Article 4 – Parent Perspectives on Online Learning

I’ve been interested in seeing what parents and guardians think of online classes. As we’ve moved through the course so far this hasn’t exactly been something that’s come up. Whether educators like it or not, parent opinion on education does (sometimes) play a pretty significant role in determining what a child does in school. So, this week, I’m reviewing “Learning Online at the K-12 Level: A PARENT/GUARDIAN PERSPECTIVE,” by Chris Sorensen, which looks at responses from ninety-two parents and/or guardians of K-12 students regarding their thoughts on online education.

The article begins with a brief overview of some of the pros and cons of online education in general, and focuses on a variety of age levels.  The article is a little vague in its intent, stating only that the research was meant to “gain insight into the experiences that parents/guardians had when their child(ren) took online courses and how they may view online education” (Sorensen, 2012, 298). What would have been nice is if Sorensen had set up a second round of research questions, focused on suggestions, improvements, or longer-term satisfaction, since this research was done immediately after the school year ended. It’s not clear whether the parents’ and guardians’ opinions would’ve changed a year down the road.  The study is qualitative and focuses on four very wide-ranging questions (though the questionnaire had 17 items) and the researcher is kind enough to boil down the top five most common results for each question instead of making the reader schlep through huge tables.

Some of the most common concerns that parents have are the sorts of things that the designer for an online course has a relatively small amount of control over. They’re worried that students won’t stay on schedule or may not be self-disciplined enough to complete tasks (Sorensen, 2012, 300).  Other issues that parents had are definitely within the instructor’s control – level of teacher interaction, positive environment, flexibility and pace, etc. (Sorensen, 2012, 301 & 303). What is probably most interesting, to me, is that a significant number of parents were worried that their children might not receive the level of socialization common in face-to-face schools (Sorensen, 2012, 304). The article seems to brush over that one a bit, which I find really strange. To me, that seems like something that maybe needs addressing. The article isn’t (unfortunately) make a lot of analytical claims, though, and is just reporting on qualitative findings. However, given the fact that so many articles about online education are addressing social aspects (especially more and more as social media grows) it seems a little strange to not at least alleviate those concerns in some way.

The main two findings are not at all surprising. The first is that  the  “most challenging aspect for parents/guardians of online students was trying to keep their child(ren) on schedule and organized with their coursework” (Sorensen, 2012, 305). I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t  really need  to do research to find that out. Likewise, the biggest positive that parents pointed to was that they felt as there “there seemed to be a higher amount of interaction, support, and communication” between teachers and parents/students (Sorensen, 2012, 305). Maybe a little surprising, but still, it perhaps would have been much more useful of an article had the questions been more specific and had there been follow up of some kind.

It is sometimes difficult to critique shorter qualitative articles. However, what I normally like about qualitative articles is that you will often find the researcher spending pages ruminating about a wide variety of possible ramifications of their research. Sure, things might not always be 100% accurate, but some of the best and most creative thinking in the social sciences can be found in the “Discussion” sections of qualitative research. This article is not that way, and I find that very disappointing. If you’re interested in seeing some of the basic concerns and testimonies from parents regarding online classes, go take a look at it, as it does a fine job summarizing its findings. Where this article really fell flat for me was in the fact that some of the most interesting findings weren’t discussed at length. I was a little surprised to see that parents thought there was  more communication in online classes than in traditional classes! I took an online class in high school that didn’t even have a teacher assigned to it! That’s something I would’ve liked to hear about in more detail. Maybe I’m just so used to being long-winded that I expect other writers to be the same way?



SORENSEN, C. (2012). Learning Online at the K-12 Level: A PARENT/GUARDIAN PERSPECTIVE. International Journal Of Instructional Media, 39(4), 297-307.



2 thoughts on “Article 4 – Parent Perspectives on Online Learning

  1. Sounds like an interesting topic that needs more research. I think the first two issues you listed, the ones largely outside control of the designer, would be concerns of any involved, caring parent sending their child off to a new class, whether traditional or online. Those are personal traits that parents have worked hard to develop in their children through the years. I think it boils down to the overbearing nature of parents that was necessary in the early years of life, but hard to let go of as our kids grow up. My Dad, who was a 35 year Biology teacher, used to tell parents at conferences, “It’s only necessary for one person to worry about this and if you do, your child won’t.”
    Also, quite an interesting contradiction in parent survey results. On one hand, “a significant number of parents were worried that their children might not receive the level of socialization common in face-to-face schools (Sorensen, 2012, 304).” But on the other, “the biggest positive that parents pointed to was that they felt there seemed to be a higher amount of interaction, support, and communication between teachers and parents/students (Sorensen, 2012, 305).” Does it come down to a different personal definition of “socialization?” Or perhaps I’m just reading it wrong.
    I wonder if the perception that online classes would offer less socialization could be attributed to a generational gap. Most parents (myself included) know less about social media than most students. Maybe when they hear their child is enrolled in an online class, they envision something entirely different than what is actually taking place.

  2. Hi Nicholas,

    Great review. I like your critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the article.

    I agree that there weren’t many surprises. I liked Craig’s point as well that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect, but I imagine (as Craig points out) there there is just a different perception as to what “socialization” means. There is the perception that, “if my kid lives in the basement and spends all day online, he’s got socialization problems,” even if he’s in online discussion and chat forums all day. Thus parents are surprised at the interactivity, but still fear for “normal” (old school?) modes of face-to-face communication skills.

    This line, “I took an online class in high school that didn’t even have a teacher assigned to it,” always makes me think that is like a textbook. Just because the content is there, it doesn’t make it a class. 🙂


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