By Lauren Oying
Online learning is still an experiment by and large, but it is a work in progress that’s here to stay. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated its widespread use and forced everyone to reckon with this new form of instruction. The NYS Education Department sent a memo earlier this year already extending flexible distance learning policies into the end of the Spring 2021 semester.
These types of extensions cannot eliminate the challenges to online learning altogether, but they do provide ample time and opportunities for educators and administrators to fine-tune the methods, modes and strategies that will ensure the smooth and efficient delivery of education. Educators are now looking to their international counterparts for best online learning practices. On that note, below is a list of notable developments from other countries and their approach to online learning.
Fintech companies are rising to the challenge of meeting online learning head-on, and Singaporean-based collaboration suite Lark is a perfect example of this. Their work has been highlighted by the World Economic Forum as a comprehensive application system that offers "unlimited video conferencing time, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and smart calendar scheduling, amongst other features." Lark has increased their infrastructure and engineering operations to meet this demand.
This consolidated platform can streamline the online education process by leaps and bounds. Most schools use a combination of applications to host video meetings, submit assignments, and communicate with teachers and students alike. This scattered approach undoubtedly increases the adjustment period to online learning, which is time better spent catching up on material.
Education platforms can also provide spaces for collaboration amongst local schools. Edukasyon.ph is one of the top online learning platforms in the Philippines thanks to their broad partnerships with the country's top universities. Their updated database contains a list of certificate courses and scholarships that are available to students at the secondary and tertiary level, and they also offer courses through partner platforms like Udemy. The popularity of this platform also shows that empowering students is a foundational aspect of these online learning efforts, too.
These alternative courses help keep students continuously busy and learning, which in turn helps alleviate the load placed on educators. It also supports students’ awareness of possible career paths early on; Edukasyon.ph's platform speaks to the fact that students' educational plans will continue regardless of the pandemic, which includes preparing for college.
The sudden shift towards online learning has been particularly hard for teachers, and this holds especially true in South Africa. Prior to the pandemic, The Conversation reports that digital training was sorely lacking amongst teachers. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem. One of the most notable developments from the pandemic has been the creation of school-wide WhatsApp groups as a way to help teachers send the necessary learning materials to parents.
Some teachers have even sent recorded videos of themselves on these messaging groups so that students can watch their lessons. These videos rely on pieces of paper taped to a wall in lieu of a whiteboard, serving as both a testament to the teachers' resilience and a rallying cry for governments and private companies alike to invest in solutions to help our teachers.
The United Kingdom
Universities in the UK are looking to slowly adopt a blended learning approach that mixes face-to-face instruction with online learning. University College London professor Allison Littlejohn notes that personal interactions are key to a good learning environment, but in light of this loss, universities will have to amp up their analytics research to make sure that students are actually staying on track with online modules. Of course, these modules will need to be a mix of short videos, lectures, and assignments to keep students motivated to work at home. Once systematically compiled, data stored from these modules can help professors identify which students have and haven't kept up with their schoolwork. This, in turn, will make it easier for educators to provide assistance and support to those students who may be struggling with a remote setup and would require limited and regulated face-to-face interaction every once in a while.
There's also room to play around with how these video lectures are delivered. Cambridge University has made all of its lectures available online, which then allows students to watch them at their leisure before group work. It also goes without saying that this arrangement allows students to better gauge their own schedules.
Online learning has also exacerbated the gap between the haves and have-nots of society, with many students unable to keep up with online learning due to very real social factors such as lack of stable internet connection — or even lack of internet connection in general. Officials from Prince Edward Island tried to mitigate this risk by working ahead and narrowing down their curriculum and focusing on what they call "foundational learning."
This change in the curriculum was also met with a heightened focus on mental health. Students' mental health is kept at the forefront of any educational move, and teachers are encouraged to check in on their students on a regular basis.
The Future of Online Learning
As seen by the efforts of these five countries, the success of online learning depends on a lot of moving factors. The harsh reality is that we may never truly arrive at an ideal online learning culture, at least not any time soon. Being proactive and constantly trying out potential learning solutions will help teachers and students alike make the most out of this new educational normal.
About the Author
Lauren Oying is an educational consultant with an interest in girls' access to education. Like many others, she's still working to fine-tune her work and personal life while living through a pandemic. She dreams of settling down in Amsterdam with her rescue Samoyed. In her free time, Lauren likes finishing puzzles and brewing tea.
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