Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gifted Students and Web-Based Education

Guest post by Lindsey Wright

School is meant to provide a nurturing learning environment for kids of all ages. Yet all too often, the traditional school model leaves gifted kids feeling bored, restless or trapped. Unable to work beyond the pace of their classes or take courses that meet their skill levels, it's easy for these kids and their parents to feel like they have no recourse when it comes to education. Luckily the growing number of online educational resources can give gifted students a way to expand their horizons and learn beyond what's offered in the classroom.

The Benefits of Online Learning

Online learning has many advantages over the traditional school setting, especially for gifted kids. One of the most important is pacing. When learning online, kids can do the work on their own time and don't have to work on the same part of an assignment at the same time as their classmates. Additionally, since course materials are available any time students are logged on, there is flexibility in when the work can be done. This aspect also fosters a greater sense of responsibility since kids are required to take the initiative when it comes to getting work done.

Course availability is another positive aspect of online learning. Brick-and-mortar institutions can only offer so many courses at each grade level. For some gifted students, even advanced placement (AP) classes aren't enough. Being able to turn to an online school allows these students to reach beyond the classroom and participate in classes that they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to take.

Online class sizes may also be smaller than those held in traditional classrooms. A lower student-to-teacher ratio means more individualized attention and more potential for positive interaction between the students themselves. When kids are taking a class voluntarily in a subject they enjoy, boredom becomes a thing of the past and ideas can be exchanged freely.

Online Classes

Since online learning requires a measure of self-discipline, some students may fare best taking classes in a structured environment. Programs like the Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) and Virtual High School (VHS) offer classes headed by trained instructors and include virtual classrooms or discussion boards through which teacher and student interaction may take place. Assignments are given with clear deadlines, but students have the freedom to log on at any time of day or night to complete the coursework. Some classes include digital lectures to further enhance the learning experience.

These types of courses give gifted students a measure of flexibility and independence without completely removing the school structure. Likewise, as there is no restriction on when the work can be done, online classes can be pursued in tandem with traditional schooling. Kids who feel that they're not being challenged enough during the school day can add courses to expand their academic reach and give themselves something else to work on. As long as a gifted student has the time to devote, online classes are a positive solution to the problem of being dissatisfied or bored with school.

Unstructured Learning

An open-ended curriculum benefits kids who are self-motivated and desire a further measure of freedom in their education. While this format may require more participation on the part of parents or teachers, it can be worth it for gifted students who feel that their current school doesn't provide classes that delve deep enough into the subject matter that they find interesting. By working together parents and educators can create extra projects for kids to work on in subjects they enjoy. With the Internet as a guide and a myriad of informative websites for resources, there is really no limit to the amount or type of extracurricular learning that can be done.

Using computers and the Internet also aids developing skills that are necessary in today's technology-focused world. Gifted kids who like computers may benefit from spending time working with adults who know and understand subjects like website building, blog publishing, and troubleshooting both software and hardware. Learning these skills can give students a head start when they begin college or go out into the world. A solid grasp of technology offers an edge that students in traditional schools may not be getting.

Supplemental Education

Both structured online classes and the use of Internet resources to further education should be considered supplemental to traditional schoolwork. The foundations set by a basic school curriculum are essential for all students to be able to excel as they continue learning. On the other hand, a brick-and-mortar school shouldn't be looked at as the be-all and end-all for education. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that needs to be nurtured as kids grow, and gifted students require extra challenge to feel fulfilled in their learning experiences.

Therefore, gifted students who need something to focus on over and above what they're learning in school can benefit greatly from online education. Whether through structured courses or independent projects, it's possible to expand kids' horizons well beyond the traditional classroom. Best of all, the skills and knowledge gained through this supplemental learning will serve students well as they progress through primary and secondary school, and eventually move out into the world.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

The Centre for Talent Youth, Ireland offers correspondence courses for:
Update: "Aimed at parents who are home-educating their 11-16 year old children, expats who want their offspring to have a UK education when overseas, and those who favour flexible learning, The Web School ( ) is opening its virtual doors for the academic term starting on 5, September 2011." 

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