If you’re like me, you’ve come to a point where you’re considering homeschooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of how you feel about the pandemic, the school responses have been very chaotic. In California the process for reopening schools is absurd. That’s when I went out to find online learning.

After doing some research you’ll no doubt see what I saw, a bunch of false reviews repeated over and over again. Sites like IXL.com are hailed as one of the best paid for online learning platforms – when they don’t even teach!

Or perhaps you find that 75% of recommended homeschooling options are religious based teaching. In an effort to avoid such bias, I’m looking more towards secular schooling online.

Khan Academy

To be honest, Khan is one of the best options here. But it isn’t perfect, in fact it has some serious drawbacks. Khan does an amazing job of producing actual learning resources. Children go to the site, login and will see a video on a subject, then take a quiz on what they watched or read.

As a parent, you can also flag yourself as a “teacher.” This opens a new opportunity for a virtual classroom to teach your kids. I added myself as a “teacher,” and assigned my son as my student. I created a virtual classroom, and then assigned work to him through that classroom.

The teacher dashboard shows a greater depth to what my son is learning. He also gets tasks I assign him, with due dates. It’s amazing.

My son is excelling beyond public school, in Khan Academy’s 3rd grade math and reading programs. Even more bizarre, is that Khan is 100% FREE. I’m willing to pay for this level of content, but here, it’s free.

The drawback to Khan Academy, is that their grade specific content is only offered in Math and Reading. Science, Social Science, History are not grade specific and they tend to skew upwards to high school level education.

IXL

Due to Khan Academy not providing grade specific humanities, history, science, I looked into another alternative. That’s when I found IXL. IXL comes highly recommended online. In the end, it’s not a teaching platform at all.

After two days of using IXL, I noticed that my son wasn’t getting any learning resources. IXL shows these skill paths that are derived from specific training materials (including California’s Common Core). You, as the parent, can decide which of their resources you wish to follow…

Sadly, this platform falls short, at least to me.

IXL doesn’t have the same “teacher” designation that Khan Academy has. I reached out to their support team to ask if they had a way for me to “assign” tasks to my son. They said I could “star” topics, and my son would see those topics lit up with a golden star symbol (inferring he should do those). Unlike Khan Academy, I can’t set due dates, or really direct my son on what to focus on… in the end it’s up to him if he choses to do the assignment that is “starred.”

IXL really falls short on teaching. Unlike Khan Academy, or any traditional school system, the student is not offered a lecture (video or otherwise). You start a new topic, with no knowledge of it. You immediately get a quiz, not knowing the topic, you have to guess. If you guess right or wrong you’ll get a little notification about it.

Consider this question on the topic of Benjamin Franklin:

I guessed, and got it right. Which then rendered a bit more about Benjamin Franklin:

After that, it moves on to another question. The whole flow of IXL is to give a student a quiz. Afterwards a bit of explanation, but never any content in context. There’s no video or lecture, or text about Benjamin Franklin, only specifics about the question asked.

This is the Rosetta Stone approach, and I hate it. It encourages a person to guess until they get it right. Reinforcement of learning might be happening, but at the cost of knowing any context of the topic. Certainly this doesn’t prepare a student for future schooling in higher education.

IXL is not free, it costs about $20/month.

Time4Learning

Another site you’ll hear a lot about is Time4Learning. They are again, highly reviewed. I never paid for their services, as I had a problem with their sample content. My son is in 3rd grade, and the sample content they offer for his grade level is taught through cheesy animations. Animations more geared to a toddler, then an 8 year old.

It might be a great platform, but I don’t want to risk it, as I think my son would be turned off by the really poor animations delivering the content.

ABCMouse

I put my son in ABCMouse years ago, when he was five. The problem with sites like ABCMouse and Time4Learning, is that they mix very cheesy cartoon animations with learning. This was a distraction for my son, who was interested in the delivery, and not the content. In time, he seemed to waver from the learning process as the delivery was so poorly done, he would wonder off and watch better cartoons, with no learning aspects at all.

K12

One of the top rated online homeschooling systems is K12. It’s a confusing website, as they seem to link out to 3rd party schooling, yet they also offer their own services.

Their services appear to cater to virtual public school, virtual private school and online homeschool. I looked at their sample content for online homeschool, and it looked interesting. I couldn’t get a sense of scheduling though. I’d like to have my son on my schedule, not someone else’s. That’s why I avoid virtual school systems. Their online homeschool may meet my needs, but they had several problems:

I couldn’t get their content to load!

Sample videos stalled out. They appear to use a proprietary video player and it isn’t very tuned to deliver videos. I sat waiting for their videos to load, and it never happened. One of the videos, is this one [link].

Looking in the browser console, I see tons of errors all over their site. When a video is attempted to load, this error is killing it:

https://cdn.vidyard.com/hls-videos/xqKZhPozybfBk_k2UB5obw/stream_master_Bc-2-DvIAZ_fdC75pPgyHQ.m3u8?2K2KrzBM0Fn7wlhv8Ka7DCSdmTWQbM4ZO5DM3ociTq6DF3JwU0U0G9EM8TgUbVC2E-ysR6woBQskanVSyZPaMvpdBRNPzStVaaxnJGtphz7m_RGnzgHQZ6ue4YWRjMs4SmXCEtXHqKzrpfJj-4GrJtOLA6QuwrFg9IWg_5LY2HzFyP-7EzA20_erV2ZKOdO8kuVG 403

Their streaming videos are returning 403’s. Maybe it’s a minor outage. I decided to report it to them… only they don’t have a place to submit a ticket!

They have a phone number, which I don’t want to call. In fact their contact info is very limited. There’s no automated ticketing/support system like with IXL and others. Instead you have to call this in and I guess hope they fix it.

I also had a problem pulling up sample lessons. The sample lessons are again in a proprietary embed and it took many tries to get something to load right. In case you’re wondering, I was using the latest Chrome, and I also attempted this in alternate browsers. As for my download speed, it was 150Mbs download, and I wasn’t having issues with other sites.

My Search So Far

So far I’m very discouraged. I had hoped for an online learning platform for my son’s grade level. Something that would automatically grade and report his effort.

Khan Academy was perfect, but it didn’t have grade specific content for sciences, history, social sciences, etc.

IXL had grade specific content (supposedly following the common core of my state), but they didn’t actually teach my son. Instead my son was thrown to a set of quizes and expected to learn by trail and error.

Time4Learning appeared to deliver grade specific content. This delivery though was geared at very young children, using cheesy animations and poorly drawn cartoons. I can’t attest for the content or the ability of a parent to assign tasks to their kids with Time4Learning, as I haven’t tried it yet.

K12 seemed to have a well thought out plan, but their platform was buggy. If I can’t get the marketing site to actually work, why would I move further into their strategy?

Unlike the fake review sites, I’m not going to rave about K12, or IXL. I’m keeping it real. Maybe you also are going through the same thing.

When people list Khan Academy as “the best free solution,” it’s a tip off they are marketing a paid solution. Khan Academy is the best I’ve found to date. Sadly they just don’t have the resources to delivery all their content to different grades.

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