A Reflection On My Own Online Learning

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A Reflection on my own Online Learning - If it’s challenging for me, what is it like for our students? 

I recently attended the very first CEESA ‘Virtual’ Conference, ‘Future of Learning: Inclusive, Challenging, Engaged’. Many of our teachers also attended. The line-up was impressive, with the keynote speaker, Mr John Bates sharing about communication in regards to leadership, motivation and inspiration. Workshops throughout the day included topics such as individualizing professional learning, creativity in education, safeguarding practices, collaboration, diversity and community building.

All of these topics are of high interest to me. I enjoy discussing various perspectives and ideas to do with education. However, sharing ideas online is very different from face-to-face, as I found out first hand. It made me realise that if I find it difficult to concentrate and learn using an online platform as an adult, what must it be like for a 10 year old, or a 15 year old, or a 5 year old? 

The challenges I faced are the same as the ones our students face when learning on a VLE. I’ve listed some below in no particular order.
  1. Concentration span. About five and a half minutes into the keynote speaker, I began to wonder what I might have for lunch. I remembered there was some leftover lasagne in the fridge and decided that would be perfect. And before I knew it, I’d missed about a minute and a half of the lecture. At about the eight minute mark, I realised that my screen was quite dirty and could do with a clean. By the time I got the cloth and cleaned the screen, I’d missed another two minutes. And after about fifteen minutes, I thought I needed a cup of coffee. This pattern continued. Although I managed to get the main points of the lecture, my concentration on the speaker was a fraction of what it would have been if we’d been live.
  2. Technological issues. One of the workshops I joined used an application that I had not downloaded prior to the conference. I could only watch and listen to others participating, and then join for the conclusions at the end. As well as this, several of the speakers had challenges with applications, speakers, screens etc, and the participants watched with empathy as they endeavoured to solve their problems. 
  3. Instructions. At one point, I was googling something to do with a comment the speaker had made. Unfortunately, I was distracted with this independent research  just when the speaker was explaining our task in the breakout room. So of course, when I was placed in the breakout room, I didn’t know what we were expected to do. 
  4. Connections. Although the topics were interesting, and the speakers did their best to engage their audience, there was a psychological hurdle with sharing thoughts and ideas. Some people shared by raising their virtual hand, some shared in a chat, and some unmuted themselves and took control of the forum. It was sometimes confusing to work out which platform to use.
I have total admiration and respect for CEESA for facilitating this conference. The quality of workshops was high and the speakers and facilitators were skilled, knowledgeable and engaging. My point is not to criticise this particular conference but to highlight the challenges of learning online.

When reflecting on my experiences with learning online, I can’t help but wonder how our children do this. Primary-aged students cannot be expected to sit and watch a screen for long periods of time. The younger the child, the shorter their attention span and all of us learn better by doing things rather than just observing. 
 
So, what can we do to help our children when they are learning online? For children to succeed when learning through a virtual or online platform, several things need to be in place. 

The physical environment must be conducive to learning. If possible, make a learning space away from the television and away from toys. A calm, quiet space would be best. In reality, many of us don’t have this luxury of space, so making learning times different from play times and TV times will help. 

Teachers need to be clear about what the learning outcomes are. Students are more likely to complete tasks if they understand the purpose, and learning is more effective if they understand what they are expected to learn. 

Children cannot be expected to learn online without support from an adult. They will need assistance with the technological side of learning at home such as logging on to websites and apps, making sure devices are changed, and help with troubleshooting when there are problems. They will also need help with the learning aspect of the programme. Learning is consolidated when the child explains their processes and understanding. Being questioned about their tasks, and having an opportunity to ask questions will help the child achieve the learning outcomes more easily. 

Children need to be supervised and monitored to ensure that work is completed. It is natural for children (and adults) to become side-tracked when learning online. With the teacher not being physically there to remind them to stay on task, this role falls to an adult at home. 

An important part of school for children is to develop and sustain friendships and to learn social skills. Much of our focus when working within an online learning platform is to maintain personal relationships and friendships in the class. These social and emotional connections help children feel less isolated. 

And finally, children need regular breaks from their home learning. Playing outside, going for a walk, playing a game or doing a puzzle gives their brains a break from thinking and allows them to come back to their learning later with a fresh mind.

In summary, we are all in agreement that learning online is not ideal. But unfortunately, in this ever-changing and challenging world, it is a reality now. We need to accept that it is difficult but also look for solutions and ways to make it as easy as possible for our children to engage positively and continue high-quality learning. 

Warren Bowers
Primary School Principal