Online learning – lessons for the future (1)

As the secondary ICT coordinator for York LA, I was fortunate to work with the ICT leads for York secondary schools, who, with one notable exception, were a far sighted, clever, hardworking team of colleagues. Great days – we all met termly to follow national and local agendas – and to share practice.

Two schools requested support for online learning. We used Moodle to set up and deliver KS3 ICT courses, which were intended to be followed in class time. Two things happened, which surprised us.

First, some students with online access instantly logged in to the courses at home and pursued the online lessons until they ran out of steam. In one school, at the first lesson after the launch, when asked to start the second lesson several students said they had already done it, including the assessment tool which was a MCQ. One student claimed to have finished the term’s lessons, including a written assignment. Much the same happened in the other school.

Secondly, email traffic looking for support exploded. Emails about the course arrived at all times of the day and night and during weekends.

This is what happens with online learning in practically all settings. You can get huge variations in rates of progress, students don’t consider that teachers may occasionally not be at work, and feedback to ensure the learning gains have been made needs to be rethought – all very different from face to face lessons, where students are expected to learn the same thing at the same time and find out how well they have learned it. Online learning disrupts both the time and place of learning. It is not a substitute for classroom based learning. It is a fundamentally different mode of learning. This was a key finding of relevance to all schools. The date? 2005 – an unbelievable 15 years ago.

How these issues are managed in general depends on all sorts of factors, especially the attitudes of the teacher and the school.

Has that 15 year old lesson been learned? Right now, simply buying devices for students while they are forced to be at home is not enough (see Where is the guidance for teachers regarding the management of online learning?

We’ll write more about this in the next instalment.

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