E-learning Craze: Is it as effective as traditional schooling?

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - In the 21st Century, anything and everything can be done online, including getting an education.

Students of all ages can earn diplomas and degrees and never set foot in a classroom, but is this kind of learning as effective as traditional schooling?

In the last decade, E-learning has really taken off. It's the perfect answer for many students and parents, but there are some serious drawbacks you should consider first.

For Kevin Horgan, E-learning is convenient.  He's working toward a Master's degree from the University of South Florida and he's doing it all at home on his computer.

"That's sort of the nice thing about it. I can choose when and where throughout the week. I sort of have time to spread it out, rather than having to get to a class," he said. "I have a full time job and I live and work over across the bridge in St. Pete."

Educators are calling E-learning the latest craze in academia, especially for a generation raised on computers.

"The Gen. Z-ers that we see coming into campus now, they're from the digital learning environment," said Mandy Perry, the principal at Pinellas Virtual School, an all online 6-12 school based in Clearwater.

"We have students that have professional careers, dancers, race car drivers, tennis players, all those kind of students are interested in virtual school because their extra circular activities don't fit in," she added.

But virtual learning raises real questions for parents.

What about socialization? 

Shela Cleaveland, a former teacher wants her daughter learning in a classroom with peers.

"I'm a fan of the classroom. I definitely think there's a social aspect they're not going to have on a computer."

What about the security of your information online? 

"Schools are being attacked by hackers asking for ransom in exchange for not disclosing kids' information," said Leonie Haimson, a student safety advocate.

Haimson brought these concerns to the U.S. Department of Education after parents in Pennsylvania complained about an online school using their children's personal information without their permission.

Turns out, that same online school has courses for students in Pasco County.

"What we had not been made aware of was that there was an incredible amount of state collection of personal data and also districts' handing off personal data to various vendors and third parties," she said.

The department ruled that the parent online company violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

"I would warn parents against the use of online learning altogether. The research on this is very negative and the dropout rates are huge, the test scores are low and often online schools are lying about their statistics to parents and state in order to recruit more students."

What about the costs of an online education? 

In 2008, the Florida legislature authorized state universities to charge a distance learning fee, which recovers the costs of developing and delivering online courses.

Students at the University of South Florida are assessed a distance fee of $30 per credit, along with regular tuition and fees.

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