A woman typing on a laptop. Photo by Matthew Bowden via Wikimedia Commons
A student typing on a laptop. Photo by Matthew Bowden via Wikimedia Commons

By Kevin Nicolls

It’s 2014. If you don’t like the crowds at movie theaters, you can stream high-definition blockbusters on your plasma TV at home. Don’t like the dating game? No problem: screen potential suitors using any number of personal and online matchmaking services. Suppose you have dietary restrictions — simply visit your local bookstore for shelves full of plans that accommodate a myriad of fitness goals, food allergies, and nutrition needs.

In this day and age, nearly every aspect of life is customizable. We recognize that society is made up of unique individuals, all of whom have unique needs, goals, abilities and desires. And so we have… options.

In recent years, we have come to see the benefit of customizable education as well. More and more colleges and universities offer online or accelerated programs, and there is no end to the availability of online continuing education and professional development courses for adults. The proliferation of technology in the last decade has made it possible to achieve our learning goals when a traditional classroom setting just won’t do.

How do you know if your child is better suited to an online learning environment than the classroom of your district high school? As you can imagine, this is a highly personal decision that must be made on a case-by-case basis, but by examining the benefits of online high school, you can make an informed decision about your child’s education.

Broader Course Selection

Because most online programs draw from vast databases and learning resources, students often find many more courses available to them than at their district high school. This enables students who have specific career or higher education goals to create a highly customized pathway toward these goals — unique courses that will bolster their efforts and strengthen their skills and knowledge in a particular area.

Honors/Advanced Courses and College Credit

Similarly, online high school will often offer a wider variety of advanced or honors courses that can be applied to college credit. Ambitious students can get a head start on their college education.


Clearly, one of the biggest benefits for students in online high school is that they are able to learn anytime, not just during “designated school hours.” This means that students with irregular schedules — from athletes to employees in a family business to those who travel frequently — can stay on track in their studies without missing important information or tests.

Multiply Time Available for Other Activities

In addition to allowing for flexible schedules, many who get their diploma online find that it actually multiplies time in their day. Many things necessitated by a traditional school can by bypassed online: waiting for the bus, travel to the school, walking from class to class, stopping at a locker, teachers calling roll… Students can even begin studying right away in their pajamas! This provides more time for extracurricular activities, sports, part-time work, hobbies and socializing.

Learn At a Convenient Pace

For students who find the pace of classroom learning too slow — or too fast — online school provides the unique opportunity to slow down or speed up as needed. Students who are eager to complete a class can do so much more quickly online than they can in the classroom. And online learning allows for students to pause and even “rewind” their instructor while they write notes and take time to fully grasp the subject at hand.

Cater to Individual Learning Styles

Whereas a classroom teacher must do his/her best with a room of thirty or more students, online learning provides the opportunity for students to learn in the way that best suits them. For instance, many courses are geared specifically toward auditory or visual learners. The variety of online tools available also equips students with the resources they need to retain and internalize information.

Create an Optimal Learning Environment

One of the potential challenges to traditional classroom education that is not frequently highlighted is the fact that, for many students, being surrounded by their peers can be a hurdle to learning. Certain personality types — shy students, for instance — may find online programs relieve many of the social pressures that can inhibit learning. Additionally, students are not impacted by or dependent on the cooperation (or lack thereof) of other students in the classroom. They are the “at the wheel” of their own education.

While it may not be for everyone, there are many reasons to consider a non-traditional high school education. It’s important to assess your child’s abilities, goals and time restrictions when looking at high school. Recognizing that there are standards and requirements that must be met to graduate, you may find that an online education can best serve your student. With the flexibility a personalized pathway provides, students can do more than just dream about the future: they can determine it.

Kevin Nicolls is the director of Coronado Pathways Charter School and a lifelong education professional.

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