Is Online Education Worth the Frustration?

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Like many parents across the country, the first few weeks of my three kids’ return to school this fall was completely virtual. I’ll be honest. It was rough.

The early days of their online schooling were filled with technical difficulties, confusion about which assignments to do, and either too much (or, more often, far too little) schoolwork. The extreme frustration of learning a new education system didn’t exactly bring out the best in me. I may have cried—and yelled—a lot.

Perhaps you’re in the same boat. Whether online schooling was your choice or was chosen for you by your state or local authorities, maybe you’re facing a mountain of aggravation—and not much satisfaction—with this particular educational option. You may be wondering if the grass is greener with another form of schooling.

Only you can decide if remote learning is the best choice for your child (and your family as a whole). Here are some things to consider as you weigh your options.

The Benefits of Online School 

Even if you’re struggling with frustration, it can be helpful to remember that online school isn’t all bad.

Right now, the biggest advantage for most families, of course, is that virtual school prevents your child from being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus by fellow students. For those who need to be especially careful about limiting exposure, this peace of mind can make the stresses of online education worthwhile.

In many cases, virtual education also provides enormous flexibility, allowing your child to spend as much or as little time on assignments as they need. Since many virtual sessions are recorded, your child can go back and review lessons as many times as necessary to cement tricky concepts.

Meanwhile, some online schools offer a specific educational focus, such as STEM or the arts. Now might be the right time to let your child enroll in a different type of school than they’ve experienced before.

Remember, too, that online schools are held accountable to the same state standards as regular schools. Just because your child isn’t attending school in person doesn’t mean they won’t meet important educational benchmarks. Some kids may even do better with online learning than a traditional classroom.

“I have students with language-based difficulty who are doing better with online instruction as we find ways for them to manage the language demands,” says learning specialist Dr. Rebecca Manis, PhD, founder of IvyPrep Learning Center. “Some of the students at my learning center who have social anxiety or who are high functioning with autism also are finding themselves less distracted by sensory overload or strong emotions.”

If you’re at home with your kids (and can look past feelings of frustration) you may also come to feel that additional time with your children is a unique gift. Through a mindfulness or gratitude practice, perhaps you can reset your focus on the blessing of quality time as a family.

The Drawbacks of Online School

Looking on the bright side is a valuable exercise, but there’s no denying that online school comes with difficult drawbacks.

Parents who don’t have the time or emotional wherewithal to be their child’s tutor may feel a mounting sense of frustration from having to assist with schoolwork. Others may find their child is tasked with too much work, making for a busier, more stressful day.

Too few assignments, on the other hand, can leave parents scrambling to find activities to keep their children occupied. Technology issues, distractions at home, and tending to younger kids (as well as your own workload) all add to the mix of challenges.

You may also be concerned about how a lack of social interaction will affect your child’s education.

“So much learning and relationship-building happens through direct, informal interactions.” says Mannis. “Kids learn by doing—observing other kids’ models and trying out different ways of engaging.”

As high-quality as a virtual program may be, it can’t necessarily replicate the social benefits of in-person school. However, for a temporary stopgap, virtual connection is better than no connection.

“Online interaction is another form of social interaction, and we can do our best now to find online opportunities that provide for key aspects of engagement,” Mannis says.

How to Know When Online School Isn’t Working 

Everyone will encounter some frustrations with online school—but how do you know when this form of education truly isn’t sustainable for your family?

According to Mannis, red flags to watch out for include:

  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance
  • Significant behavior changes
  • Pulling back
  • Acting "shut down"

When these behaviors interfere with your child’s ability to learn (or overwhelmingly disrupt the peace in your home), it may be time to consider another option. 

Making the Best of Online School

When online school threatens to derail your mental equilibrium, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope. Letting your frustration simmer could lead to an outburst you'll regret. Take breaks, talk to a friend, and ask for help when you need it. 

Changing your mental script about online school—at least for this year—may also be a helpful perspective shift. Your child’s education might not be as academically rigorous as you’re used to right now—but maybe that’s OK.

“Every topic in the math textbook may not be covered in-depth, but we can always fill in those information gaps,” says Mannis. “The priorities for this year are building overarching learning skills that transfer across school subjects and content.”

Instead of textbook learning, perhaps your child will learn other important skills through online schooling that they wouldn’t have acquired otherwise.

A Word from Verywell

In spite of its headaches, an online education can be a good education, and is likely to get easier as time goes by.

On the other hand, if you’re finding its drawbacks too overwhelming, there’s no shame in sending your child to in-person school during COVID-19 either, if that's available to you. By weighing the pros and cons, you can make an informed choice about whether online school is worth the frustrations it may bring.

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