Distance Learning is Growing Option for Homeschooling Families

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When information floats around the ether ready to be accessed instantly with a single keyboard stroke or click of a computer mouse, in modern times it’s hard to imagine how parents in the past coped with providing a quality education for their children when they were separated from learning institutions by great geographical expanses.
Think of 19th century students in extremely rural areas that did not have a schoolhouse, or a child that lived perhaps in a lighthouse in a remote area separated from the mainland; or those who lived in foreign countries in the mid-20th century because their father was in the military or diplomatic corps.
Distance learning, also called distance education, was not originally developed to serve those children, but over the years it has evolved to complement homeschooling by providing students with educational materials and communication with an educator via ever-improving technology.
From Colleges to K-12
What used to be called correspondence courses started first to serve those seeking post-secondary education. Today, terms such as “online courses,” “virtual schools” and “D-Learning” are used to denote a mode of delivering education and instruction, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional setting such as a classroom. And while practiced by many universities in the United States and around the world, it is also a growing option for K-12 students whose parents prefer a homeschooling environment.
In the United States, the concept dates as far back as 1728 when shorthand was taught through weekly mailed lessons, and distance learning was utilized primarily for vocational and college courses for decades before becoming a method for teaching school-age children at home. Fast forward to 2008 when online learning programs were available in 44 of the United States at the K-12 level, according to “Distance Education: Where It Started and Where It Stands for Gifted Children and Their Educators” by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius and Susan Corwith. 
In 2008, the Heritage Foundation cited numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics to show how distance education has had a positive impact on the growth of homeschooling. According to the Department of Education, 36 percent of public school districts in 2002-2003 had students enrolled in distance education courses. In all, 9 percent of public schools nationwide offered distance education courses. Schools in rural communities were more likely to offer distance education: 15 percent as of 2002-2003.
The website English Grammar Online 4U estimates that there are 700,000 students (grades kindergarten through 12th) in the United States using distance learning options to complete their education. “And that number continues to grow as parents become more aware of these innovative, online offerings,” the website states.
An Option for Everyone
Proponents of distance learning say it levels the playing field, providing equal access regardless of socioeconomic status or income, area of residence, gender, race, age, or cost per student. It can be especially advantageous to students who are unable to attend a traditional school setting due to disability, illness such as decreased mobility and immune system suppression, or behavioral problems.
While distance learning could also be a temporary choice for parents whose children are separated from a traditional classroom due to travel, relocation or a number of other circumstances, it might also become a parental choice for the same reasons that many people choose to homeschool their children: It can offer more curriculum choices and resources than what might be available locally; it appeals to those who are dissatisfied with public schools and believe reform is needed; some feel it could better prepare their children with 21st century workforce skills. Still others seek a safer environment for their children or want a faith-based education for them.
Among the benefits of distance education for school-age children are increases in enrollment or time in school as education programs reach underserved regions, and increases in student-teacher communication.
Critics of the concept, however, say its effectiveness can be undermined by such things as domestic distractions, inadequate technology, insufficient contact with instructors and prohibitive program costs, among other disadvantages.
Calvert Virtual Schools, A Beka Academy, K12 online public school, Laurel Springs and Alpha Omega Academy are just a few of the distance learning programs in the United States and they offer a variety of pedagogies. For example, some might be preferred by parents who want a Christian-based curriculum for their children, while others might be suitable specifically for children who want to devote more time to athletic goals, like competitive skating or gymnastics.
In our interest of keeping parents apprised of all homeschooling alternatives, Magellan Montessori considers its program to be a viable alternative to a structured distance learning program.
“Distance learning schools provide structure, transcripts, and offer ‘legitimacy,’ says Magellan Montessori founder Suzanne Rouaix. “This may be really attractive to some people. The Magellan Montessori homeschooling guide was originally designed as an alternative to distance learning schools.”
Magellan Montessori Alternative
With its own curriculum, the Magellan Montessori guidebook may offer parents some of the same things as distance learning programs for children ages 6-9, and it is tailored specifically to those interested in homeschooling by the Montessori method.
As we continue to explore some of the similarities and differences in future posts, parents might refer to a very good primer for distance education by downloading a 39-page report, “The Effects of Distance Education on K–12 Student Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis” from Academia.edu.
Meanwhile, experts agree that the growth in distance learning will continue at an explosive pace as technology advances and more parents seek better methods of homeschooling.
Written by Brian Bixler
Brian Bixler has worked for nearly 30 years as a journalist, editor, critic and public relations professional, writing articles on various topics including arts education and special features on general education. He is currently a freelance writing and public relations consultant for a variety of clients, including Magellan Montessori LLC.


This article was originally published on August 14, 2013.