Part I: Web-based Learning for Special Needs Kids
by Logan Smith
Web based learning is a continuously growing means of educating our youth; it provides a variety of education choices for kids whether they live in a heavily populated, major city or out in the more rural U.S.A. Not only does it give kids an array of curriculum and teachers to choose from, but it also helps kids who may not feel comfortable in a classroom setting. Many children who suffer from autism, anxiety disorders or dyslexia and can feel overwhelmed by answering questions in front of classmates and potentially embarrassing themselves.
The anxiety and fear alone can become a major distraction from the lessons at hand. Distraction is another major interference for learning. Children with Attention Deficit Disorder can be easily distracted by the often colorful and exciting classrooms they’re sitting in. Even in a less exciting setting, children affected by A.D.D. may direct their attention towards other children, especially if they are not feeling engaged in the lecture.
According to the U.S. Department of Education (2009) students in online learning courses are performing better than average over those who are receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference in achievement was even greater when “blended” learning was used—which blended both face-to-face and online learning into one course.
While this is great news for the future of online learning, there unfortunately aren’t as many courses offered for children with learning needs and disabilities. Only about 17% of students are enrolled in the Florida Virtual School with disabilities. Students with disabilities in Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools make up about 3,000 children (at 13.7% of enrollment) and students enrolled in North Carolina’s Virtual Public School made up only 9.6% of the total enrollment at 2,400 children.
Far behind are both Alabama and Kentucky’s state learning programs, with Alabama (one of the largest state-run virtual schools in the U.S.) having only 217 students with disabilities enrolled in classes. In Kentucky, the state-run virtual school that opened in 2000 has yet to collect information regarding disability status and plans on doing so in the 2011-2011 school year.
Many of these schools collect disability information only if it is volunteered. Florida Virtual School’s more than 90,000 students were only asked to volunteer their disability status. While the documented number is 17%, one overseer of the disability program thinks the number is more around 40%, as he learned from later conversations with students, teachers and parents. With some states having major gaps in data and others having no data at all it’s easy to see how schools are overlooking the need for courses geared towards students with disabilities.
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