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Can young students learn from online classes? Brigid Barron tackles the question in The New York Times.

Online courses are increasingly common in high schools and middle schools. Is this the best way to teach that age group?

Room for Debate
Commentary

Brigid Barron, a developmental psychologist, is an associate professor of the Learning Sciences and Technology Design program at Stanford University's School of Education.

Whether or not any computing tool used in the classroom will distract from or energize learning depends on how the teacher frames and organizes its use.

When online courses are well designed they offer learners and teachers wonderful opportunities. Hybrid or "blended" models that focus on serious content for deep learning, and bring together classroom interaction with tools like wikis, blogs, podcasts, social networks and discussion forums can engage students in ways that traditional environments do not. When students are given challenging material, asked to carry out authentic research and to create ways to share what they are learning with students from all over the world engagement goes up.

There are other benefits, too. Assessment of student learning can be partially automated and designed to provide continuous feedback. When students need assistance, they can be directed to activities that will help them learn. Perhaps most important, online courses can help bridge gaps in course offerings within a school. Many economically challenged school districts don’t have the resources to provide specialized or advanced courses, but those courses could be offered online and facilitated by classroom teachers.

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