Embracing Online Learning as a Solution for Overwhelmed Students


Guest Blogger

April 25, 2024

Content written by guest blogger, Megan Palevich, Executive Director for Holston Academy.

Overwhelmed Students

Did you know that five out of every six children (83%) ages 6 to 17 participate in extracurricular activities? Sounds like great news, right? There once was a time when I would agree with that sentiment. Now? I’m not so sure. Why? Because students are overwhelmed.

According to one study, the average student spends five hours per week participating in extracurricular activities. However, 3% to 6% of kids spend 20 hours or more each week on extracurriculars!

Now, let’s factor in homework, which has more or less become an extracurricular activity given that students must spend their time outside of school completing these assignments. While time spent on homework varies by grade level, subject, and individual student, it’s safe to assume that students–especially middle and high school students–spend at least another one or two hours a night doing homework and/or studying.

What’s the solution? Less homework? Not necessarily. There is still value in independent assignments, projects, and studying.

Fewer activities? This measure would be entirely unfair to kids who love spending extra time on their passions, hobbies, and interests–sports, music, theater, volunteer work, after-school clubs and organizations, etc.

Shorter school days? Now we might be onto something…

Students are overwhelmed dealing with more than they can handle

Public and private school students spend around eight hours a day in or traveling to and from school. Add to that another five to 10 hours for extracurriculars during the week. The time that homework consumes certainly qualifies it as an extracurricular-level activity, so we’ll pile on another five to 10 hours a week.

By my math, an average student may be looking at spending up to 60 hours a week on school, school-related work and activities, and extracurriculars. That’s the equivalent of having 1.5 full-time jobs.

It’s no wonder kids are more stressed, depressed, and anxious now than they’ve ever been. It’s simply too much for most human beings that age to handle. Even before the pandemic, anxiety and depression increased 27% among children and 24% among adolescents from 2016 to 2019.

Something has to give.

Sleep and socialization are sacrificed for homework and extracurriculars

We all know there are only so many hours in a day. Every time-use in the enrichment/extracurricular category (especially homework) consumes hours that could be used for other, more vital, activities—like socializing and sleeping. In fact, research indicates that sleep and socialization directly correlate with improved non-cognitive skills. Sleep, in particular, is absolutely critical when it comes to student engagement. Studies have shown that teenagers average 7 to 7-¼ hours of sleep each night when their bodies actually need 9 to 9-½ hours. Tired kids are disengaged kids, plain and simple. 

Parents want their children to be well-rounded. Partaking in extracurricular activities demonstrates a student’s well-roundedness, and that stands out on college applications and resumes. However, the hours spent participating in extracurricular activities as well as doing an inordinate amount of homework are having a negative effect on kids–especially teenagers. Middle and high school students are overwhelmed and stressed because there’s simply not enough time in the day to get everything done, thus creating kids who are tired, irritable, and disengaged in school. It truly is a vicious cycle, and something needs to be done to break it because it is not a sustainable pace for kids to maintain.

The dangers of overscheduling

Yes, extracurricular activities are important and, let’s not forget, fun for students. While it never hurts to exhibit versatility and well-roundedness to future admissions officers and employers, most children participate in these activities because they enjoy them and they’re passionate about them. That’s critical to keep in mind, because these activities should be enjoyed–they’re not offered by the school or elsewhere to be a source of anxiety and stress.

Yet that’s what overscheduling overwhelmingly leads to. In fact, psychologists have sounded warnings for years that children’s lives are overscheduled, which undermines their ability to develop crucial non-academic skills that they’ll need in the real world (aka adulthood).

A data analysis published in February 2024 revealed that “students are assigned so much homework and signed up for so many extracurricular activities that the ‘last hour’ [of enrichment/extracurricular activities] was no longer helping to build their academic skills.” In actuality, all of this was hurting these students’ well-being and mental health.

The study’s three researchers, from the University of Georgia and the Federal Reserve Board, declared that these negatives were experienced more acutely in high school, when students are trying to impress college admissions offices with high grades and a laundry list of extracurricular activities.

With student mental health already a nationwide crisis, the last thing kids need is more stress in their lives because of overscheduling.

There is a solution, however, that does not involve any compromises on a high-quality education or a reduction in extracurricular activities.

Alternative schooling is a game-changer

Here’s the thing…school doesn’t need to be an eight-hour use of time. Not even close, actually. School doesn’t need to be more than a four- to five-hour block of time. In fact, it doesn’t even need to occur strictly on weekdays.

