Date of Publication: 13 April 2020
As more education institutions roll out online learning in response to Coronavirus-related school, college and university closures, more questions are arising as to how seamless it is for them to switch from offline to online delivery.
In the UK alone, the BBC are planning on rolling out their ‘biggest push on education in its history’ on the 20th April, bringing ‘14 weeks of educational programmes and lessons to every household in the country.’
Elsewhere, at other international institutions such as, NYU Shanghai, they have recently launched a digital teaching and learning programme which delivers 293 live classes to over 1000 students both locally and internationally.
But, while a huge amount of effort has made lots of institutions able to make the switch to online learning, other education programmes are likely to run into technical issues. For the BBC to launch such a comprehensive programme for UK households, Tony Hall, the Director General even commented that ‘this is the biggest education effort the BBC has ever undertaken. This comprehensive package is something only the BBC would be able to provide.’ Similarly, at NHU Shanghai, their provost commented that, ‘an extraordinarily high level of collaboration and coordination’ had to take place’ before their programme was able to roll out.
This is something that, for individual organisations who don’t have a network of support to help curate content quickly and effectively, will certainly struggle to turnaround so speedily. Chief learning officer at 2U (a university online learning support programme) Luyen Chou related; ‘it typically takes months to launch really high quality online learning programmes that reflect the quality of top education brands.’
We certainly understand the length of time that is expected to create a quality online learning programme. If you look back to our first ever online learning blog posted by our Melio Education product manager, Emily, it was back in early 2019 – a month or so after Emily had begun working for Oxford Summer Courses to develop our online learning platform. After more than a year of research, planning and pilots, we successfully launched our one-on-one tuition offering with Oxford and Cambridge tutors at the start of the month. We still have a way to go, with many more exciting plans in the pipeline – but, we are proud to have been able to create an unrivalled online learning opportunity for students around the world.
We have seen that there has been a surge, especially in the UK, of parents who are seeking private tuition. According to some of the industry’s experts, ‘a drop-off in demand for GCSE revision as a result of the cancellation of exams had been more than offset by demand for other tutoring. For example, private schools were continuing to assess key-stage three pupils, aged 11-14, and after Easter some schools will start A-level courses for those pupils who were due to do GCSEs this summer.’
Are we becoming worried that conventional classroom teaching does not translate well into an online education? Could we instead be seeking a one-on-one tuition that offers rigorous and personalised teaching for pupils?
Forbes’ education writer, Nick Morrison argues that ‘there are elements of the classroom experience that simply cannot be replicated in the virtual equivalent, however good the distance learning package.’ For example, Morrison goes onto explain how the social elements of the classroom can become lost when it comes to distance learning; community spirit drops as students struggle to reach out to others as they would in a physical sense – can online distance learning ever create the same face-to-face interactions of a classroom, particularly in younger children?
Additionally, teachers are not as easily able to pick up on physical signals that a student may be struggling with certain parts of the curriculum. This could be particularly difficult for larger classroom settings, and so relies on waiting for the student to submit work and have it reviewed, or by having personal tutorial time with every student to discuss and hindrances they may be having – something which is very time costly.
That’s why Melio Education works so well in terms of distance learning; students and tutor are always communicating on a one-on-one basis, where students are able to raise any sticky points for them. The tutor practices on the renowned Oxford tutorial method, encouraging students to lead debate and think critically – making it easy for them to also quickly pinpoint areas where students may be weaker in, and tailor the sessions to address these.
Whatever our opinion on the transition from classroom teaching to online, with schools shut, online learning certainly provides a good experience to ensure students keep learning. If we want distance learning to evolve to replicate the same classroom experience, then ensuring we adapt not only the educational aspects for online, but also the social elements will be central to a seamless transition.