Online Learning in the K-12 Classroom: Advantages & Disadvantages

Instructor: Kristilynn Turney

Kristilynn has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management. She has taught high school English, Public Speaking and Theater; served as instructional coach; consultant, assistant principal, principal, asst. director and college professor.

Online learning is a popular educational trend that has been around for longer than you think! While it began in colleges it has quickly become a major source of learning for K-12 students nationwide. Read more to learn about online learning.

Online Learning in PJs

The Rise of Online Learning

Online learning is becoming more popular. Who doesn't want to do their homework in their pajamas? But is it really that easy? Online learning is a method of learning information using the internet. This method can be solely online or combine face-to face instruction, also known as blended or hybrid learning. The boom of online learning for K-12 began in the 1960's. The University of Illinois began the movement by creating an Intranet where student could access course materials and listen to recorded lessons. By 1999, universities began offering online courses and in 2009 the number of online learners grew by 187%. Wow! During this time, online learning became commonplace for K-12 learning as well. In this lesson, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of online learning. We'll also go over some techniques for success with elementary and secondary students in online learning.


The advantages of online learning are growing as the programs continue to be refined to meet the needs of its customers. The advantages of online learning in the K-12 classroom are:

  • Accessibility - Students can access work any time or any place. Imagine that! This helps students who have health concerns and need medical care. Some students may even need to attend school during nontraditional hours, typically 7am-3pm, or in shorter spurts.
  • Flexibility - In addition to students being able to access work at any time or any place, they can also move at their own pace. Students can complete a 10 week course in 2 weeks or take the full 10 weeks. Online lessons allow students to review the information as many times as necessary or move ahead if the concept was previously learned or understood.


There are numerous disadvantages to online learning. These disadvantages can be so great that a person pursuing online learning may decide to switch to a more traditional model. The disadvantages of online learning in the K-12 classroom are:

  • Too Easy - This is a common complaint. Even supporters of online courses are concerned that students can plagiarize or cheat their way through by simply looking up the answers on Google. Or students might retake tests until they can write down the answers or cheat and finally get it right.
  • Lack of Rigor-Rigor in the case of education is defined as a challenge at or above a student's capabilities. In traditional face-to-face settings students can be challenged by teachers with follow up questions or in depth analytical challenges through differentiation. This is not the case in an online course. Typically, the course is pre-made so no matter how quickly a student gets the information or how advanced they are academically there is little opportunity to enrich or challenge the students' knowledge or thinking.

Techniques for success

As online learning has become more popular and refined, so have the techniques for success. The characteristics of successful online students are:

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