The effectiveness of online education in rural areas

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The term paper addresses the feasibility of online education in remote communities of the United States. Studies and papers are used to illustrate the benefits of online education in remote areas. Scholarly studies are checked and their analyses form part of this report. The primary references of the cited papers are scientific research, literature reviews, and surveys.
In these modern times, the Internet and advanced technologies must be useful for the purpose of education, particularly in places where long-distance travel is a matter of concern. We often refer to these places as rural localities. “Nearly a third of U. S. public schools are designated as rural” (Beck, Maranto, and Shakeel, 2016). This is a big number to ignore. They say that one out of five students are from rural areas.

If the traditional educational system cannot serve these students well, as pointed out in Brenner’s article, “the mandated report on rural education is intended to provide data about whether these provisions are sufficient for ensuring that federal policy and funding address the needs of rural schools and students and its impact remains to be seen” (2016), then alternative systems like online education must be given importance. This may, in significant contributions, help the educational community in serving the students who cannot primarily take advantage of the traditional school system.

The benefits of online learning in providing class diversity, flexibility in schedule, and serving the special education needs of the students are the main focus of this paper. From the works of these distinguished authors, I was able to conclude that these three attributes are truly beneficial to the students in the rural areas.

Online Education in Rural Areas: Is It Effective?


In an article published by the Council for Exceptional Children, Hashey and Stahl stated online learning “gained prominence in the early 1990s and online educational opportunities for K–12 students continue to grow at a rapid pace. Even in traditional schools, using the Internet for teaching and learning is now a common instructional approach” (2016). We cannot deny that the Internet plays a significant role in targeting better learning outcomes.

“Rural schools in the USA use online courses to overcome problems such as attracting and retaining teachers, geographic isolation, low student enrollment, and financial constraints” (de la Varre, Irvin, Jordan, Hannum, and Farmer, 2014). Online education has been accepted as an alternative to traditional form of learning in classrooms and schools. There is no doubt that the advantages of this technology-based educational system have already been considered before the approval of the implementation of this method in various levels of learning took place.

This paper aims to find scholarly studies about online education and its contribution to the academe in rural areas. Research suggests that online education is highly beneficial for rural students because it provides class diversity, flexibility of an alternative schedule, and extra resources for special education students.

This work tackles the advantages of online studying over learning in a classroom setting in the context of the three cited benefits as its main focus. Ten significant and related articles and research papers are consulted to support my claim. These studies are from distinguished universities and research institutions, which do not stop in measuring the performance of online education in the US. Future studies from rural educators and researchers are recommended to further note the need for cyber classes, the pros and cons, and the outcomes of providing online or distance education.

Benefits of Online Education

Online education may offer an exhaustive list of favorable results to the academic community. I would like to focus on the three mentioned benefits, which are of similar context with Beck, Maranto, and Shakeel’s work when they hypothesized that “cyber-schooling offers potentially greater benefits for rural than urban students, by providing a broader range of courses, ending long commutes, and offering more developed special education services than typically found in rural public schools” (2016).

Class Diversity

As cited by Beck, Maranto, and Shakeel, “breadth of course availability and depth of course difficulty are particular issues in rural schools. Yet rural schools play an important role in sustaining rural communities and have the potential to unite different ethnicities (2016). In their case study, Beck, Maranto and Shakeel “selected Sun Tech, which is a pseudonym for a cyber charter secondary school that serves a mixture of urban and rural students” (2016). According to their case study, Sun Tech could not select students for admission but they admit all applicants, instead. In a normal setting, a cyber school can accommodate students from a diverse background, which is one of the most important attributes in education.

Hashey and Stahl stated in their study “that a prominent feature of digital learning environments is the ability to present content in multiple ways” (2014). Learners can never be homogenous in public education. We have to serve everyone who needs to learn and diversity must be served in its entirety. Learning materials and methods must also be diverse in order to facilitate better educational experience for students who learn in different capacities.

Some of the reasons why parents prefer this alternative system, as cited in the article “The Nature of Online Charter Schools: Evolution and Emerging Concerns,” are to serve rural and otherwise isolated areas, offer flexible schedules to accommodate students who may be young professional actors or athletes, and they are convenient for students whose health may prevent them from traveling to and from a campus (Waters, Barbour, and Menchaca, 2014). The authors described the various learner backgrounds and how online learning will serve them.

Flexibility in Schedule

As a student, one of the issues that I encounter is proper time management and scheduling. In a traditional educational setting, all participants must strictly follow the designated schedule while online learning promises ease in this aspect. “The attribute of convenience is cited as the foremost advantage to online learning. Students are finding themselves in situations in which they would rather choose the convenience of online learning over the face time required of the brick and mortar classrooms” (Fedynich, 2013).

