Online Learning: Where Do We Begin?

OC OnlineOnline Learning, The CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

Mother helping daughter with online learning.
Mother helps daughter with online learning.

If you are a school administrator, educator, or parent, you have likely been bombarded with information about online learning since the pandemic. There are so many programs that it feels tempting to ignore the subject altogether. However, with many Christian schools looking to meet the demands of college preparatory learning, we at OC Online wanted to share our perspective as a seasoned, Christian, college preparatory program with CACE readers.

OC Online is in their twelfth school year as a fully accredited, Christian online program assisting schools and families with college preparatory course offerings.  Since we have experience before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after the pandemic, we can help you navigate the plethora of online options available today.

This four-part series can help you determine whether to incorporate online learning into your educational profile and how. No two online programs are alike, so it helps to start by asking the right questions.

“No two online programs are alike, so it helps to start by asking the right questions.”

Let’s explore five important questions to ask if you are considering incorporating online courses into your student’s/students’ academic plan. We will respond to two questions in this post, and the other three in the next post.

1. How can I evaluate the quality of a program? 

Having a flashy website or featuring industry buzzwords doesn’t mean that the online educational experience will be complete or academically sound. It can be tempting to get caught up in the frenzy and go with whatever online presence has the best visual appeal.

However, looks can be deceiving.  Here are key things to help you determine an online program’s quality:

  • How old is the program, and how many students do they have? Ask how long the program has been around, how many students they serve, and whether the program is attached to a physical school or is 100% virtual. Having a physical campus means there are more resources and accreditation options that a virtual-only program won’t have. Finding out about growth, class size, and overall student population will help you know how robust the community is and how much individual attention your student will likely receive. Bigger isn’t necessarily better; look for data that suggests stability as well as the amount of personal contacts a student is likely to receive.
  • Where do the courses come from? Were they created in-house or bought from another provider? What is the time period for course development? Writing high quality, college-prep, academically challenging online courses that have interactive instruction and are designed for online delivery takes a tremendous amount of time and resources that many schools and online programs don’t have, so the courses are purchased from an outside provider. In such cases, the curriculum is not intentionally designed to meet the school’s mission, vision, and goals, but is instead a generic course intended to meet minimal content standards. Some courses are not courses as much as collection spaces for teachers to gather homework after long webinar class meetings. Ideally the courses at your online program of choice will have undergone years of research, development, revision, and other research-based strategies.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better; look for data that suggests stability as well as the amount of personal contacts a student is likely to receive.”

2. How is the program structured?

Program elements can vary from program to program and can impact the effectiveness of the program. The following structural questions should be asked to determine if the program is a good fit for your student(s) and if a supportive, welcoming, learning community is fostered.  

  • How much does the course or program cost? Price is one of the first questions people ask, but cheaper isn’t always better, and the most expensive isn’t always the best. Once you know the price of individual course enrollments and full-time, diploma-seeking tuition, dig a bit deeper to find out what is included in the cost and whether there may be discounts or scholarships available. Don’t immediately dismiss a program because of sticker shock. Often there are payment plans and other opportunities to reduce the overall cost.  
  • What is the primary method of instruction or content delivery? Creating well-written courses for students to work through independently and asynchronously is very time consuming and expensive. The cost may be high even if the amount of live instruction is minimal. Mode of instruction makes a significant difference to the overall learning experience! 

Knowing how much of the learning is completed independently vs. delivered by an instructor during a live class is important for setting realistic expectations and planning for coursework. Having a significant amount of live instructor time is concerning when learning online can be draining for students, difficult to schedule around, and negative regarding retention and understanding. There is great benefit to an asynchronous approach: students working at the time and location that works for their learning style and schedule. 

  • Is there an opportunity for students to build community with classmates through student life events, online collaboration, or live class time? One of the most important benefits of a well-designed, high-quality online learning program is that it supplies students who are already plugged into their local community the opportunity to reserve space to continue to be deeply involved. For students who may be struggling to connect locally or are more remote and looking for other ways to get plugged in, being part of a robust online learning community affords students the chance to get to know and work with students from all over the world! Online learning can facilitate the best of both worlds. 
  • Flexibility is one of the words that many programs claim as a benefit of online learning, but what does flexibility mean for online learners? This is an important descriptor to clarify sooner rather than later. Does flexibility mean students can start or stop a course at any time during the year? That they can work through it as quickly or as slowly as they want? Does it mean there are no requirements around attendance or assignment submissions? The right kind of flexibility is a critical part of the learning experience and can greatly impact content understanding and online learning success. For the most part, it’s important for students in grades K-12 to have boundaries and guardrails so that there is limited flexibility around when and where they can complete coursework.  

In the next blog we will address three more critical questions when considering online learning in Christian homes or schools. We invite you to reach out to OC Online if you have questions or would like to learn more about our online learning opportunities.


  • OC Online

    Established in 2011, Oaks Christian Online (OC Online) provides a rigorous, NCAA and UC approved, college preparatory Christian education option for middle and high school students and partner schools all around the world. Inspired by their physical campus in Westlake, CA, Oaks is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as well as the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). One hundred percent of full-time OC Online graduates were accepted to four-year colleges.

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