Do Gifted and Accelerated Learners Flourish in an Online High School?

Learning Faster vs. Learning Smarter. There is a Difference.

The educational landscape for gifted students can be challenging. Most often, “gifted” learners are mistaken for “high achieving” students, when it would be more accurate to say they have special academic talents, usually in only one or a few disciplines. In this way, a gifted child may be far above grade level when it comes to reading and vocabulary, but still struggle with mathematics concepts. Likewise, many high-achieving or “straight A” students may not have an exceptional ability, but are well-focused, well-organized, and good listeners. Some gifted students may also be high achieving, some may not. What’s frustrating for students and families is when school systems lump all students into a certain category and fail to see the nuances of what each student needs. All too often these days it seems as though “gifted” education is simply another way of saying “accelerated” education. These students move through material at a faster pace than their peers in the same grade level, so that whatever extra time is gained can be put into enrichment activities. It’s an exciting concept, but it also presents a lot of opportunities for students to fall through the cracks if they stumble on a particular skill or assignment.

What an online high school environment can do that traditional high schools cannot is give more independence to students and families to make their own decisions about what is best for their learner. By high school, most students are well aware of where they succeed and where they struggle. If given the choice, without judgment, many students would probably tailor their schedules to more accurately reflect their actual abilities. So, the student who is gifted in language may choose a more challenging English or Literature class, perhaps even an A.P. (Advanced Placement) course, but then choose to remain on grade level for math. Likewise, a high-achieving student who performs well because of their attention to detail may choose to limit the number of challenging courses they take all at the same time. Both stand to perform much better in terms of instruction with more personalized channels for asking questions. By sending an email or chat to their instructors, students don’t have to announce their difficulties to the class, they can simply ask for more clarification or help as needed.

Gifted and high-achieving learners also tend to greatly enjoy the flexibility that online high school provides. Once they’ve taken a few days to get used to the self-paced format, many will choose to “get ahead” to allow themselves days off or mini-vacations that their brick-and-mortar peers do not have. The ability to choose courses that interest them is also extremely attractive to the gifted and high-achieving, and they will usually voluntarily take on more than the minimum requirements because of their innate curiosity and eagerness to learn. Instead of taking an elective like home-ec or culinary arts, a student may choose to delve into African studies, Biblical studies, Leadership, and other pursuits – all without worrying whether or not the class “fits” into a scheduled time or whether or not the class is “full.” These self-driven pursuits not only feel more rewarding for students, they look great on college applications.

When Gifted and High-Achieving Students Need More than Online Learning 

While its true that many advanced students do flourish in an online environment, there are a few circumstances under which traditional high school models may be more appropriate. Students with gifts or talents in the performing arts, for example, might find it difficult to replicate the hands-on instruction of a musical instrument or dance instructor online. It is also not unusual for gifted learners to also struggle with challenges like ADHD or exhibit characteristics on the autism spectrum. In these cases, a traditional bricks-and-mortar environment can be extremely helpful in providing students and families with the additional support or resources they may need. However, should these students also have a desire to learn at an accelerated pace, online high school may allow them to do so by taking individual courses to earn credits that can be transferred to their local schools and finish requirements and prerequisites at a quicker pace.



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