Learning Pods vs. Online Learning

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Contributor, Benzinga
August 31, 2020

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Finding reliable education solutions for children and teenagers can be an ongoing struggle for parents. Learning pods may be able to provide children with a safer learning environment while also providing social benefits that go beyond online schooling. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and disadvantages that come with each method of learning — and we’ll help you decide which choice is right for your child. 

What are Learning Pods?

Learning pods are small groups of students of the same grade level that gather together to follow an online curriculum with the assistance of an in-person teacher. Most children enrolled in a learning pod stay enrolled in their current school, which provides online course material. Pods usually contain between 3 and 6 students, with parents working to limit pod sizes to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19. Parents divide the cost of hiring a private tutor or teacher between all pod members, which means that the price per child depends on the number of children in the pod. More expensive pods have fewer students and provide more personalized attention to each student.

Many parents believe that learning pods offer a unique education solution as schools limit or abandon in-person learning during the fall semester. Pods provide children with more social stimulation and the assistance of a teacher if the student runs into trouble or needs help completing a lesson. Depending on how the pod is structured, learning pods may also offer a form of childcare — a welcome relief for parents of younger children who still work full-time outside of the home. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Learning Pods

Some of the advantages that come with choosing learning pods over 100% online schooling may include:

  • More personalized attention: One of the biggest benefits of choosing a learning pod over online learning is the presence of a teacher. Learning pod teachers fulfill the same role as a teacher in a traditional classroom, helping students more effectively engage with the course material and overcome challenges. Many parents choose learning pods over online alternatives because they believe that this in-person assistance will help their children better remember and retain what they learn.
  • Improved socialization and collaboration: In addition to working with a teacher, children in a learning pod also get the experience of working together with classmates in their pod. This can improve social skills and provide children with a more normalized routine — an especially important aspect of school for younger children.
  • May provide childcare benefits: Depending on how your pod is structured, your pod might double as a childcare provider for the bulk of the day. This can be a major benefit for parents who work full-time or part-time outside of the home and who have a child that is too young to care for themselves. 

Some disadvantages of learning pods may include:

  • Cost: Most pod organizers can expect to pay between $15 and $80 an hour for their pod’s teacher. However, some high-profile learning pods may cost up to $43,000 per academic year. Even more affordable pods may cost over $1,000 a month per student. This expense may not be feasible for every parent.
  • Not a foolproof method of COVID-19 protection: Though learning pods offer a smaller, more manageable classroom approximation, there is no guarantee that a student won’t come to their pod infected. If 1 student in your pod contracts COVID-19, all other students will likely become infected. Your child may also spread COVID-19 to family members at home. 

How to Set Up a Learning Pod

Setting up your own learning pod can be a fun and rewarding experience. Here are the basic steps you’ll follow to get started.

Step 1: Design your school’s philosophy and curriculum. 

Before you start creating your learning pod, you need to design your curriculum and set standards for when your learning pod will meet, who will be included, the price and more. Some factors to consider include:

  • The ideal number of students
  • How much you can afford to pay your teacher per hour
  • How often and where your pod will meet
  • Which age range of students will be grouped together
  • Whether or not you’ll follow your student’s online curriculum from their school or design a new one
  • Which language or languages lessons are in
  • Local child care licensing laws and rules

Step 2: Set a budget.

After you’ve created your ideal school curriculum, it’s time to begin considering teachers in your area. If you already have a nanny or caregiver, he or she can act as the leader of your group if you have a preschool-aged child. If you have an older child, you may want to hire an education professional from tutoring websites like Wyzant. Note that your teacher may charge a flat-rate hourly fee or a variable fee, depending on the number of children in your pod. Consider your budget and the number of students you’ll be working with before you begin vetting candidates for teachers. 

Step 3: Coordinate with other students.

After choosing a teacher, it’s time to coordinate with other students and form your pod. Ideally, you’ll want to group children together by grade level. However, if this isn’t an option, you might consider grouping children using the following standard system:

  • Ages 5 and under
  • Ages 6 to 9
  • Ages 10 to 12
  • Ages 13 and up

You can begin searching for students to join your pod in your local neighborhood, through your child’s school or through your church or babysitting co-op. Be sure to inform parents where your learning pod will take place, when children will be expected to attend and the cost per child per hour. 

