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Alternatives to school: 10 reasons parents love online learning

When it comes to school or study, there are a number of benefits to online learning. Here's why parents rate it.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

teenager studying with laptop

Home learning was once a rarity but, since Covid-19, most young people have had some online learning experience, and many have found that they actually prefer this method of study.

Several online academies or schools are now looking to the future and offering students the opportunity to learn remotely.

If you feel that the larger classes of traditional colleges aren’t for you or your child or you’ve simply got on better with your studies from a home environment, this might be a way to get the qualifications offered by colleges, such as A-levels, without having to attend in person.

Here are just a few of the benefits that online learning offers.

1. Flexibility

One advantage of an online education is the flexibility it brings. While you do have to put in a certain amount of work, much like remote working there’s more choice about how and when you put in your hours.

If you work best first thing in the morning or late at night, you can choose to do some of your work then, rather than at the precise moment the lesson takes place.

It also means you can ‘pick and mix’ when it comes to where you study. You may decide you want to do one or two A-levels in a classroom face-to-face and do a couple more remotely.

What parents say

“My son has always been home-educated. He’s doing three GCSEs a year early at the moment. We’ve used an online course for one of them and I had to arrange the exam centre myself. The other two he’s doing through a local college.”

2. A greater range of options

Because students aren’t limited to the classes available at their local college, online learning can also be an opportunity to branch out and find courses they actually want to study.

Students can go at their own pace and make the most of a quieter learning environment with the knowledge that they have a teacher behind them to ensure they’re always achieving to the best of their ability. Extracurricular activities are usually also offered for a rounded education and to help students get to know their peers better.

What parents say

“Online A-Levels are bound to become more popular as the technology gets better. Covid just boosted what was happening anyway.”

3. The ability to learn at your own pace

One of the joys of online learning is being able to go at your own pace, working a bit faster and looking at a topic in more depth when you feel confident, and being able to spend a little more time on the things you find tricky.

At online schools, some of the learning is done by watching videos so you can stop and rewind in a way you can’t in a live lesson. And there are always tutors to ask individually if you need something explained in a different way.

What parents say

“Teaching is a very much debated issue and there are many different methods. But the fact is, for the past 12 or 13 years, Ofsted have wanted to see less teacher talk and more pupil activity – the idea is that the pupils should be working harder in the classroom than the teacher. Lecture-style live teaching goes against this and often less progress is made as a result. The idea of video lessons where pupils pause them to spend time on their activity at their own pace more mimics the Ofsted approach.”

4. The chance to broaden your social horizons

Some people are put off of a non-traditional learning environment because they worry about the lack of contact with classmates, but that’s all still there with an online course.

In fact, you have the opportunity to meet people from a much wider social circle than you might at a bricks and mortar college – people of different backgrounds and ages, and also people from locations across the country or even the globe.

Having a variety of people in classes with you brings with it lots of learning opportunities as well as the chance to develop the sort of social skills needed for the world of work.

What parents say

“There are independent schools that are fully online. They have opportunities to socialise online as well as real life (optional) meet-ups.”

5. A place to study in a low-pressure environment

School is brilliant for many young people, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s not for everyone.

If a student has had issues at school, whether social or academic, or has special educational needs and feels their style of learning isn’t really catered for, they may simply not get the best from a traditional classroom set-up. Their anxieties about school may also detract from their learning.

Online learning allows for a more low-pressure environment and can offer additional support not always provided in a typical classroom.

What parents say

“Normal school doesn't always work for all the children all the time. Some would be better with a break from it, while others would be better out of it long term. It would be good to have an effective alternative option for those children.”

teenager learning on computer

6. Enhanced IT skills

If there was one main benefit of the recent lockdowns and home learning, it’s the tech skills gained by children (and parents too!).

Pre-pandemic, who’d heard of Zoom or Microsoft Teams? Yet, using them – and crucially, using them effectively and to their advantage – is now second nature to most young people.

Far from being simply a sticking plaster that got us through a rocky time, the sort of tech skills they learned will stand them in great stead for the future. With so many industries now working more remotely and using online tools more than ever, having a solid grasp of these sorts of IT skills is a must.

What parents say

“You need tech skills for the world – unless you want to be doing one of a very small set of jobs and even then it is almost impossible not to use tech. And giving a child an intuitive understanding (not a fumbling level of ability) with tech is as necessary now as reading or writing.”

7. Less disruption to learning

Having lived through the school closures of the last year or so, we’re more grateful than ever for the technology we have available. While we sincerely hope we’ll never see times like that again, the advent of online learning could be beneficial in so many ways.

With it, we no longer have to lose days of education to an unexpected snowfall, bus strike or period of isolation. In an online academy, fewer days are missed across the school year and, if missing some classes is unavoidable, the flexibility of this way of learning means it’s so much easier to catch up again.

What parents say

“I think this would work well for a significant minority of young people – young people whose parents need to move for work frequently, who are getting medical treatment or just prefer it due to anxiety or ASD.”

8. A more comfortable learning environment

Let’s not pretend. There are many great things about school, but plastic chairs and mass catering isn’t one of them. It might seem like a small thing but, actually, learning in an environment that feels comfortable and pleasurable to be in makes an enormous difference to productivity.

If you have a well-organised space in which to work, plenty of fresh air and an ambient temperature then you’re simply going to get a lot more done.

Lots of young people find that they work better with fewer distractions too. Being able to play some Mozart through your headphones and get stuck into learning can be much more pleasant than struggling to put two thoughts together over the hubbub of a class of 30 other students.

What parents say

“Three of my children are unusually distractible (ADHD, dyspraxia and sensory processing disorder run in our family) so reducing distractions is what I've ended up focusing on.”

9. The chance to gain skills for university and the world of work

An online education is excellent preparation for skills you will need later in life. Many first year university students struggle with being completely independent in their learning, researching topics for themselves and being responsible for getting their work handed in on time (often online) rather than being asked for it.

University life is infinitely more similar to online education than to a traditional school where you are more spoon-fed in those regards. And even if university is not your plan at 18, the kinds of skills you’ll learn from an online education – self-starting, resilience, focus – are all skills highly valued by employers and supremely useful in the big wide working world.

What parents say

“The biggest thing for me is making sure they learn to be self-sufficient when it comes to study. Often schools/parents can hand hold too much but, once you’re at university, you are on your own!”

10. All the benefits of a classroom education

Finally, it must be remembered that, by choosing an online education, you aren’t saying no to all the benefits of classroom learning. You’ll still have peers to learn alongside, the one-to-one attention of a teacher as and when needed, feedback on your work, and the chance to take part in extracurricular activities alongside your online classmates.

What parents say

“I think this is a brilliant idea and I hope that it will indeed become part of a way of learning and teaching in the future. It doesn't have to be all or nothing – a combination of online learning with some face-to-face or group learning would be great in my opinion.”