Homeschool vs Distance LearningWritten by Alicia Betz, reviewed by the EducationCorner.com Team
At first glance, homeschooling and distance learning might seem very similar, but the major difference is who is delivering and managing that content. With homeschooling, the parent or caregiver is the person who teaches and delivers the content. With distance learning, an online teacher teaches and delivers the content.
When you make a decision as a family to do school from home, homeschool and distance (online) learning are your two main options. Some families do a combination of the two options, picking and choosing some classes homeschool style and others online, while other families prefer to go all in one way or the other.
To help you make a decision, we’ve closely examined and laid out the pros and cons of homeschool and online learning.
Pros of Homeschooling
- Family bonding: Homeschooling offers an incredible opportunity for families to bond and have shared experiences as parents get to teach their children everything and even plan educational field trips or family vacations. It also allows parents to build family bonding time into their schedule. For example, if one parent works an odd shift and is only home during the typical school day, families can build their school day around that schedule.
- Control of content: Whether you want to weave faith-based conversations into every lesson or have strong beliefs about how to teach science, you have control of the lessons and the information your child receives. This is also particularly helpful if your child has been through trauma such as sexual assault or recent death of a close family member. Many books and works of literature taught in online or in-person classes touch on these difficult concepts, but teachers don’t often take into account that these topics can be triggering for some students.
- Flexibility: Because you get to completely choose your schedule, you have incredible flexibility. Even though online schooling offers flexibility, students are still tied to deadlines, the general school year schedule, and sometimes even live lectures. With homeschooling, you can control when your kids learn, so they’re not stressed about completing work while on vacation, for example. This is great for families that like to take vacations during the traditional school year and for families who celebrate holidays that aren’t recognized by most schools. Flexibility can make the whole day flow much more smoothly as well, as students can take more time on concepts they're interested in or they can start their school day later if the family decided to have an impromptu breakfast outing, for example.
- Individualized instruction: For students who struggle to learn, homeschooling allows parents to tailor their instruction to the way their child learns best. Even for students who don’t typically struggle, this helps the school day be completed more efficiently, thus taking up less time. One study for the American Education Research Journal found that individualized instruction moved students closer to their educational goals than more traditional, group based instruction.
- Interest driven: Students and parents can work together to cover topics and create elective courses that are tailored to their interests. For example, if a student loves "The Lord of the Rings," parents can work that into the curriculum to teach reading, writing, and speaking skills. They could even create an art elective class based entirely on Tolkien's art. It’s hard to tailor to interests specifically in online classes that are generalized for a large group of students.
- Rigour of curriculum: A study by Eric J. Isenberg for the Peabody Journal of Education found that one of the main reasons families decide to homeschool is because they are not satisfied with their public and private school options. Parents can make homeschool curriculum as rigorous as they want all the while ensuring their childs’ needs are being met.
Cons of Homeschooling
- Work load for parents: Homeschooling can be very time consuming and stressful for parents. It takes time to plan lessons, put together materials, and teach students. Just like teachers, parents may end up putting in extra work outside the “school day.” Parents might also find that homeschooling takes more time and effort than they thought, leaving them stressed and potentially even cutting corners.
- Difficult concepts: Some parents, especially those who struggled in school themselves, feel inadequate and struggle to teach their kids. The older kids get and the more they learn advanced concepts, the worse this struggle may become. Even a seemingly simple concept like learning to read is much more complex than it seems at first glance.
- Organization: Homeschooling requires a lot of physical and mental organization. You need an uncluttered space for your kids to keep their materials and for you to teach them every day. You also need to organize and plan out your day to create a routine for your kids. Some people find this level of organization difficult.
- Cost: The cost of a curriculum itself can be expensive, and then you need to add on the cost of materials and educational trips. Homeschooling could also mean that one parent needs to stop working or cut down on hours, which can make the cost burden even higher.
- Lack of regulation: Lack of regulation sounds like a benefit to some families who choose to homeschool to have more freedom for themselves and their kids. However, in states that have very relaxed regulations for homeschool students, it’s easier for students to fall behind or even get no education at all, according to an article titled “Homeschooling Laws (or lack thereof) in New Jersey—Are Children Slipping Through the Cracks?”
Pros of Distance Learning
- Licensed teacher: While many homeschool parents do an excellent job teaching their kids, some parents feel more comfortable knowing their kids are being taught by a licensed teacher who has been trained to educate students. It takes some of the pressure off, whether it’s teaching your kindergartener how to read or explaining physics to your high schooler.
- Cost: The cost of an online school tends to be much cheaper than homeschooling, and online public schools are free, meaning you can keep your kids at home to learn without the financial burden of homeschooling. This also frees up some of your time to work so you can earn additional income while your kids are learning.
- Independence: Students who crave independence from their parents find that they have much more independence in homeschooling, where their parents aren’t involved in every aspect of their schooling. Independence is an important aspect in child development that can be easily fostered through distance learning. A report from the University of Wisconsin explained that while parental involvement in education is important, so is independence.
- Requirements are covered: Depending on where you live, there may be state standards that need to be met, and students might also be required to take standardized tests even if they don’t attend a public school. An online school will ensure students meet requirements and will facilitate standardized tests. This helps ensure students don't fall behind.
- Less time consuming for parents: Parents who have other responsibilities often find that they have more time on their hands when their children take their classes online. This doesn’t mean you can’t still help your kids and be involved, but it frees up much of your time when compared to homeschooling.
- Special services: While you can tailor learning to your child with homeschooling, an online public school has specialists on staff that are trained to help students with learning disabilities. Your child will likely be assigned a special education teacher to make sure he or she is grasping concepts and given every opportunity to succeed.
- AP classes: Any student can take an AP exam even if he or she didn’t take an AP course, but it often takes extensive study to prepare students to do well on the exams. Online schools often offer a variety of AP classes for students to choose from.
Cons of Distance Learning
- More stationary learning: There often aren’t as many opportunities for real life experiential learning. A large portion of students’ learning is done sitting in a chair, while homeschool learning can happen anywhere. Science labs, for example, often leave a much stronger impression when students can do them hands-on rather than by watching a video or participating in an interactive tutorial online.
- Less interaction: Although students can interact with their teachers and fellow students through the screen, there aren’t as many opportunities for face-to-face social interaction. Students can easily go their whole school day without seeing another human in real life.
- More screen time: Full-time school online requires a lot of screen time to attend classes, read materials, watch videos, complete assignments, etc. School can easily require two to three more times in front of screens than their parents would like. A literature review of the association between screen time and sleep in school aged children found that increased screen time is associated with going to sleep later and getting less sleep overall.
- Focus: It can be difficult to get young kids to focus on online learning for an extended period of time. While homeschooling parents can switch between topics and activities often to hold short attention spans, it’s harder to accomplish this with online learning.
- Lessons aren’t individualized: Distance learning lessons are more generalized so teachers can reach an entire class of students. While teachers will be available to help and answer questions, lessons aren’t tailored to each individual student as they can be in homeschooling.
- Academic integrity: Especially if students complete their lessons unsupervised, academic integrity can be a major issue, with students searching for answers online or using unauthorized materials like a calculator for math or a translator for foreign language classes.
- Internet connection: Most people have access to strong and fast internet connections today, but online learning can obviously be very difficult and stressful for students who have to deal with slow or unreliable connections.
The Bottom Line
Remember that many families choose to do a combination of homeschooling and distance learning, but they often find their base in one or the other. Examine the pros and cons of each to determine which style fits best with your family dynamic. Once you start off with one, you can always switch to the other or combine the two to create a mixed education that makes both you and your children happy.