Commentary: Can you describe a “traditional” student?

If someone were to ask you to describe a “traditional” student in a K-12 or college setting in the Western culture, what would you say? What characteristics define the students of this generation?

I recently read a blog post by Tracy Lorenz on The Huffington Post titled, Rethinking What a ‘Traditional’ College Education Entails: Five Misconceptions About the Online Learning Experience. Lorenz describes some of the changes occurring in the traditional description of college students, including age, part-time vs full-time, and four common needs. In addition, she outlines five misconceptions of online learning.

I find many of her key points to be present in the K-12 online setting, as well. The four common needs discussed, accessible, flexible, innovative, and job-focused, are part of the mission at the online school that I taught at. I think the first two needs are unique to an online setting, while the last two could be found in a variety of settings. From my experience, online learning in grades 9-12 is attracting students who require the flexibility. The student may be working full or part time, may have an unpredictable health or home situation, may be an athlete, or may be a young parent. I had very few students who transferred to the online setting because they were seeking more job-focused or innovative opportunities. The school desires to draw in those students, but there is still misconceptions present, many of which Lorenz discusses.  I see a disconnect between what learners identify as needs and what learners are actually pursuing.

Over the past four years, I have heard the five misconceptions from the post on a regular basis in response to online classes and learning. While I can relate to these and believe that they do not provide an accurate description, I still think that in some cases they are actually true which makes it difficult to paint a clear picture of the online environment. For example, the first misconception is something that we have struggled with in the past four years, as some of our students were not accepted into the military field due to the online diploma. The fourth misconception has been a challenge, too. We can provide opportunities for interaction, but many students choose not to utilize or are not comfortable in doing so.

In conclusion, I agree with Lorenz when she states, “online learning models are here to stay and the quality debate between online and campus learning will continue to fade.” It seems that the online learning models in higher ed are moving towards this equality with campus learning and away from the misconceptions faster than online learning models in the K-12 setting. This leads me to ask the following questions and reflect on future learning environments. What misconceptions are you struggling with in your K-12 online setting? How can we break down the misconceptions in the K-12 online setting? Should the online model be an option for students or should it become the “traditional” model for this and future generations? What should the balance be of campus and online learning? At this point, I am certain that online learning will continue to grow and develop, but am uncertain if it is meant to become the “traditional” setting for all learners.





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