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Distance Learning vs Homeschooling: Understanding the Difference

by The Mom Trotter

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This school year is bound to look much different than in year’s past. Many schools will not re-open for in-person learning, and even if they do, it will not be like it used to be with children crowded in classrooms with their teachers.

Many districts are opting to use distance learning for at least the first semester, but what exactly is distance learning? Is distance learning the same thing as homeschooling? The short answer is no, distance learning and homeschooling are not the same thing at all.

So, let’s talk about the differences in distant learning and homeschooling. 

Distance Learning

Distant learning may also be referred to as school at home, or at-home learning, but no matter what you call it, it is a public or private school curriculum that is completed at the student’s home or someplace other than the school classroom.

In many instances, there are video conferences at specific times when students are expected to be in a virtual classroom and the teacher will teach a lesson. With distance learning, the curriculum, assignments, projects, and tests are all provided by the teacher to the students, who then have to have those tasks completed by a certain date.

Once submitted virtually, all of the testing, assignments, and projects will be graded by the teacher and recorded in the grade book, just as it would be in a traditional classroom. 

Distance learning was how most public school districts ended the school year last year, and how many will be starting the new school year. The distance learning that concluded last school year was literally thrown together in days, and filled with technical mishaps and other missteps.

The result in most cases was a disaster leaving parents, teachers, and students frustrated. Hopefully, teachers and school districts worked to fix many of these issues over the summer and this upcoming school year will be more successful and less chaotic for the students, parents, and teachers. 

Distance learning is still teacher-led, with instructional time, and student-teacher interaction conducted online. The goal of distance learning is to maintain and increase the student’s current academic levels and provide a way for students and teachers to interact with each other virtually.

This doesn’t mean that you as the parent are off the hook. Since the teacher isn’t physically present with your student you will have to be. Teachers can’t be available 24/7 for student questions so when students are working on offline worksheets, projects, essays, etc. then you are who they will come to for help. 

Distance learning, unlike homeschooling, is not focused on the individual student, rather all students are taught the same curriculum through worksheets and videos. One major disadvantage of distance learning is that it can be difficult for teachers to “see” which students have mastered a new concept and those that may be struggling with it.

This can make it difficult for them to know when to continue building on a previous lesson, and it is one of the many reasons that teachers and parents need to communicate with each other for distance learning to work as it is intended to work. 

Distance learning will typically require your student to be in a virtual classroom or doing online lessons on a schedule that has been set by the school district or teacher. This can be problematic for parents who also need to be working during this time. 

Homeschooling

Homeschooling, while also done in the home, is completely different from distant learning. When you decide to homeschool your child you are in charge of picking out the curriculum or program for yourself. This is one of the main reasons that parents choose to homeschool their children. 

Homeschooling does not have to take place at a certain time each day, although most families do have at least a loose schedule that they adhere to. With homeschooling, learning can happen any time, anywhere. Are the kids in the kitchen helping you make cookies? There is a science and math lesson there.

Exploring a new park and teaching your child to read a map to find something? There is a science, social studies, and geography lesson right there. Learning can be incorporated into just about anything that you are doing with your children.

Before making the decision to homeschool your children it is very important that you familiarize yourself with your state’s homeschool laws and requirements. They are different for every state, with some having very strict requirements about paperwork and testing that must be reported to the state each year, and others that require little more than a Declaration of Intent that needs to be sent in each year.

If you are unfamiliar with your state’s homeschooling laws, are new to homeschooling, or have recently moved to a new state then the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website is a great place to start. 

Once you know all of the legal requirements for your state it is time to pick a curriculum or make one of your own. As mentioned above, learning can take place anywhere, no matter what you are doing, so “schooling” doesn’t have to be sitting at a desk or a computer doing book work. That should certainly be a part of it, but particularly if you are dealing with an active child, homeschooling can offer you a lot of flexibility as a family. 

Homeschooling Curriculum

Click here for this list of diverse books for kids

Many homeschooling families decide to pick a curriculum that they can use as a guide to keep their students on track for their grade level but integrate other learning opportunities into their day as well. Other families choose curriculum that are a bit more rigid with lessons meant to be completed in order throughout the year.

If you live in a state with strict homeschooling requirements the more rigid option may be best until you get the hang of it, because everything that you might need to supply the state with is usually provided. 

Homeschooling curriculum can be found based on religion, teaching methods, or with a focus on the subject areas that your student either enjoys or struggles with. There are several online homeschool curriculums that include video lessons to teach concepts, and then provide activities to reinforce the concept being taught to make sure that the student has achieved mastery of it. 

Main Difference Between Distance Learning and Homeschooling

The main difference between distance learning and homeschooling is who is ultimately in charge of what students will be taught. If you decide to go with distance learning then ultimately the curriculum and how to teach it is up to the teacher. If you decide to homeschool then you as the parent are now officially in charge of the curriculum, what to teach, how to teach it, and when to teach it. 

If you decide that homeschooling would be the better choice for your family, take your time and do your research before jumping in. Reach out to other homeschooling families and ask them about how they do things like structuring their day and what types of curriculum they use.

Keep in mind that you can start homeschooling at any time, so just because public schools are about to be back in session with distance learning doesn’t mean that you have to start at the same time. That’s one of the best things about homeschooling you get to make the schedule based on what works best for the family.

If your family has only just decided to homeschool you can still take the time to build a curriculum that works for you before getting started. If you want your kids to be learning while you develop your plan have them play educational games, set aside time for reading and remember that the world is now your classroom and learning is happening no matter what you are doing with your child.

From a trip to the store, helping to prepare a meal, caring for a pet, going for a walk, or traveling to visit relatives your child is always learning. 

Bottom Line – Distance Learning vs Homeschooling

Deciding which route to take is up to you, your child, and your spouse. Each of these options has its pros and cons and both will fit some families and students better than the other.

If you decide to stick with distance learning but are struggling with making it work for your student, reach out to the teacher and school counselors, and see if they can help you work through those issues. If you decided to go the homeschooling route, then find friends who are homeschooling, join homeschooling group or enroll with a homeschool charter.

Do you have more questions about the differences between distance learning and homeschooling that weren’t covered here? If so, just ask them in the comments below.

Homeschooling – Tips & Tricks

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Homeschool Resources

Visit my Homeschool Resources page to see all the reliable and trustworthy brands that we use for our homeschooling journey.

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