Transacting digital learning effectively

There is more to it than merely moving learning from classrooms to virtual classrooms. We need synergy between pedagogy, technology and curriculum.

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As many countries enter their fifth or sixth week of lockdown it is imperative that we look at how learning has been happening and if there are any changes that need to be made. The closing of schools and initiation of online learning happened with little warning, and in many instances, overnight. Schools and educators have done their best to react to the situation to try and ensure the continuity of young people’s education. But after a few weeks of ‘schooling’ this way it is important for educators to step back and examine how they reacted and, now, take the time to respond in a thought out way. For this to happen we need to examine what might be the best practices for young people to continue their education during this time. 

As I have mentioned previously, a plethora of online resources have emerged over the last few weeks, many claiming to help take the stress out of home-schooling our children. However, resources alone are not enough. Learning is a state of mind, an ongoing journey of constant development, it is something that comes naturally to humans but is often ‘schooled’ out of us at an early age. It is possible that if responded to correctly this pause in ‘normal’ schooling may be an opportunity for many children to re-learn what it means to learn. 

Now there are very many models of online learning and schooling that I have come across in the last few weeks and as always one size doesn’t fit all. Context is crucial in these times, more so than before. We do not know what the home environment our children are living with is like and how conducive and supportive it is. Hence, it is vital to ensure we do not add any extra stress for our young learners, some who may already be experiencing higher levels of stress. 

One model I have come across is the replication of school using video lessons. Students follow roughly the same schedule that they would have had if they were at school and complete work either online or through printed worksheets. Now for some this may work, as structure and familiarity can be very important. However, for others this is just not possible. For some parents also who are grappling with their new work from home situation this too is not possible.

What I am more in favour of is allowing experiential, non-silo learning to occur. Parents and guardians should allow learners to experiment and document these findings. Letting learners become curious again, allowing them the opportunity to find something they are interested in and making connections between it and their own development. In this manner children can take ownership of their learning journey supported at school and beyond by their learning partners – teachers, peers, parents & community. This is something that I encourage through the 5 Areas of Development curriculum. Learning need not and, in fact, shouldn’t be confined to 9am -3pm or to specific topics. Yes, there are some topics and ideas that students will need guidance on how to approach. For those students who will be sitting exams in the near future, keeping up with the required content is also valuable. This is an amazing opportunity to really help learners rediscover the joy of learning and discovery. We should seize this moment and become partners in our children’s learning journey and help them take ownership of their dreams by facilitating it and instilling a sense of pride in their work. This doesn’t have to be an extraordinary effort but merely spending 30 minutes a day listening to the dreams and aspirations of our learners and helping them understand ‘how’ to learn will bear rich dividends.

As I am writing this I hear that some countries are starting to ease their lockdowns and for some children this break of ‘normal’ schooling may be short lived. So rather than bombarding young people with worksheet after worksheet let us use this time to get their learning skills refined. Skills such as comprehension, research, resilience, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity and rigour will place them at an impressive vantage point for the rest of their lives. This is not to say that we should just let children lose and do as they please, but by creating guided experiential learning tasks that give learners the time and opportunity to discover something new about the world or themselves would be a wonderful way to help learners spend their time. 

The schools that I am involved with have invested in access to certain resources that help with new topics and skills. As educators, we are merely introducing students to these platforms. We then give learners the full freedom and flexibility to choose a topic of their interests and pursue it. How else can a learner who has never been previously exposed to a topic such as algorithms or machine learning or expressive arts or neural networks know that any one of these topics could pique their interests? The wonderful technology and resources that have emerged during this pandemic can serve as tools to help learners and parents adjust to their new situation but for me the real learning opportunity is in the consistent development of skills or watermarks, as we refer to them in the Five Areas of Development curriculum. For teachers, we are using this opportunity to improve our pedagogical repertoire to incorporate digital learning. We cannot merely take our classroom practices online and call it ‘online learning’. We need to be circumspect about the nature of pedagogy, the content knowledge and the technological knowledge involved. There needs to be a synergy between the three and we are hopeful that transacting digital learning effectively will be a learning experience for us all.

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