Fifteen years ago, the term online learning wouldn’t have been particularly relevant. The internet was slower, there were no smart phones, and although there were plenty of personal computers around price points made them still difficult to access.
Has much changed in the last fifteen years though. Obviously this has come to the fore due to the global pandemic we find ourselves right in the middle of, but there were signs before this that home based and online learning was starting to become more prominent.
There are still barriers to participation that need addressing, not least the access to equipment and training needs of both teachers and students, but this sudden shift, and speaking from experience this sudden shift back has highlighted both the benefits and pitfalls of moving to online learning.
We will talk about some of these below.
Home is were the heart is!
Travelling for both teachers and students is a time drain, and not usually the most enjoyable of experiences. (especially if you live in the city) This time can be better used to prepare lessons or to spend time studying. It will also reduce the pressure on public transport at peak times.
TIme, time, time
For teachers it affords the time to be able to spend time with their own families, and to be able to give more time to lesson planning, though without the interactivity of a real classroom, as schools it also saves on running costs which could be put towards the technology required to implement.
Students get to work at their preferred time, not just following the factory style system of bells and procedure.
Working at own pace and have more time individually with students
In my experience it allowed me to interact on a personal level with students and to answer their questions that there may not have been time for in a classroom stetting. It also allowed students to work at their own pace and to actually start developing other, real world skills, as they completed work.
Sorry to say this part was way, way easy to write than the benefits section.
Access to Resources
Schools are not all created equal, just like teachers and students! Being able to access the required equipment is something that can be taken for granted in richer environments and some schools and students are and will be put at a disadvantage because of this.
There are reasons we still have classrooms and teachers. We all learn from interaction with others, more than just core subjects, but our cultures, morals and societal norms. These softer skills are much harder to pick up through an online quiz or worksheet. Google has been around for years, it will have all the answers but it takes more than just information to develop skills, those are learnt from interactions and guidance.
Home is home, School is school.
Although adults may work from home, and indeed be better suited to do so, students have limited power over their environment and, in my particular circumstance, often don’t have space of their own. I have run online lessons with parents having to take the phone back, the sound of babies screaming, grandparents wandering past asking who i am.
This coupled with the psychology of going to school for students, it is a place where they learn, it is their workplace. To offer no distinction between the two at an early age will of course impact them in later years as well.
Instant feedback works
In a classroom a teacher can quickly change a lesson, or change an explanation based on the reaction of their class. This means their learning can be adapted much more effectively with personal interaction. watching 30 faces on a small screen doesn’t give the same quality of feedback.
Schools are more than schools
A school is of course a place of learning before anything else, but it is also a place where students can socialise, play, test themselves, fail, succeed all ( hopefully) without risk. They have access to adults who prime responsibility is to give them the time they need to be the best person they can be. It is also a safe space for students to have people of trust around them if they need help beyond a learning environment. Sitting in front of a computer screen in a busy house with limitted privacy is just not good enough
Reading back through this and i realise i have been pretty negative on the merits of online learning. Six months ago i think it would have been different, i am a techy teacher, use Padlet, Flipgrid, coding apps, and any new craze i think will work. However i use them to supplement my lessons not to replace them, and with the CoVid school closures i got to experience what it was like for me to actually have to sit at home and try to teach.
Although being home for me was actually lovely, it wasn’t for my students. I’m a teacher, and as with the vast majority of teachers our students will always come first. So with a much more relaxed approach than I normally have with 6 weeks of school left, I walked back in to my classroom and had a much clearer image of the 30 or so beaming smiles and faces than Zoom or my mobile phone could ever give me.