Ways that Online School Differ From Homeschooling

Differences Between Homeschooling and Online School

Although online school and homeschooling have similarities, many individuals use these terms interchangeably. It’s a reasonable confusion. Nevertheless, they both allow learners to study outside of a traditional school, either in their homes or, in the case of specific professions, from the road.

Generally, there is one significant difference between online school and homeschooling. In homeschooling, the parents act as full-time teachers, while in online schooling — also called virtual school — online instructors manage the student’s learning from afar within a structured curriculum.

Both homeschooling and online schooling can provide the flexibility a student requires to thrive, but it’s significant to understand the detailed differences between the two before making a decision for your child.

The Parent’s Role

Before the start of every school year, a homeschooling parent buys or builds their own curriculum for their child. Purchasing a predetermined guideline makes it far easier for parents to reach the state-required benchmarks, but most families opt to homeschool for the freedom to structure the year exactly to their child’s specific educational requirements and interests.

In a homeschool setting, all assessment and facilitation of the classroom are managed by a parent. Some parents are drawn to this since they have a teaching background, but either way, they manage without a school’s administrative backing.

On the other hand, online or virtual schools utilize the same at-home structure but through an established private or public-school curriculum. Hired instructors support the learner move through their studies with a combination of online lectures and discussions as well as assignments for independent learning. Parents or hired learning teachers sign on as a chosen home support system. Parents are still involved from day to day to keep their learner on track and motivated.
Homeschool Vs Online School

Tailoring the Curriculum

The flexibility of the curriculum is one of the top reasons that parents select homeschooling and online education. Some learners work better in a quiet, concentrated setting, for instance, while others benefit from the looser time structure. Online coaches and homeschooling parents often opt to accelerate subjects when there is great enthusiasm for the subject or take their time on trouble spots to ensure complete understanding.

One significant difference between online schools and homeschools is the state laws for including faith-based learning. While public online schools don’t permit religion to drive their curriculum, homeschooling parents sometimes select this route to tailor learning to the beliefs of their families.

Social Opportunities

For both remote options, emotional and social growth is an obvious concern for this non-traditional path. Without other peer groups in the classroom, how do students learn to work in groups and relate to other children of their age?

Although it may seem counterintuitive, some parents select homeschooling and online education to give their children a broader social growth opportunity. The classroom environment might not be the best fit for every individual. Community involvement through projects such as 4H and the YMCA can be tailored to where every child thrives. The flexible schedule also enables some families to travel more, become involved in more service projects around town, and spend more quality time with their immediate and extended family.

Most online schools weave socialization opportunities into their syllabus. Online learning labs create the live classroom setting from afar, encouraging learners to jump in with answers and work off one another’s responses. Students make connections with their classmates virtually and in person through a variety of content learning laboratory sessions as well as field trips, scholar clubs, and events that are held throughout the school year. Students benefit academically, emotionally, and socially by choosing this educational path of learning.


Assessments prove that learners are moving at the state-mandated level for every grade. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education offers a detailed map of the state-by-state requirements for homeschooling evaluations. Requirements differ depending on whether the family opts to report as a private school or religious exemption. While some states require students to meet certain minimum scores, others only want the test to be administered by not requiring reporting.

Public online schools administer the state standardized exams, including their own assessments for growth as they would in a traditional classroom. In private online schools, testing differs per program. In the event the online school has a brick-and-mortar portion of their program, some online learners can take the exams at a location outside the home.

Home-based online schools may require a portfolio evaluation, which assesses the student’s learning while taking into account standardized tests. This ensures that students are making progress and keeping up with their peers.

End Of Year Ceremonies/Submittals

A traditional end-of-year ceremony is shared at public online schools when reports are submitted to the state. Parents gather in the community for awards, presentations, and celebrate their child’s accomplishments with friends and family. If an online school shares space with a physical brick-and-mortar location outside of the home, they might also have an end-of-year program or celebration where students can show off their skills and knowledge learned throughout the year.

Some homeschooling parents choose to provide an end-of-year ceremony at home. The student presents their progress and knowledge, while the parent or teaching partner offers praise or rewards (or both).

This virtual graduation serves as a celebration of academic accomplishments for the child’s hard work over a designated time period. Homeschoolers may opt to cap off learning with an online high school diploma in lieu of a traditional paper-based one. As mentioned earlier, parents can also select this option if they plan on sending their children to a college without first obtaining credits toward graduation.

Testing and Reporting

Public schools are required by federal law to administer standardized tests at specific grade levels every year, as well as report those results to the state department of education. The results are usually posted online for parents to view and ensure that their child is progressing at a state-mandated level.

Private K12 schools also administer the same standardized tests as public schools but may choose to report differently. Private online learning academies have the luxury of tailoring reports based on an individual student’s needs and goals. They can also offer more than one assessment throughout the school year to measure growth.

Life Skills Assessments and Projects

Life skills projects and assessments help homeschooling families learn about their child’s values in addition to educating them on important life topics, including art appreciation, public speaking, health care, foreign language proficiency, financial literacy, career surveys, and more.

Some schools also include history and government units into the mix. Students learn about different cultures, world events, and how their local or state governments function.

K12 learning options differ per school but all homeschool programs should provide a comprehensive curriculum to ensure students are receiving an effective education. Parents can opt for core curriculum packages that offer math, science, English, social studies, and foreign language coursework or choose a wide variety of electives in those subjects depending on which they feel is best suited for their child’s needs. K12 public online school students always have access to the full suite of courses available at that particular institution. Online private school students don’t always have access to every single course offered by a brick-and-mortar learning center, as programs are adapted to the student’s needs and goals.
Homeschooling Vs Distance Learning

Some Similarities

Notwithstanding their differences, there are also many links between online classes and homeschooling — one of the primary reasons they are used interchangeably. Both forms of learning allow the students to communicate more directly with their instructor. In some instances, students may feel freer to speak up when they have quizzes, ask for longer explanations, or speed via assignments at their own speed when excelling in a subject.

Both types of remote education choices also promote learning independence as well as an enthusiasm for taking charge of one’s own learning. With greater freedom to build their own plan, educators and parents can structure every student’s daily schoolwork around their passions and learning preferences.

Parents, too, need to learn how to become their child’s first teacher. Both online programs and homeschooling require that the parent take on the role of being a willing learner alongside their children. They must be prepared to ask questions as well as contact school support staff when they feel stuck or want extra help. As with any educational opportunity, parents who don’t invest time in their own learning will find it difficult to communicate with others about what is going wrong in the student’s education plan — whether traditional or remote.

Many students have also found success so transitioning between traditionally instructed classrooms and virtual ones over time. Taking courses online before moving on to a traditional classroom can widen a child’s experience of school while at the current one. 

The online school movement is gaining ground in the US. In an article on Education Dive, there are about 760,000 students currently enrolled in a virtual education program. Another source estimated that by 2018 that number could grow to approximately 1 million students per year. That same article reported that 33% of public schools offered full-time online programs, and another 57% had some form of weekly class or coursework available for homeschoolers.

While the statistics seem promising, many families aren’t taking advantage of these options because they think it’s still too much like homeschooling and wants a more traditional classroom structure setting.


As is the case with all education options, it comes down to where the learner excels and feels most comfortable. With such a range of lifestyles and styles to teaching and learning today, homeschooling and online schools provide choices for tailoring education to every individual mind.

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