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How Do We Need to Adapt to Online Learning?

In recent years, online learning has been hailed as the wave of the future of education; with expert teaching staff being able to deliver curriculum to masses at a low cost. But, with schools officially closing in the UK last week until further notice, and many other countries having already done so, teaching as we know it now, is going to have to become adaptive and move (temporarily) to virtual cyberspace. 

It’s not an easy transition. Unsurprisingly, it’s going to be a bigger shift than simply lifting students’ desks and plonking them at home with a teacher dictating new subject material across a microphone. 

We enjoyed reading about a teacher in Vietnam’s experience with the transition and how she’s been adapting to delivering an online education. Although she said there were definite benefits to online teaching, such as how ‘coffee-stained clothing is infinitely less noticeable on a computer screen than in real life,’ she also spoke about the difficulties about adapting to taking the classroom online. She writes; ‘classroom management. is proving a very different skill online. I may not worry about excess chatter, but I have had to introduce rules policing the use of emojis and GIFs.’


So what else do we need to consider to ensure a smooth and easier transition to online learning?

Obviously the number one priority is ensuring that students can access resources online, and become technologically savvy in adapting to a new learning environment. This is particular for younger students who may need the assistance of parents and/or carers to help get them connected. And what about those who have no internet connection? Some schools are completely removing the prospect of online learning, refusing to create an academic divide between those who have internet access and those who don’t.

John Hopkins University has said that one of the first stages in adapting to an online education is to set expectations in the virtual classroom. "We're not professional video editors or animators, so if your hand-drawn, squiggly diagrams are OK for the whiteboard, they're OK for an online lecture or discussion." Squiggly lines aside and confirmation that this may be a long-term adjustment, it is certainly is good practice to start with boundary setting. Perhaps laying down some new rules, such as no emoji sending (unless prompted), or asking students to type their questions into a chatbox and addressing them at the end of the teacher’s initial presentation, rather than a mass of students calling out mid-session. By establishing that virtual teaching is going to be a learning experience in itself, and laying some ground rules to help you get through the initial transition, you are putting yourself in a good place to adjust to a new learning environment.


Academia aside, it’s important to remember that online learning could be a very isolating time for many students, especially as many adapt to working remotely for the first time in their lives. A senior professor at UC Davis raised a rather significant point, saying that ‘the lack of personal connection will affect students, so we want to find a way to provide that—online live chats, virtual office hours, anything like that.” 

Scheduling some regular time to check in with students should be consider when adapting timetables, to maintain good well-being amongst the class. Teachers won’t be able to pick on physical social cues like they would in a traditional classroom environment, and so it’s essential to take a moment’s time to just check in with everyone. It’s also important to note that teachers probably won’t have time to do 1:1 virtual catch ups if they have a large class, but perhaps offering students an ‘always open’ email inbox policy could be just another way of showing that they’re available as an arm for support should they need.

It’s clear that there are many considerations we need to make when thinking about how to make traditional teaching more adaptive for an online environment. As time goes on, teachers will become accustomed to best practices, such as how long learning sessions should be - how long students remain actively engaged. It will also open up an exciting new way of teaching material, prompting teachers to get creative with the way they deliver engaging material, as well as encourage all students to get involved in the virtual classroom and promote an active learning environment.

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Transitioning to online learning is challenging. Schools closed, forcing education to adapt. Access to resources, setting expectations, and maintaining personal connection are crucial.

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