Virtual Learning Education Consulting Firm

Barbara Harbula, Ph.D.
Online Learning Consultant

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Benefits and Drawback of Virtual Learning

-- What are the benefits and drawbacks of virtual &/or home schools? How can you tell what type of school your child should use?

Benefits of online learning

While little substantive research has been done concerning online learning in K-12 schools, a plethora of researchers have concentrated on the benefits and drawbacks of online learning in higher education. While the recipient of these benefits or drawbacks are students with slightly different learning styles and needs than those in K-12, the research conducted can give us valuable insight into how to utilize this medium in K-12 schools to its best advantage. Cicognani & Yu-Chaih (2000) verified that online educational environments stimulate learners to dig for information and practical examples thus more efficiently meeting educational objectives by making the learner the center of the educational experience . In addition, articulating one's opinions through a task of mutual understanding in an online environment creates community building, another factor that is necessary for success in the K-12 classroom. Cifuentes (2001) touts the benefits of online learning as authentic language learning and a transference of language skills. MacDonald (2001) points out that the online environment allows students to learn by observing another student's learning experience, relating it to their own, and progressing from novice to expert vicariously. Taylor (2002) reminds educators that the longer processing time in the online environment is a benefit for disabled students who need longer think time. In addition, more students get heard in an online environment than do in a face -to-face classroom. While there are many benefits to online learning, disadvantages and limitations do exist.

Disadvantages and Limitations of Online Learning

Cifuentes (2001) summarizes the major disadvantages of online learning as technical challenges such as technical failure, constraints of e-mail such as sending diagrams or pictures, and the time involved. In addition, dependence on an unresponsive partner can cause frustration in a learner, leading to a sense of detachment. Bell (2001) reminds educators that protecting students' privacy should be a priority in the online world making educators more cautious of using the technology.

Cifuentes (2001) points out the chat rooms have additional pitfalls. Among them is the fact that good typists can monopolize the conversation, and protocols need to be learned by most users or they become overwhelmed. In addition, conversations can be disjointed due to thoughts being interrupted by other chatterer's dialogue causing focus to drift away from concepts being taught. In addition, time zones can put limits on real time chats, making online projects take an additional time to create. Taylor (2002) points out that face-to-face interaction is missing, and motivating students to collaborate online can be a time consuming task.
With the advantages and limitations of online learning, applying the best parts of online learning to the school or home scenario, and avoiding the pitfalls could allow online learning to become an agent of change. But what will that world look like in the next decade? (See Barb's Vision of Future Schools for a possible answer to this question).


Bell, S. (2001). Web-based Utilities for Learning and Collaboration in the Classroom. Syllabus Magazine: Technology for Higher Education (7/1/2001).

Browning, Robert (1888). The Pied Piper of Hamlin. Edward Evans Limited. London, England. Retrieved July 3, 2004 from

Cicognani, A. (2000). Concept Mapping as a Collaborative Tool for Enhanced Online Learning. Educational Technology & Society, 3(3).

Cifuentes, L. S., Yu-Chih Doris. (2001). Teaching and Learning Online: A Collaborative Between U.S. and Taiwanese Students. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, Summer 2001; 33(4), 456.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (2003). CONNECTED TO THE FUTURE: A Report on Children's Internet Use. Retrieved July 1, 2004, from .

Eng, P. (2003). Virtual School Daze: Online tech offers new choices in education. Retrieved 9/16/2003, from

Fulton, K., & Kober, N. (2002). Preserving principles of public education in an online world: What policymakers should be asking about virtual schools. Paper presented at the Virtual High Schools: Changing Schools, Enduring Principles, Washington, D.C.

Hammonds, L., & Reising, B. (1998). The Virtual High School. Clearing House, 71(6), 324, 322 p.

Holden, H. (2004). Printed Optical Waveguides: The Next Interconnect. CircuiTree Troy, 17(2), 54, 53 pgs.

Isenhour, P. L., Carroll, J.M., Neale, D.C., Rosson, M.B., & Dunlap, D.R. (2000). The Virtual School: An integrated collaborative environment for the classroom, Retrieved June 2004 from

James, J. W., & Bailey, Gerald D. (2002). Online Professional Development: a customized approach for technology leaders. (2002 ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Kalmon, S., & Watson, John. (2002). Moving Mountains to Ensure Equal Access To High Quality Learning: Findings and Recommendations of the Colorado E-Learning Task Force. Colorado Online Learning Task Force for Colorado Department of Education. Retrieved 01/17/03 from, 1- 49.

MacDonald, J. (2001). On-Line Learning: A Radical Pedagogy? Adults Learning, 12(5).

Merryfield, M. M. (2002). The Difference a Global Educator Can Make. Educational Leadership, 60(2), 18-21.

Russo, A. (2001). Online Coursework. School Administrator, 58(no. 9), 6-48.

Schulz, B. (2003). Surfing the cyberwave of reform: Evaluating K-12 virtual schools. Paper presented at the E-Learn 2003, Phoenix, Arizona.

Taylor, S. (2002). Education online: Off course or on track? Community College Week, Vol. 14(Issue 20).

Thomas, W. (2002). Virtual learning and charter schools: Issues and potential impact. Retrieved 01/15/03 from Southern Regional Education Board at

Treacy, B. K., Glenn; Petersen, Kirsten. (2002). Successful online professional development: using community-based train-the-trainers programs, EdTech Leaders Online is spreading online professional development throughout the United States and learning some valuable lessons along the way. Learning & Leading with Technology, 30(1), 42 (46).

USDE. (2002). Executive summary: Virtual schools forum (No. Draft). Denver, CO: United States Department of Education:Virtual Schools Forum.



An Overview of Virtual and Home Schools / Our Diagnostic Tool /Benefits and Drawbacks / A Dynamic List of Online Programs-Virtual Schools / Our Fees

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Barbara Harbula, Ph.D.
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