How Online Classes Can Help Learners Succeed in High School

Posted by Des Sinkevich on April 17, 2023

It’s common knowledge that we all learn in different ways. Some can absorb and retain what they learn quickly; others need much more time to read and retain information. Neurodivergent students may need a different approach in order to focus and learn. But despite acknowledging the fact that each student has different needs, the traditional high school setting hasn’t adapted to best serve those needs. Courses are structured around a standard pace, one based on what we’ve assumed the average student needs. But by focusing on the “standard” student only, those on the fringes are often left behind. How can education better serve these “fringe” students? One effective solution is leveraging technology and online learning platforms.

Girl sitting at desk in bedroom using tablet.

The high school students that are left behind

Today, a high school diploma is essential for success – whether that success means getting a job after graduation or matriculating to a college or university. But many students may struggle to earn the grades that can get them into a good college – or may even be unable to graduate because of poor grades.

Often, we blame much of the failure to earn high grades or graduate on the student – they didn’t study hard enough, pay enough attention, et cetera. But for many learners, it’s not a lack of motivation or intelligence that holds them back in school – it's a lack of understanding that surrounds students with different learning needs. We determine curriculum, due dates, and lesson plans based on the expectations we have of the average student. However, that doesn’t serve everyone –leaving many students behind, including those who would be considered neurodiverse.

Around 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse. Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of different brain patterns and thought processes, many of which affect how someone learns and processes information. This could include those with learning differences like dyslexia, conditions like ADHD, or even mental illnesses. What it means is that there is a good portion of the population who don’t learn or processes information in a way that’s considered “average” who find themselves struggling to adapt to outdated teaching methods or performance expectations.

Besides negatively impacting the students who are most affected, not adapting to the needs of a variety of learners can negatively impact a school as a whole; low graduation rates, standardized testing scores, and other factors can play a large role in state and federal funding for public high schools. With that in mind, it’s more essential than ever that schools and organizations consider leveraging different and innovative learning methods to bolster student success.

Read more: How English Language Learners Are Left Behind and What We Can Do About It

How to use technology to improve student experience and outcomes

Technology continuously improves and adapts, creating new tools that educators and schools can leverage to increase positive student outcomes. In order to best serve our learners – and improve graduation rates - using technology and non-traditional education methods can be the most effective solution.

Take, for example, online or virtual high school options. While online high schools and virtual classes have been around for a while, they’ve become more popular since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. However, since the world returned to “normal,” and in-person classes resumed regularly, we’ve gone back to assuming that these traditional education experiences are the best fit for students. But online education provides a lot of benefits for students who don’t fit the standard rhythm of in-person classes, including

  • Allowing students to learn at their own pace. Some students learn at a much faster pace than others, leaving them bored sitting in class waiting to be able to take on more difficult coursework. Others need much more time to really understand and absorb the material that is presented to them. With online high school classes, students are able to determine what pace they work at – not only allowing them to really learn what they’re studying, but also allowing them to have control over their education and build strong time-management skills.
  • Allowing students more time to tackle difficult subjects. Not every subject comes easily to every student. With self-paced, online education options, learners are able to take their time on subjects that are more difficult for them and breeze through those that they find easier. Some research has shown that, because of the self-paced nature of online learning, students can, on average, retain about 25-60% more.
  • Fewer distractions, more focus. For students with ADHD, in-person classes filled with a vast number of distractions – from the ticking of the clock to classmates’ conversations – can often cause them to lose focus on the material they should be learning. For any learner, the distractions found in a traditional classroom can be detrimental to focus and attention. Through independent, online learning, however, students are able to really concentrate on their studies without endless and needless distractions, allowing them to better absorb and retain the material.
  • The ability to focus on other interests and skills. While traditional high school settings can help students explore interests through extracurricular activities, they often don’t have time to become as involved in them as they may like. And, frankly, many schools may not offer extracurricular activities that align with students’s interests. Through online high school, which doesn’t necessarily follow a standard schedule, students are free to explore more interests and learn other skills in their own time. For example, maybe a student wants to get a part-time job to start saving money for college. Without the deadlines, due dates, and scheduled class times, a student enrolled in an online program could have more time to work. Or, if they’re interested in learning skills they can use for a future career, such as carpentry or coding, they have the ability to make time in their daily lives to develop these skills.

Learners and their parents don’t have to choose between a traditional school experience or online high school to reap the benefits. Today, there are many options for a hybrid experience or even the option to take some classes online that will allow them to graduate early.

Read more: Strategies to Help Learners Earn a High School Diploma

How to incorporate online learning into traditional education

While some students may benefit from a completely online high school experience, not every student is the same. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for these students to take part in online classes – and there are many reasons why students may choose to take a few online classes in tandem with their regular curriculum. For example, students who want to tackle more advanced courses that aren’t offered at their current school could look to online options to find what they need. Learners who are deeply involved in sports and want to make sure they’re ready to qualify for college-level teams could benefit from NCAA-approved online high school classes. Even the student who failed a class could, instead of enrolling in summer school, take a self-paced online version of the class to improve their grade and still graduate with their class.

The biggest benefit of online high school is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation; students, their parents, and their guidance counselors can work together to find the solution that best fits that learner’s needs and goals. That could mean fully transferring to an accredited online program – or just enrolling in a few beneficial online classes. There are plenty of opportunities for flexibility, allowing students to get what they most need from their education to find success.

Partner with a trusted, proven online high school

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many school districts have opened their own online schools and more private online schools have popped up to take advantage of the boom in online education. But to make sure that students get the most out of their experience, partnering with a proven, trusted, and accredited online high school could be the best fit. Penn Foster High School has over 100 years of experience in distance education and offers a variety of options that can meet the needs of school districts, parents, and students. From a full 9-12 high school curriculum to individual classes, you can work with our experts to find the best option for you. To learn more about how online education options could work for your students or district, reach out to our experts today!