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[Talking Ed] Virtual Learning for Elementary Students: Does It Really Work?

[Talking Ed] Virtual Learning for Elementary Students: Does It Really Work?

Whenever someone pictures individualized, completely online instruction, they typically picture an older student working alone at a computer at home. But, can elementary students benefit from this type of instruction too? In this episode of our Talking Ed series, Kate Weber, product manager at Edmentum, will discuss what type of elementary students would benefit from virtual learning and what its benefits are.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Kate Weber, product manager with Edmentum, and this is Talking Ed. Today, we're going to talk about virtual learning for elementary school students and does it really work? As technology has advanced and as our own cultural norms have shifted, we've learned to fully embrace remote work. Many of today's office workers don't report to an office at all, and yet, when we think about virtual learning for our youngest learners, we have a hard time conceptualizing—well, what does that look like? What does it mean for a kid not to go into a physical school building? But, technology and cultural norms are shifting to embrace this, and I want to talk about how today.

Virtual Learning Is NOT Just a Kid and a Computer

The first thing is that many of us grew up in a really analog world. We went to school—that's all we know. We never had a virtual class, so we are our own worst enemies. It's really hard for us to conceptualize virtual education for an elementary learner that isn't some boring dystopia of a kid locked in a room in the dark with a computer all day long. And if you looked into virtual schools today—and many of those schools will open their doors (their virtual doors) to parents and other adults to peek behind the curtain and see what's happening—you'll see a thriving community with synchronous sessions, with more time to do what kids want and to experience learning without the conformity aspects of a usual school: waiting for lunch, standing in line, raising your hand to go to the bathroom. So, in a sense, virtual learning can give our youngest learners a more pure educational experience.

They can focus on education when and how they need it and not focus on all of those extrinsic parts of school that's about conformity. Can you sit quietly with your hand in your lap? Because, let's face it, some of our kids are really bad at those things, but that has nothing to do with how smart or how capable they are as learners.

Great Fit for Some—But Not All—Students

And this moves into—we've really got to understand a kid. Not all students are going to be a right fit for the virtual model. It really depends on a number of factors. The most important being: can a loving adult be home with that child in order to facilitate the virtual model. Because you can't just leave them alone all day with a computer. CPS will get called. You have to have the relationship with a child that allows an adult to be there and that the child will listen to.

I have one child who will listen to everything I say and one who has to test it every single time. And with that case, a teacher is a perfect partner for you because they can reiterate and reinforce what you are saying at home. And other kids, they'll just take to it naturally. Some kids do need more structure, and they thrive with the hustle and bustle of school, and some don't. So, you really have to understand your particular student to make the call about whether a virtual model is right for them.

There's one important caveat here, which is: if it's not right for them, it may not be right, right now. Things change, and going into a virtual model—trying it out, seeing if it works—is not a lifelong commitment. You don't cross over and then never come back. The doors are always open on both ends. What works for you now may not be what works next year, may not be what works the year after that. You have to find a way forward with these students as you go because there are so many benefits to virtual learning that are worth exploring.

Benefits of Virtual Learning

Some students just don't like everything about school that isn't about learning. They don't want to have to deal with fire drills or safety drills. It increases their anxiety. They may not be able to behave all day—to sit still all day. We ask five- and six-year-olds to be still and be quiet and listen for seven to eight hours every day, and sometimes, that's just not developmentally appropriate. So, virtual learning can give the space that these kids need to grow up unstressed and happy. It can give them unstructured time to just be a kid or to focus on the activities that they love and that they're deeply involved with.

It can also be a place where students build meaningful relationships with the adults. In a virtual model, students are still building relationships with teachers, and oftentimes, they have multiple teachers—teachers who specialize in each of the content areas interacting with them. So, there's more opportunity for a student to grow and learn from multiple adults in their lives, and it's easier to get targeted help within the virtual learning model. The data is there—teachers can see almost instantaneously what a student is doing. They're not waiting until the weekend to grade and to look at a student's work to figure out whether or not there's a problem. It's happening every moment or, most moments, because teachers are not miraculous, all-night, sleepless machines. But, for all of these reasons, it's worth looking at virtual models for your elementary learners, and we are here to help.

Thank you again for tuning in, and I hope you have a nice one.

Interested in more episodes of our Talking Ed series? Check out our full episode list on the blog!'s picture
McKenna Wierman

McKenna Wierman studied Journalism at the University of Mississippi, and has worked with Edmentum since June 2016. She currently serves as a Digital Marketing Specialist, and believes that empowered teachers are the key to successful students.