gear up gradually, or do some soul-searching and exploration of ideas before making the big break from home. Online courses may fit in well with any of these situations. Students might find that studying via the Internet before leaving home is a safe way to make decisions while still living under their parents’ roof. This can also be a time to test the waters, get a better feel for the responsibilities of college, and the demands and workload involved with being a more advanced, full-time student.

Some high school students engage in programs that allow for dual credit. This option not only provides credit toward high school graduation, but gives students a head start in college. If saving money is a big issue for parents and their kids, encouraging an early start with online courses could save thousands of dollars. Programs are popping up both on the Internet and through local community and state colleges, and there will be more in time. So whether high school students go for dual credit or want to have a gentle start to their college careers, big savings can be realized through taking courses online.

Taking advantage of online college courses is a viable option for many families, but it is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea. Parents should definitely weigh it all out before allowing or encouraging their teens to sign up for this route. One way or another, online college courses are here to stay as we move more and more into an electronic society.

Special contributor:  Lindsey Wright

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