In this article, Fedinych described one conversation with a graduate student who said that she enjoyed the freedom of creating her own schedule and not worrying if she had “enough gasoline to make it to class” (2013). The author also cited that one of the positive perceptions of students towards cyber class is the reduced logistic demand, which promotes a successful academic experience.

In one study, the authors concluded that “the growing presence of K–12 online education programs is a trend that promises to increase flexibility, improve efficiency, and foster engagement in learning (Hashey & Stahl, 2014).

Beck, Maranto, and Shakeel found out in their case study that “compared to non-rural peers, rural parents and students are more likely to note structural characteristics such as the range of classes offered, and long commute times to traditional public schools, as important criteria in school selection” (2016). In their survey, they published the result that flexible classes and not having to commute are two of the major reasons why they chose cyber class over traditional education.

“Online charter schools also have unique attributes not typically found in traditional schools, such as flexible scheduling and the opportunity for students to learn at their own pace” (Waters, Barbour, and Menchaca, 2014).

Availability for Special Education Students

Smith and Basham, in their article Designing Online Learning Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, cited Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, enacted in 1998, which requires that “all technology used, developed, and purchased by federal agencies be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes all technologies from websites to telecommunication products” (2014).

An article entitled The Potential Impact of Online/Distance Education for Students with Disabilities in Higher Education by Erickson and Larwin stated, “the availability of online learning tools has provided flexibility and the opportunity to complete course requirements from nearly any location” (2016).

Erickson and Larwin from the Department of Special Education and Educational Foundation, Research, & Leadership respectively, concluded in their research that “it is expected that online and distance opportunities create a bridge for students with special needs to be able to pursue more Bachelor’s and graduate degrees” (2016).

Hashey and Stahl reinforced this conclusion by writing that “the future landscape of K–12 online education therefore represents both challenge and opportunity for students with disabilities” (2014).

This idea can also be seen when in an article, The Emerging Field of Online Special Education, Smith, Basham, and Hall, called for “increased emphasis on research and practice in K-12 online learning”. “Finally, after nearly 5 years of research within the Center, we are thankful that the leadership at the Office of Special Education Programs had the foresight to identify K-12 online education research as an emergent need in education” (2016). 

Terras, Leggio, and Phillips further cited in their article that “since students with disabilities may have difficulty concentrating, staying on task, and adhering to a schedule, online settings particularly those that are asynchronous, allow students to access courses anywhere, anytime, and any place.” They further pointed out that although the 11 female participants of the study were challenged in terms of concentration and scheduling, the flexibility of online learning, combined with their skills at self-accommodation were vital in their academic success (2015).

According to Hashey and Stahl, in their article Making Online Learning Accessible to for Students with Disabilities, “the demands for accessible online learning resources will also spur educational programmers and designers to create more online learning products that can level the playing field through enhanced accessibility, … where students can reliably benefit from the rising tide of online learning opportunities” (2014). The challenge for software programmers is to make their programs accessible to all including students with disability.

Another challenge in addressing the needs of special education students is when “students enrolled in virtual schools choose not to disclose their disability status, thus complicating efforts to measure the true participation and outcomes of students with disabilities in virtual schools” (Hashey and Stahl, 2014).


By consulting the articles annotated in the bibliography, I have come to conclude that online education is an effective system that can benefit the learning community especially in rural areas. Serving diverse learners, providing flexible schedule, and making the learning process more accessible to students with disabilities are the three major advantages of cyber class over the traditional method of teaching. Future studies from rural educators and researchers are recommended to measure the effectiveness of online education and how to address the challenges involved in delivering this method of study.


Beck, D., Maranto, R., & Shakeel, M. (2016). Does Rural Differ? Comparing Parent and Student Reasons for Choosing Cyber Schooling. Rural Educator, 37 (3), 1-12.

This article focuses on the different reasons students and parents choose online Education vs. Brick and Mortar education in rural America. The ideas of expanded course availability, flexible schedules and specialized special education programs are the focus. Authors, Beck, Maranto and Shakeel look at online charter schools and how they can aide rural students in receiving a diverse education. The authors are credible because, they are Professors and Ph.D. students in the Education Department at the University of Arkansas. The source is relevant because it supports all three points of my thesis statement. Their research backs my points about supporting flexible schedules and advanced classes for all students.

Brenner, D. (2016). Rural Educator Policy Brief: Rural Education and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Rural Educator, 37(2), 23-27.

This article looks at rural education and legislation that was put in place to help the rural population. Many argue that the laws that were created; were created by legislators that have never stepped foot into rural communities let alone lived in these communities. It explains the differences between Title 1, No Child Left Behind Act and the Every Child Succeeds Act. The author, Devon Brenner focuses on rural education. The article focuses on rural education and correlates directly to my thesis.

de la Varre, C., Irvin, M. J., Jordan, A. W., Hannum, W.H., & Farmer, T.W. (2014).

