What students really think about learning online

Online German teacher Susan Lafky reveals what her students say about web-based instruction

students-learning-onlineAfter recently posting two pieces about being an online teacher on the Middlebury Interactive Languages’ blog, I realized something was missing from the conversation: the voice of the students actually taking the digital classes.

So I polled my German language students, asking one simple question: “What do you like most about learning German online?” Participation was completely voluntary, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of students who took the time to respond.

When reviewing the students’ comments, some clear themes emerged. One of the bigger themes was how much the students value self-paced learning. I have found that with many students, a self-paced structure actually enhances independence, responsibility, and confidence.

If you miss a day you can easily get caught up, and you can work ahead.

I can take my time and not be in a huge rush to finish classes and forget everything I’ve learned.

Doing online schooling has allowed me to work at my own pace, be it faster or slower than everyone else.

Being able to watch (recordings of) classes if you miss them.

To choose at what time of day you do your work.

The fact that it allows you to spend more time on one project more than another if need be.

It helps build quality skills like responsibility and organization.

(Next page: More student feedback—including some of the key challenges they face in school)

That’s not to say online students are left to fend for themselves. Like most online teachers, I am in constant communication with my students—well beyond the parameters of a typical school day.

Things are explained to me in an easy way that I can understand.

I feel that my teachers are willing to help me on things when I am stuck.

I like that I can get help at any time.

I personally like your understanding attitude about stuff the most.

I had to sneak that last one in there. Teachers don’t often get nice compliments from students, so this made my week!

Technology has made individualized learning possible and can reach students who have struggled in a traditional classroom. As I saw during three decades as a teacher at a traditional school, many students fail to thrive not owing to lack of effort but because of external challenges, including social, medical, and economic ones. Some of these comments are raw and honest and unfortunately reflect the very real problems of peer pressure and social status prevalent in many schools.

Due to my health and other obligations, I like being able to do different amounts every day. Some days I can get an entire week’s worth of lessons finished, while some days I might not be able to do anything. I like the flexibility and ability to work at my own pace when I need it.

You can have a job and get money at the same time as doing this online.

I like not worrying about what I look like.

The fact that you don’t have a lot of annoying people in the same room as you. That usually made learning in a public school hard. 

No bullying.

Digital learning also levels the playing field among schools, allowing students to get access to courses they would otherwise not find a classroom.

I also like taking different foreign languages than public schools, such as German.

With this generation of digital natives, doing schoolwork on the computer (or tablet or smart phone) comes naturally. As a result, students find the course materials more fun and approachable. A familiarity with digital learning also provides the building blocks for future success.

I like the interactive exercises in German, particularly the speaking and pronunciation portions that would be difficult to do otherwise.

The lessons are sometimes fun to complete. They keep me interested in the course, because they often teach me something that I never knew or they build on the knowledge that I already had on a subject.

I like it because it is a new way of learning and this skill may carry on to college. 

And because my students are teenagers, some of the comments are sassy…

Being able to do school in your PJs certainly makes it enjoyable.

No gum chewing rules! lol

…some are sweet…

What is best is spending more time with family.

…and some show that digital learning is really working.

I can read a different language and speak it.

Susan Lafky, Middlebury Interactive Languages’ lead German teacher, has been teaching world languages for parts of four decades, mostly in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. 

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