Forget what you think you know about online learning

Forget what you think you know about online learning

With all the attention now being paid to digital solutions for schools and students working from home, it’s time to understand more about the options on the web being offered to you as quick fixes. These basic, static, asynchronous applications have their place and can be useful, but what if you there were a more advanced, dynamic, synchronous solution that offered students live lessons in real time with qualified teachers in a safeguarded online environment? Wouldn’t that be preferable?

So, what is the real difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning?

Think of it a little like the difference between having a conversation on a phone and texting someone. Phone calls occur in real time and allow for the give and take of dialogue and instant feedback, while texting is suspended in time with little, or possibly no, feedback at all.

When you think of online learning, and all the hype this pandemic has created around online learning, you probably think about stand-alone applications and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), often used for training and CPD. These asynchronous courses and tools are supplied on a variety of websites, like Lynda.com, EdTech, and even the government’s new Oak National Academy. For all their merits, these and most other course content available online consists of reading through material, watching videos, and maybe even taking a short quiz. Some courses allow students to upload assignments and receive eventual feedback from an “instructor” to supply a grade. MOOCs and other applications are a good way of disseminating information. And in this way, they are a lot like webinars, where a variety of people explain things and provide information. These options are generally useful for adults and highly motivated, independent learners.

But, there’s more to learning than just circulating information. And that’s what I want to talk about here. I want to introduce you to some video clips of live lessons so that you can see exactly how teaching and learning can function online as a better alternative to the more common asynchronous options.

Start by thinking of the regular classroom interactions you have with your students – like face-to-face lessons where students get immediate feedback on their work. They can ask questions and get clarification. They attend on a scheduled timetable. There are learning objectives, starters, and plenaries. There is homework to do. And they even have exercise books that teachers can read and mark. All of this, and more, is available online (we call our exercise books VEBS – virtual exercise books).

Students and teachers attend lessons through dedicated and secure online classrooms where they have access to more than just information: students interact with their teachers and other students through the whiteboard and its tools, audio conversation, the chat box (without student-to-student private chat), screensharing, web tours within the classroom, lesson activities (individual and collaborative), poling, emoji, raising their virtual hands for questions, and many other rich-media interactives, both within the classroom and accessed via their learning platform courses.

But that’s just the technics of synchronous learning online. The real importance is in the teacher’s ability to personalise the learning for their students and differentiate work – just like in a bricks and mortar classroom. Each child’s engagement is stimulated as their teacher gives them immediate feedback on their efforts and even works alongside them on aspects of each activity. Students can interact through simulations, game-based learning, and even do complex virtual science experiments or build virtual electronic circuitry.

It’s the difference between a live, active interaction and a dead, passive one.

This typical Learning Pyramid does a fair job of illustrating the percentage of learner recall that is associated with various approaches.

The first four levels of lecture, reading, audio/visual and demonstration are passive learning methods. This is what asynchronous applications offer.

In contrast, the bottom three levels of discussion, practice by doing, and teaching are participatory (active) learning methods. This is what synchronous teaching and learning provides.

Live online learning is all about interaction, participation, and engagement in lessons – and this is only possible in real time with qualified and experienced teachers.

Take some time to do your own investigating. Don’t settle for a quick fix or a product that really won’t help your students learn and grow to their potential. I know this is a hard time for everyone and the new immediacy of distance learning begs a tempting quick fix. But I also know that all of us are committed to securing the best education we possibly can for our students. Please look up the live online education provision (and alternative provision) that exists in the UK.

Don’t limit yourselves or your students to the idea of a static, passive, online application. Think about the imaginative ways to engage students online in dedicated, secure classrooms that allow for synchronous teacher-led and student-led lessons.

And, last but hardly least, are your safeguarding concerns. Make sure whatever option you choose is sufficiently safeguarded – for both students and teachers. Don’t forget that there is no such safeguarding with Skype or Zoom. See if you can get information from Ofsted reports where inspected institutions have used a synchronous online learning provision. Look for both quality assurance and student progression on a par with, or exceeding, mainstream standards.

Just remember…, all online learning is not equal. At Apricot, we prove that every hour of every school day.