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Top online learning challenges for kids and how to solve them

How to help your kids overcome common online learning challenges like feeling unmotivated and distracted. Plus, what to do when they need real-time support.

More than half of kids under 11 now own smartphones, and some teachers are incorporating those cell phones and other forms of technology into the classroom. In other words, more kids are learning online even if they attend a traditional school. 

The good news is that virtual learning can provide new opportunities to keep students engaged. On the other hand, online learning presents unique challenges and can even have a negative effect on education. 

Here are some of the most common online learning challenges you can expect, and how to ensure your children reap the benefits of virtual learning.

Online learning challenges your kids might be facing and how to overcome them

1. Feeling isolated

The biggest potential pitfall of online learning is probably that it can be a lonely experience. Humans are social beings, and children need plenty of interaction to stay engaged with the learning experience. 

According to the Department of Education, communication and social interaction are crucial to learning. Socialization is a significant component of the learning process, whether interacting with a teacher or peers.

Meaning kids who feel isolated may begin to struggle and fall behind. Research shows that both elementary and middle school children are more likely to suffer mental difficulties, including depression, if they’re socially isolated. 

So how can we overcome this challenge while still reaping the benefits of online learning? 

Using online learning platforms with a solid social and interactive element is a great start. For example, Outschool’s classes are live, not prerecorded. So your kids can see and interact with their teacher and other kids. We also offer tons of fun-focused courses and social options like virtual clubs. Another benefit to online classes is that your kids can take lessons with family and friends, no matter where they live.

When kids see friendly faces and have a chance to connect, it makes online learning more fun and helps prevent feelings of isolation.

Tutoring is also an excellent way to combat siloed learning. Rather than reading or doing homework all day without talking to anyone, your child can use in-person and online tutoring as a way to interact, ask questions, and learn from an expert. 

2. Not feeling motivated

Lack of motivation is another common challenge of online learning, which makes sense since research shows children are typically more motivated to learn as part of a group. Likewise, if the subject is challenging for your child, tackling it with self-paced or static resources may be especially difficult.

But just because your kids learn online doesn’t mean they have to learn alone. If your kid is feeling frustrated or apathetic, here are a few practical things you can do to get them out of their motivational rut.

  • Focus on online learning options that include active instructor review and feedback. Having a subject matter expert available to answer questions, evaluate progress, and offer praise can help engage your child.

  • Try joining small group-based online courses or ongoing cohorts, so your kids still get social interaction and connection from their peers. Plus, seeing other kids engage and achieve can help your child believe the same is possible for them.

  • Keep encouraging your child every step of the way, not just when they've achieved the 'right' result. This approach will help them consider the learning process rewarding, not just the outcomes.

  • Find the right level of challenge: kids learn best when the tasks are neither too easy nor too difficult for their ability level. So check in with your child frequently. If they complete a task too fast, it's time to give them something more challenging.

  • Sprinkle a ''fun'' class or learning option among the tough stuff. For example, if your kids are feeling "brain dead," you could try an Arts and Crafts or a Life Skills class to give them a break and focus on something else for a little while.

3. They can’t get help when they need it 

Why should you pay more for live online classes over free or less-expensive prerecorded options? Because your kids won’t be able to get help when they need it. 

If your child starts to struggle, gets “stuck,” or has a question that stumped them, and can’t get the support they need, they’re far more likely to give up or get frustrated.

Likewise, no one can give feedback or tell them if they’re doing it wrong. Effectively building skills like playing music, coding, or creative writing requires feedback from subject matter experts. 

Trying to develop these skills independently can be difficult, if not impossible, not to mention discouraging. Your kids may go months mispronouncing a new language or developing muscle memory for improper technique. 

As the Child Mind Institute put it, children need the 'structure and support' of live learning.

So when deciding between free resources or interactive learning platforms like Outschool, ask yourself three questions. 1. How will your kids get support when they need it? 2. Who will give feedback and measure progress? And 3. how will the format impact their overall learning experience?

4. Feeling distracted 

Another common online learning challenge can be managing distractions. Of course, it's essential to be realistic when setting expectations for your child's attention span, whether learning virtually or in person. According to childhood development experts, a child can focus for two to three minutes per year of their age. So, if your six-year-old can't concentrate for much longer than 10 minutes at a time, you don't need to worry. 

Simply put, children will lose focus quickly regardless of whether they learn virtually or in a brick-and-mortar setting. But some strategies can help.

Having your child take a study skills class can help them take more ownership of their education and learn practical skills. Likewise, hiring a tutor can help them hone their focus and keep them accountable.  

If your child is struggling to engage with virtual courses, it can help to choose classes that have strong interaction and discussion elements to keep your kids attentive. 

5. Unique learning needs: neurodiverse learners

If your child has neurodiverse needs, they may experience distinct challenges with online learning, especially when leveraging a one-size-fits-all or generic resource. For example, if they want to slow down and dig into the nuances of a topic, the online course or curriculum may not be set up for that. 

On the other hand, online learning presents fresh opportunities for neurodiverse learners. It expands your resources and gives you access to thousands of convenient tutors and coaches who can tailor their approach to your kid's learning style. Your children can even join virtual neurodiverse groups and clubs to get ideas and trade recommendations. 

It’s crucial to figure out what works for your kids and how they learn, especially since education research is primarily based on neurotypical learners.

Advocacy groups like TiLT Parenting are perfect for folks looking to learn more about supporting their kids' unique needs. Get free resources, podcasts, and reading lists, on everything from ADHD to anxiety. 

The bottom line is that online learning has its challenges, but it also opens up new opportunities. The diverse range of classes, clubs, and affordable tutoring options, empowers you to create a tailor-made education that sets your kids up for success. 

Anna CottrellAnna Cottrell is a freelance writer and editor with a background in higher education. She has taught English and is the author of a book about 1930s literature and culture.

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