Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students through Online Programs

By Weber, Christine L.; Smith, Donnajo | Distance Learning, March 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students through Online Programs

Weber, Christine L., Smith, Donnajo, Distance Learning


In an age so dependent on technology, online courses, programs, and schools have become the latest venue in serving the educational needs of children and adults. More than half of the states now have virtual schools and others are being developed each year. There are even states, such as Ohio, where virtual schools are developing programs, such as the Advanced Learner Program, specifically for gifted learners. This leads us to question whether online courses, programs, and schools meet the needs of gifted learners, and if so how might that best be accomplished?


In order to address that question, it is important to begin the discussion with the characteristics of gifted learners. There are varied collections of descriptors and it is helpful to think about gifted learners in light of their unique characteristics as they pertain to cognitive, social, and emotional differences. No two gifted children are alike. They have different learning styles, personalities, likes and dislikes, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences. Some of the more common descriptors include the ability to make connections, rapid learning, superior analytic ability, keen observation, logical thinking, ability to manipulate symbol systems, advanced language development, overexcitabilities (inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli), keen power of observation, and emotional intensity (Davis & Rimm, 2004). It is essential that teachers and parents recognize and understand these characteristics to best meet the educational needs of gifted learners.


The characteristics of gifted learners imply specific instructional needs in the classroom. To provide appropriate and challenging educational experiences for gifted students, educators need to consider differentiating instruction by varying the:

1. Content: Instructors differentiate the sources students apply to learning by utilizing multiple resources and examples in various media formats;

2. Process: Instructors differentiate how students will learn by planning and/or structuring various learning activities and student groupings; and

3. Product: Instructors differentiate the output (how students demonstrate what they have learned) by providing different options for completing assignments.

Instructors should also vary the content, process, and product based on their students' learning profile (learning style), interest (motivation), and/or readiness (background knowledge) (Tomlinson, 1999).


In order to consider the appropriateness of online courses, programs, and schools for the gifted, we need to bear in mind what is needed in light of differentiating for gifted and talented learners. The following are key principles guiding effective differentiation (Tomlinson & Cooper, 2006) with applications to the gifted learner that include references to the National Associafor Gifted Children (NAGC) Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Program Standards (2000):

* The teacher is clear about what is significant in the subject matter. Content for gifted learners needs to consist of more complex concepts and abstract ideas. Such content can be modified through the use of acceleration, compacting, variety, reorganization, increased depth, complexity, and flexible pacing. The NAGC Standards for Curriculum and Instruction (NAGC, 2008) suggest that: regular classroom curricula and instruction must be adapted, modified, or replaced to meet the unique needs of gifted learners; the instructional pace must be flexible to allow for the accelerated learning of the gifted student; and educational opportunities for subject and grade skipping must be provided.

* The teacher understands, appreciates, and builds upon student differences. Since no two gifted children are alike, it is imperative that a positive learning environment is created to support a diversity of learners.

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