Internet-based education enhances certain traits that employers may look for, but could limit the development of others

While children learn many important things during their time in school, the primary purpose behind education is to prepare students for future employment.

For decades, Crook County students have been taught in a traditional classroom setting with teachers delivering the lessons and students interacting daily with their instructors and each other.

However, more recently, with the advent of Insight Online Charter School, they can learn and complete coursework outside of the classroom, away from their teachers and other students, in front of the computer.

With this new option comes a potential list of pros and cons. How might the differences of an online education affect the student who is laboring toward an eventual job or career? Does their ability to learn and complete their education on their own schedule show an employer that they are more self-motivated and organized than their peers? Could a business worry that the lack of social interaction limits their ability to collaborate with fellow employees on a task or project?

For Crook County School District Curriculum Director Stacy Smith, it's hard to cast value on an online education versus a traditional one. On the one hand, he sees some ways that an online education would benefit a person entering the workforce, but acknowledged that it limits other aspects that might help them on a job as well.

For example, Smith can see an online student missing out on social skill lessons they might have learned by working with a classroom full of their peers.

“You need to be able to collaborate with people on projects, and in an online, isolated world, how do you accomplish that?” he said. “Without a doubt, there is a social component that goes missing.”

At the same time, Smith noted that some students who suffer from frequent bullying might fare better if they receive their education online, isolated from their abusers.

Although the diminished social interaction could limit a job seeker, online education requires students to manage their own workload and schedule to complete coursework on time and learn the material. Smith said that “without a doubt, online learners are more self-motivated.”

In addition, completing an online education prepares students for a workforce environment where Internet-based training is continually increasing.

“More and more organizations are turning to this format for their on-the-job training,” Smith said. “So if you have a foot up on some sort of online learning, you may be accessing the same types of formats to learn about your job.”

While online education comes with potential benefits and limitations over traditional classroom learning, those differences don’t appear to concern employers.

Crook County Economic Development Manager Russ Deboodt continually tries to recruit businesses to the community, and while education concerns are frequently raised, online versus in-class learning is not discussed.

“That has not come up in any conversation I have ever had,” he said.

The same is true for his predecessor Jason Carr, who served as the economic development manager for several years.

“I don’t know if it is really an issue,” he said, pointing out that online credits count the same as those earned in the classroom setting. “So when they get their high school diploma, it doesn’t differentiate between an online class and a normal classroom setting.”

Carr said that what he heard from businesses is they want a workforce that has a basic set of skills, including reading, writing, math, and the ability to work with others.

“The employer is probably not really going to know, and probably is not going to really care, where they received their education as long as it is showing that they have it.”

Meanwhile, the presence of online education in Crook County continues to grow. Smith estimates that about 60 to 80 local students are completing their schooling over the Internet, and he expects that number to climb.

“It’s here, and it is only going to grow.”

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