Engagement + Experience = Enrichment
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“Will my child really get the same experience from participating in an online class that they would get otherwise in person?”

We have heard this question quite a few times over the years from parents… and it’s a legitimate concern. The whole concept of operating in a virtual classroom environment is an unfamiliar one to many parents. For most parents, their school experience was spent in a traditional classroom setting, in a physical building surrounded by other students.

If these parents had any exposure to virtual education, it may have taken place starting with college. I still remember the first time I walked into an auditorium for a freshman course back in 1980-something at the University of Miami, and was surprised to see that there was no instructor present. Instead, a graduate student switched on several television monitors placed around the auditorium, and proceeded to play a videotaped lecture by the professor. At the end of class, we received our class syllabus, which included scheduled assignments and testing dates. This was a really intimidating experience, especially for someone who came out of a small private school where the average class size was 12-15 students.

For others, their only experience with virtual education may have been via CBT (computer-based training) courses at work. While there was some student engagement required, (clicking through a slide presentation, with multiple quizzes sprinkled in-between subjects, and a ‘final exam’ during the course cycle) these sessions, like the videotaped lectures I described above, were impersonal and, in my opinion, not always effective.

Fast-forward to the present day, and to Open Tent Academy. While our classes employ (at least) two of the same tools described above (audio/video and presentations), there is a world of difference when it comes to everything else. Unlike either of the above scenarios, our sessions are taught in our virtual classroom environment by live instructors, and students attend and interact with them in real-time. We may not be sitting in the same physical space with our students, but when we are in session inside our online classrooms, we do know who is participating, and who isn’t. We can do this by picking up on the same kinds of behavioral clues that work in an in-person environment, and we can also see when a student’s focus is off of our application – and (just like in the ‘real world’ environment) we can send them a ‘nudge’ to help them get back in focus.

Why do I bring up all of the above? In my experience as a corporate trainer and instructor, I always felt that it was important to address the ‘engagement’ question right off the bat – if a student (or, in this case, a parent) can’t align with the concept that virtual, online education is on par with, or even ahead of, the experience offered in a ‘traditional’, in-person classroom – especially when it comes to engaging the student with positive experiences and interactions –  it will be all the harder for them to appreciate the enriched experiences students gain from participating in such an environment.

To put it another way, using a timely example: Ten years ago, Black Friday was a mainly in-person event, with shoppers crowding entrances in pursuit of additional bargains and sales. This year, the largest percentage of Black Friday sales was spent online, with Amazon and Walmart.com leading the pack within overall sales of USD $5 billion. Cyber Monday earned even more for these (and other) online retailers, with sales volumes of USD $6 billion. Meanwhile, traditional stores and malls reported declining foot traffic… in fact, the only retailers who recorded increased sales were those with an online presence. Now think about any big-ticket items you may have bought over the past week (or even the past year), and how you purchased them – did you go to the local mall, or did you order it from the comfort of your own home? The growth in logistics and supply-chain capacity over the past decade has turned online retail from a niche environment to a core business model. This same type of growth is taking place when it comes to online education, as increased educational resources and capabilities are made available online, in combination with an enhanced delivery capacity via an ever-expanding internet infrastructure.

To see an example of this kind of growth in action, I invite you to participate in the online educational experience first-hand at Open Tent Academy. This winter, we are offering up to 50 additional courses covering a wide variety of subjects – all offered online and in real-time by experienced educators, using state-of-the-art methods to deliver and manage the virtual classroom experience.

Jonathan Meola, co-founder and instructor at Open Tent Academy, attended the University of Miami, where he earned his B.A., and returned several years later to earn a graduate certification in Applied Quality Management, while helping to manage executive graduate degree programs for their business and engineering schools.

Professionally, Jonathan has worked as a technical consultant, managing enterprise software implementation projects for companies such as AT&T, Boeing, Discovery, Honda, Nestle, and several Federal agencies across the United States, and also worked on projects in Canada, Israel, and Mexico. He also has developed curricula for corporate training, and led sessions as an instructor on many occasions. Today, he resides with Eva in a small town outside of Jerusalem. Jonathan has three children, all of whom were homeschooled at one time or another. In his spare time, he loves traveling, reading, photography, analyzing politics, NCAA college football (Go Canes!), and cinema.

Other blog posts by Jonathan:

Pareve Homeschooling

Control and Choice: Mainstreaming Homeschool Education

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