Step 4: Collect payments 

After your pod is fully formed, set up a recurring payment method that parents can easily access and use. From here, all you need to worry about is getting your child prepared for the year ahead!  

In-Person Learning vs. Online Schooling

If your child is currently enrolled in school, his or her teachers are likely already using some form of online learning for the upcoming fall season. Online learning is an internet-based curriculum method that allows children to work through lessons from their home, reducing their chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Some schools combine online learning with in-person education, while others have switched to an entirely online curriculum. Some schools set hours when children need to be online and working on their lessons, while other schools offer older students more flexibility when completing their work.

There is a major debate over the effectiveness of online learning versus in-person education. Because teachers and schools were forced to convert to online education so suddenly, many were unable to plan ahead for the unique challenges teaching online presents. For example, it is much more difficult to prevent cheating when no teacher is present in the room as students move through lessons and take exams. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning

Some advantages of using online learning may include:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Attending online lessons is significantly more affordable than joining a learning pod. If your child is enrolled in public school, your school will likely provide you with all the education materials you need to begin online classes free-of-charge.  
  • Scheduling flexibility: Some schools are allowing older students to work at their own pace and complete their lessons when it's most convenient for them. This can be a major benefit for students who need more time to complete lessons or who want to learn more and work ahead. 

Some disadvantages of online learning may include:

  • A lack of stimulation: Online learning can be more difficult for children who struggle with concentration because there is no in-person presence to help keep them on task. This can be a particularly difficult hurdle for parents of children with ADHD, who often find themselves struggling to keep their child’s mind on their schoolwork.
  • Socialization concerns: Another worry for parents is that online schooling will remove the integral social aspect of attending lessons in person. There are limited ways for students to learn about teamwork and cooperation when each pupil is working independently from their own home. 

Best Online Learning Resources

Even if you decide that online learning is the right choice for your child, you may want to complement your child’s curriculum with online or in-person tutoring. If you aren’t sure where to begin, consider a few of our top choices for online learning below.  

Best for In-Person Assistance: Wyzant.com

Many parents are concerned that 100% online curriculums will leave their child stuck or struggling without in-person assistance. Wyzant.com can help complement your child’s online learning with in-person tutoring, available in 18 major cities. Tutors working with Wyzant.com undergo a strict selection criterion, and you can sort tutors by subject specialty, rate and availability. If you live outside of a major metropolitan area, you can also schedule comprehensive one-on-one tutoring sessions online with your expert of choice. Flexible and easy to begin with, Wyzant.com is an excellent choice for parents looking for an additional layer of personalization for their child’s education. 

Best for Customized Tutoring Programs: SchoolTutoring.com

Online learning can be challenging for children living with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia or who speak English as a second language. SchoolTutoring.com is an online tutoring resource that can help create a custom curriculum for your child that fits your child’s unique educational needs. SchoolTutoring.com offers one-on-one tutoring sessions and personalized lesson plans from certified tutors. They offer a wide range of custom learning programs, including specialized programs for students who speak Spanish as their primary language and children with ADHD. SchoolTutoring.com even offers diagnostic exams free of charge to ensure that each child’s individual needs are met.  

Best for Older Students: Tutorsville.net

As children get older, they need more advanced assistance. Older teens might even need help preparing for their PSATs, SAT or another college entrance exam. Tutorsville.net makes it easy for older students to access personal assistance with their subjects or for an upcoming exam. Starting at just $9 for an hour of tutoring, Tutorsville.net also offers exceptionally affordable pricing. It offers lessons for students whose native language isn’t English and its online tutoring system is easy and it’s quick to get started.

Tackling the Fall School Season

The most important factor parents should consider when they decide how to proceed with their child’s education is kids’ safety. Though children may show fewer COVID-19 symptoms, they can become infected and infect other family members. Whether you decide to set up your own learning pod or you choose to stick with online tutoring, be sure to monitor your child for symptoms and avoid others if your child is infected or has been in contact with another person with COVID-19. 

Southern New Hampshire University Online

SNHU Online Offers:

  1. Flexible schedules
  2. Affordable tuition
  3. Online tutoring
  4. Access to electronic research materials
  5. Specialized academic advising
  6. Supportive online community

Learn more at SNHU.