Online Learning – lessons for the future (4)

In the last instalment, we discussed how you could know that learning has taken place, and issues around entitlement. In this instalment we are going to discuss aspects of the quality of teaching and learning.

One of the good things about  face to face lessons is the ease in principle of formative assessment and real time feedback.  Let’s compare this with online learning, with the potential variations in both time and place. In face to face lessons, you can look at their work, check their progress, ask them questions, point out next steps – for some of them at least!  They can ask you questions, if they get finished you can set them extension work, if they don’t get it you can provide alternative approaches, and so on.  In fact, that’s the point of teaching!

At first glance, it would appear that all of this – the heart of teaching – is much harder to do in online contexts.  And indeed it is.   At the time, we didn’t try to deal with all the issues, and got many of the advantages of face to face learning with some gains from moving learning online. One of them, which was the novelty of the alternative instructional framework, lasted longer than we expected.  There were students who continued to prefer it throughout the course.  And there were some ways we used online techniques to check knowledge – for example MCQs – and managed progress, through requiring that a minimum score was achieved in tests before the next module became available.     

Let’s not overestimate the ease of doing learning support and assessment in lessons at all, let alone doing it well.  After all, there may be thirty of them, and at any one time several may want your help, because they don’t get it or they have ‘finished’.  So these online techniques proved a valuable supplement.      

In the next instalment, we will look at our attempts to manage asynchronous online learning, and the reactions of other teachers to what was going on.

If you are already good at online learning, perhaps your school is ready to be recognised for its achievements. Please check out the Education Technology Alliance Schools Award at

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