How To Make Online Learning Easy For Teens

There is much more to learning online than just doing homework. Here’s how to have fun while staying on track.

Today, over a hundred million students take online courses, and a study from this past spring found that half of teens are choosing learning online over a school. Though the interest is great, so is the road to mastery.

Teens in high school aren’t willing to put up with the awful social, organizational, and logistical challenges that come with learning in-person. How are you (or even your teen) going to take the next step? Here are a few tips on how to make learning online a breeze for our young learners.

Assign a Side Project

If your student wants to learn more about a certain topic, or perhaps even to start volunteering at their local school, make it a challenge for them to learn in full—just like they would be assigned work in-person. Create a new project, personalize it, and set a goal to learn something in this way. After all, when you’re studying in-person, you have your peers, but when you’re learning online, you have free reign of the screen. Not to mention that when you’re learning in-person, you may have other pressing commitments (like homework, dinner, and your everyday activities), but you’ll still have an opportunity to engage with peers online.

Give Them the Power

Your kid may be excelling at mastering a particular computer programming language, but how is he going to take it to the next level? When your kid learns a skill, bring in help. My son learned how to manipulate a mouse, for example, by logging on to a LAN for help. What about a specialist who can introduce you to whatever skill your child wants to master?

Schedule an Hour

Maybe you have an algebra tutor or a day-long college seminar that you can’t squeeze in. It might be great for you, and it might be great for your kid, too. This might be the perfect time to have a discussion about the value of internships, do some practice exams, or learn a valuable lesson all on the same weekend. If you can find a Monday free to sit down with your student, the next day can be their test prep day. If not, take advantage of this to learn a useful skill yourself.

Ask the Right Questions

The best thing about online learning is that it puts power in your hands. But what happens when you want your student to think about strategy or structure? Asking open-ended questions like, “Do you think your teacher likes this essay and how do you think he would have prepared to read it?” and “Which textbook do you prefer?” can open a window into a process. If the answer is that they don’t like a particular essay, consider it an “outside” source of information—instead of an argument against the class text. The more sources your student studies, the better equipped they are to develop their own informed opinion about the material. This alone is crucial for independent learning, so it’s an invaluable skill for teens!

Give Them Time to Be Yourself

The world we live in is a fast-paced one. Everything seems to move at a breakneck pace, so getting to a place where kids can feel safe to let down their hair and goof off is important. You don’t have to structure all the activities. You can leave it up to your teen’s enthusiasm. If he gets bored, or has a question, offer him your unsolicited response. Let your kid organize in his own way.

When your student succeeds in learning online, they’ll be more likely to find their way on to the next stage of their learning journey, as well as prepared for the next step. If you’re committed to helping your teen take the next step into the online universe, here are a few things to consider:

Don’t just try to quickly teach them the basics; get them started by introducing them to an activity they find helpful.

Assign them projects they can tackle on their own. If they’re really overdoing it, offer some time off to figure it out.

If you want them to be comfortable with talking about their learning, have a tough conversation. Start with asking them if they’re hearing any feedback about the material you’re asking them to learn. Avoid the generic response, like, “You should practice harder.” This can be somewhat challenging for most teens, but you’ll set the stage for a potential conversation about online learning.

Maryanne is a Senior Vice President of Building Experiences and an instructor at HCA’s 10th-annual Summit for Kids & Families and 3rd-annual “Domo” Work Camp at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

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