Online Students Go to College
Elizabeth Bisel, Keystone National High School
Online high school education is rapidly expanding as parents and students realize online education is a great alternative for students who cannot attend a traditional school. Students attend online high schools for various reasons, including health issues, participation in professional athletics or acting, an unsafe environment or low academic standards in their local public school, and behavioral issues. As these students graduate from online high schools, many are choosing to attend traditional “brick and mortar” colleges and universities. Because of their experiences, these students bring many different characteristics to college.
One very important area to focus on is socialization. There is a common misconception that online students (therefore, homeschooled students) are lacking in socialization. This is not true, but their experiences are very different. Most online students did not attend prom, go to a graduation ceremony, or take part in senior activities. As college freshmen, attempting to make friends and find commonalities with others may be a challenge. Student affairs professionals need to understand that students from online schools may find it more difficult to develop a sense of belonging than the traditional student.
Students who have completed high school online have developed independent learning skills. Most online students have a level of autonomy that traditional students do not have. They like to work alone and have their own way of achieving their goals. They often have better time management and organizational skills and know how to self-monitor academic work. These students may become frustrated with their courses, because they have to move with the pace of the class rather than at their own pace. This challenge can manifest itself in one of two ways. Either the student is advanced in the subject area and wants to move faster than his/her classmates, therefore becoming bored and a potential behavior problem, or he/she does not have significant prior knowledge and needs to progress more slowly through the course.
Online students have not experienced the traditional school system, and as a result they do not have experience with the traditional avenues through which to seek help. In high school, these students would go directly to their parents or other family members when they needed help choosing courses, got stuck on an assignment, or had a health concern. They did not become familiar with guidance counselors or school nurses, and although they had teachers in their online courses, they often did not form great attachments because of lack of proximity. Students transitioning from an online high school experience will need assistance learning to navigate campus-based resources.
Student affairs professionals will start to see an increasing number of students who have not attended the traditional high school. The best course of action is to become educated about how online education works. These students will feel more comfortable with somebody who understands their background and experiences. A great resource is the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), www.inacol.org
. This organization’s website provides information about online learning, as well as specific characteristics of online learners. In addition, many online high schools have resources on their websites. These include K12 (www.k12.com
), Keystone National High School (www.keystonehighschool.com
), and Florida Virtual School (www.flvs.net
Online high school is the perfect answer for many students because of the flexibility that it allows and the issues it can resolve for students and families. Although these students come to college with positive characteristics, they also come with some challenges. They are often advanced in time management, organization, and self-motivation, but may lack skills associated with social integration, working with others, and approaching the right campus resource people for support. When working with this population, student affairs professionals should seek to demonstrate extra support as students transition to campus.
Elizabeth Bisel is a Learning Coach for Keystone National High School. She has a BS in Social Studies Education and an MSED in Education from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the staff at Keystone, Elizabeth worked in student affairs at Elmira College.