Research needed to prove benefits of online learning

The modern family no longer follows a traditional lifestyle. They live in varied locations, situations and with many different responsibilities. As such the use of modern technology such as internet to aid families living in all situations to continue to educate their children in a standardised way should be applauded by us.

In many countries online learning programmes such as the Open University in the United Kingdom have successfully been implemented at higher education level for many years. These programmes have achieved a high standard of education and the virtual learning environment is a standard element in almost all university programmes worldwide.

However, the use of these modes in primary education is less well known. The challenges facing the traditional classroom such as large numbers of students, mixed ability levels and lack of individual resources to support students with special educational needs means there is a number of parents turning to home schooling. As such it is a positive development that programmes such as K12 attempt to bring some consistency and teaching support for parents undertaking this, but I have reservations.

A central concern is the lack of control over the situation and the learning environment. Not all parents are equally equipped to take on such a key role in their child's education and although the online modules are there to provide adequate teaching, the responsibility of the parent to oversee the child's learning is central.

There are also key aspects of social development that cannot easily be replaced by online environments. K12 does encourage participation in online "clubs" and external activities but they cannot oversee or structure this in the same way that the daily playground and group activities within the curriculum can. Social interaction is vital for emotional and behavioural development. Children learn about reciprocal play and sharing, emotional regulation and appropriate social behaviours through playground games and structured group interactions. During adolescence friends take on a key role in the development of an individual's identity and self-esteem.

Dr Annie Crookes is a senior lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University Dubai.