Is Online Learning the future?

Closure of schools, caused by the lockdown as a result of the pandemic has forced society to learn how to utilise technology in solving a very big problem – loss of learning by children. However, before we get too excited about how brilliant online teaching technology is, and start thinking that this is the way for the future, we should perhaps look at things from a wider perspective. I’m not speaking about the fact that a significant minority of young people do not have access to online technology. That is the least of the problem, as that can be relatively easily resolved.

There are many good things about online learning. In addition of the fact that we are all in love with our devices and it looks so smart to see all the funky things we can do with computers, smartphones, tablets, the internet and so on, remote learning online is also very efficient, as it is time-saving and eliminates the need for travelling. We do not have to worry about dressing up smartly, and some teachers even choose not to show their faces while teaching and others show off their dogs during lessons!

To take a more holist approach, we have to ask ourselves if online learning is just as good as in-person classroom learning – with students and teachers present in the flesh. My own answer is very simple. No. It is so easy to confuse efficiency with effectiveness. I am absolutely convinced that, in the long-run, in-person learning will be the dominant way and there are very many reasons for this, some of which I have given below.

  1. The socialisation between young people and their peers is an essential part of growing up, and chatting by texts or video will never be a substitute. We humans are social animals…!
  2. The process of travelling to and from school is an experience in itself, not to speak of the physical exercise of walking to schools and within the school
  3. Even in the absence of a pandemic, if online academic learning is the norm, this cannot be done for sports or subjects that are practical in nature
  4. Health issues such as mental health, obesity, spinal problems, weaker immune system and short-sightedness, are some of the conditions that are being linked with spending too much time indoors. Although not all of these have been proven, detrimental effects on health and links are being investigated

With being at home all the time, there are potentially serious health issues – both mental and physical. We live in a world where, even before the pandemic, there was an ever-growing crisis of mental health and obesity. The only thing being at home all-day will do is exacerbate these two ills significantly, and that has been happening already. Although a direct relationship has not been established between spending too much time indoors and short-sightedness (myopia), it has been shown that spending more time outdoors helps to reduce incidents of myopia

  • We do   a great deal with our devices these days, as we use them extensively for entertainment. During learning and studying, too many people, particularly children, do not have the discipline to turn off all the distractions on their computer and focus on their learning. Doing a significant proportion of learning without a computer will do a lot of good.
  • I think there is a link between writing with a pen and paper, as opposed to typing into a device, and the ability to comprehend and absorb information. I spend a lot of time in front of computers, but I very much relish reading a physical book and writing with a pen and paper when I can. Actually, I deliberately choose to do that on many occasions.

It is unlikely that everything with regard to how children learn will go back to how it was before the pandemic. The future will certainly be online-offline learning, as we have learnt so much in terms of what we can use technology for to do remotely, and there is no going back.

What I do hope is that teachers will not start cutting corners and putting  efficiency before effectiveness by doing too much of what is easier to do, as opposed to what is more effective in getting young people to learn and gain knowledge in a way that will make them grow intellectually. I am speaking about intellectual stimulation and not just passing exams. Although I believe the two are not mutually exclusive, what comes first, however, is the idea of learning for curiosity and growth. Obtaining high grades in exams is secondary to learning for growth, stimulation and enjoyment.

One suggestion I’d make is for us parents to find a way of getting our children to spend less time on their devices, including school work. For school work, they can do some of this by reading a physical book or printing things on paper. They should be writing in a book or paper, and then scanning or taking pictures of the work and submitting or storing the work digitally. Some have devices such as SurfacePro or digital pens, which are slightly better but are not alternatives for writing with a proper pen on actual paper.

One area that so many find difficult at the moment is revision and getting extra help in terms of tuition to help student improve their grades in core academic subjects. Given that so much learning time has been lost and many children need to catch up, participating in extra tuition is doubly hard, as their full-time schooling is online. Only those who are extremely motivated are prepared to do extra tuition online, after already spending five hours or more doing their school work on computers.

My next blog post will be after the government and OFQUAL have released the result of their consultation. After announcing the cancellation of exams, they are yet to provide clarity and detail on how teacher assessment will pan out. The government has said that, unlike in the summer of 2020, teachers will need to provide evidence to back up the GCSE and A-level grades they predict/recommend for each student in 2021.

There is yet to be a decision on whether there will be some sort of test, if the test will be compulsory and when will be the cut off time after which what the students are studying will no longer count towards the final grades.

Below is a link to a BBC report in May 2020, which highlights potential health issues that are related to spending too much time indoors

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200521-can-staying-inside-weaken-the-immune-system

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