Reasons for student dropout in an online course in a rural K-12 setting. Distance Education, 35(3), 324-344.

This article examines why online education is important to rural students and gives ideas on how to retain students. It is suggested that 46% of rural students take advantage of online courses for the purpose of enrichment and advanced courses. In the research it shows that online education is rewarding and not the right fit for everyone. The lack of face-to-face interaction as well as not knowing the instructor as pitfalls that many face. Enrolling in online education takes time management skills and motivation to complete the courses. The authors of this article are all faculty members of respected universities. Each member teachers within the education department and has choose to focus on different aspects of online education for their research. This source is relevant because it supports my thesis as a whole. The research that was conducted proves how important online education is to rural education. In rural communities it provides accelerated classes for students that public schools can’t offer.

Erickson, M.H., & Larwin, K.H. (2016). The Potential Impact of Online/Distance Education for Students with Disabilities in Higher Education. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 5(1), 76-81.

The research in this article looks at how students with special needs often lack the ability to succeed in post-secondary ventures. The availability of distance learning in vocational education has become more available within community and junior colleges. But passed that, resources at universities and throughout the community start to become fewer and fewer. Both authors have their Doctorate Degrees focusing on Special Education and Evaluation and Statistics. These focuses give the authors credibility for creating this source. The relevance of this article proves the importance of online education to students with special needs. The research backs my claim of the importance of online education for Special Needs students. It also sheds light on the importance of further research and implementation of new methods for all students.

Fedynich, L.V. (2013). Teaching beyond the Classroom Walls: The Pros and Cons of Cyber Learning. Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 13.

The possibility of distance education was made available when the Internet was created, with this a new phenomena was created. By using the Internet it made accessibility for rural America much easier. The article brings to light the advantages of online education compared to traditional classrooms. Just to name a few; convenience and higher participation rates are what makes distance learning appealing. The author of the article holds a Ph.D. and is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M. Dr. Fedynich specializes in Educational Leadership and has done extensive research in Online Education. The relevance of this article to my thesis supports the idea of my claim of the importance of flexibility in schedules. The idea of online education and a flexible schedule is necessary to some rural students.

Hashey, A., & Stahl, S. (2014). Making Online Learning Accessible for Students With Disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(5), 70-78.

This article presents ways that online education is always evolving, and finding new ways for students with disabilities to participate to the fullest.

By attending online classes materials can be presented in various ways, allowing all types of learners to succeed in schools. Both authors’ careers focus on education, online education and educational technology. This article is relevant because it highlights my claims of alternative education and flexible schedules.

Smith, S., & Basham, J.D. (2014) Designing Online Learning Opportunities for Students with Disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(5), 127-137.

The purpose of this article is to explore the possibilities of online for students with special needs. The article introduces different methods of online teaching and how each can benefit different students. The authors of the article also explain how Section 508 was created to help diminish any barriers for learners with special needs and make online information accessible for everyone. Authors, Smith and Basham both have earned their Ph.D.’s. They are both Professors at the University of Kansas; working in the Special Education Department. This article is relevant because it because it sheds light on ways that online education for special education and struggling students is evolving to support accessibility.

Smith, S., Basham, J.D., & Hall, T. (2016). The Emerging Field of Online Special Education. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(3), 123-125.

Research conducted by The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities found that online education is available in all 50 states and 5 territories. But, 36% of these states and territories have access for those with special needs. Researchers focused on 3 tasks in order to support the need for more research in the field of online education. One of the main research factors was how personalized education for special needs education is something that needs to be looked at more. The 3 authors of this article all work hand in hand with the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities. Authors Smith and Basham are both Professors at the University of Kansas; working in the Special Education Department. Tracey Hall is a research scientist and Designer at CAST. This source is relevant because it highlights the limitations that special education students face when it comes to online education.

Terras, K., Leggio, J., & Phillips, A. (2015). Disability Accommodations in Online Courses: The Graduate Student Experience. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 28(3), 329-240.

Online education allows for students with special education the ability to excel. By enrolling in online education courses students that have trouble concentrating in class; can access course material anywhere and anytime. This article looks into how different accommodations are available to students and professors can help. The article has credible researchers who all hold Ph.D.’s in higher education. All authors focus on distance learning, accommodations in online education and effective invention strategies. The relevance to my thesis correlates back to flexible schedules and extra resources for special education students.

Waters, L., Barbour, M., & Menchaca, M. (2014) The Nature of Online Charter Schools: Evolution and Emerging Concerns. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 379-389.

Online Education is growing at an unprecedented rate, and it will continue to grow. This type of education serves those that are being home schooled, live in remote areas and are in need of flexible schedules. The article looks at whether or not online education keeps students accountable and if it is effective. The authors of this article all serve as Professors in Education Departments at various credible Universities. The relevance of this article and my thesis supports my claim of the need for a flexible schedule for rural students.

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