Alternative schooling, such as online education, is an ideal solution. The benefits are numerous:

High-quality education: A child only gets one shot at a great education, so that is always the number-one priority. What many people don’t know is that students can receive an absolutely amazing education online. Well before COVID made online learning a necessity, educators and students found it to be a very positive experience–keep in mind, this was before many of the online education innovations and tools that we have today.

A Babson/College Board study from 2012 revealed early recognition of the quality of online education, showing that 77% of academic leaders thought online education was equal to or superior to learning in a physical classroom. It also reported that over 69% of chief academic officers believed online learning is a critical part of long-term education strategies. Years later, a 2018 study by Learning House, Inc., revealed that “85% of students who had previously enrolled in both face-to-face and online courses felt their online experience was either the same or better than the classroom course. That included 37% who felt it was a superior experience.”

Not convinced yet? Here are some 2024 figures:

  • 63% of students in the US engage in online learning activities daily
  • Online learning can increase student and employee retention to as much as 50%
  • Online learning can reduce the time needed to learn a subject by 40% to 60%

The bottom line is, your child does not sacrifice a top-notch education by enrolling in online learning. Quite the contrary.

More time back…MUCH more time

While the quality of education is paramount when choosing the right approach for your student, the prospect of getting hours (literally) back in the day might be the most appealing benefit to online education. Consider the math–if school is cut from eight hours a day to five hours, that’s three extra hours back every single day. That’s 15 hours a week.

The advantages of this type of schedule are impossible to overstate. With three extra hours (if not more) per day, students can go to bed an hour or two earlier while still having plenty of time left over to socialize, participate in their extracurricular activities, and even relax! And this leads to…

Less stress, anxiety, and health (mental and physical) issues

Kids need breathing room built into their day. Online education provides that. It’s that simple. No more eating dinner in the car on the way from school to sports. No more cramming in an hour of rushed homework or studying at 10 or 11 pm. No more missed chances to hang out with friends. Most importantly, no more (or, at the very least, much less) stress or anxiety and worrying how everything is going to fit into the day.

It’s more than just breathing room for kids–it’s peace of mind. Knowing they have the time to get a great education and still comfortably fit in their extracurricular activities, social lives, and the right amount of sleep leaves students more relaxed, less stressed, and in many cases, rejuvenated. Alternative and online learning really is a game-changer. It can even be a life-saver.

How Holston Academy can help

If you’re not familiar with Holston Academy, let me introduce you! We offer a student-centered model of education, and our educators act as guides by providing resources, advice, and support while allowing students to take ownership of their learning.

Holston Academy believes in helping students develop the innovation and creativity skills, technology skills, interpersonal skills, and global citizenship skills they need to thrive as they approach adulthood. And we do this through learning that is personalized to each student, self-paced, flexible, inclusive, problem-based, and collaborative.

Most importantly, and relevant to the topic at hand, students can learn at their own pace, the way they want. They can build their schedule to maximize the times of day when they’re most productive, or make time for hobbies, extracurricular activities, and interests between schoolwork. Our Academic Coaches work with students to help them build their daily and weekly course schedules around the times they’re most productive.

And our students receive a wonderful education that prepares them for the next stages in life. Holston Academy has been recognized as meeting the industry standards of excellence from outside accrediting organizations WASC and Cognia as well as earned NCAA approval and UC a-g course approval.

Students of all ages should have the time they need to fit in school, homework, studying, extracurricular activities, and passions–without sacrificing sleep, socializing, or their mental health. Online learning has proven that kids can receive a high-quality education and balance the rest of their lives without having to compromise. If you and your student aren’t quite ready to embrace a full schedule of online learning, that’s okay! In fact, many families dip their toe into the water by trying a single online course or a summer course to see how it works for them. We offer those options as well.

When you’re ready to see how Holston Academy can help your middle or high school student achieve the right balance of school and life, reach out to request more information.

About the Author: Megan O’Reilly Palevich is an award-winning visionary educational leader with nearly 30 years of experience. Her career has spanned public, private, elementary, middle and high schools; single sex and co-educational schools; along with brick and mortar and online schools. These experiences have provided Megan with a unique lens in leading educational communities, understanding the whole child and student journey, as well as personalizing the development of students and faculty. Megan is a subject matter expert in blended and online learning, personalized learning, and gifted education. She has spoken at national and international events and has been published in articles and in a book. Megan is an advocate for student-centered education models that meet the needs of all learners.

Back to top