The effects of the “learning recovery” continue to be felt around the world in education, after various periods of full or partial school closures in different countries.
In many places these issues are complex and it will take time for the impact on young people to be fully understood.
Yet we have all seen that this adversity has brought many positives – perhaps most clearly the potential of online learning to augment our teaching.
This situation hasn’t always been easy – as a headteacher in London during the pandemic, I vividly remember delivering laptops and internet connections to students in our community on New Year’s Eve to ensure they could plug in when online learning began in January 2021.
Inspire Independent Learners
As the world changes – and I also have a new role as International Director at Wellington College – I wonder if we can now reinvent the discussion around e-learning into something positive and productive, even powerful, when is it about the future of education?
Many schools, including Wellington, boast virtue somewhere in their vision or mission statement, of their desire to foster independence in their students, including in their learning.
While there are myriad ways to do all of this, online learning certainly provides an opportunity for a school to live up to the aspiration for independence and support a student’s own decisions. about place, pace and passion for one’s own learning.
After all, in all asynchronous content, the student is in control of when they engage in their learning, unrestricted by time zones or other competing commitments. They are also free to choose the rate at which they progress beyond the limits of a lesson.
It all makes sense – the walls of the classroom and the regimented school schedule don’t always offer the opportunity to get lost in a subject, and the chance of emerging enriched and energized is far greater when the pace and the learning path are something a student has chosen for themselves.
Moreover, it seems that this path works for many types of learners.
We noticed learning gains, for example, in students who were sometimes reluctant to verbalize their ideas in a class discussion. Contributing to an online discussion forum removes this barrier and allows a teacher to assess their class’ learning just as effectively.
During this time, we also noticed a particular gain for our most able students, who had been able to delve into topics that had particularly interested them, without time limits in a 50-minute lesson.
Of course, the ability to read and research online has always been there for students, and teachers have always provided extensive reading lists and enrichment materials.
But having been forced to go online, we can now see a chance for students to be directed to this in a much more personal way and to engage with them – including commenting on work and sparking new avenues of research or exploration.
This is all good when it happens – but it could also have long-term benefits, helping students maintain greater breadth in their learning.
This is important because we all see how, as students progress through school, they are bound to develop more specialization at the expense of broader knowledge; the number of subjects goes from a key Stage 3 program of maybe 14 subjects to 10 GCSEs and then to six International Baccalaureate subjects, or three to four A levels.
In all of this, we hold these top-notch qualifications in the highest regard – valuing depth over breadth.
But if we give students the online study skills to follow their own interests in the right ways, maybe we can allow students to keep the scope by focusing on what they love – while developing more the depth they need for this current educational stage.
Thinking digitally for all subjects
Moreover, as educators, we must also keep an open mind to the possibility of online learning in all subjects.
Performance subjects, for example, may seem like a particular challenge for online learning, but even here there are opportunities to be more inclusive than in conventional education, as Katrina Hegarty, Director of Arts comments. performing at Dulwich College (Singapore).
“Particular strength was around the monologue aspects, where in the solo performance the students made incredible progress. By pre-filming examples, ideas and instructions, students know more before they begin. They can pause and review and really get to grips with new concepts and different practitioners.
“They filmed themselves in different spaces and found really creative ways to explore that. We can also give very specific feedback from this, which has helped deepen the performance process for our students. »
Meanwhile, it’s not just in the act of teaching that online engagements offer new insights to teachers – feedback can also be enhanced if used correctly, as Jamie Monaghan, director of the North London Collegiate School in Dubai.
“In terms of meaningful and lasting change, setting assignments, grading all work, and providing feedback have certainly provided useful tools for teachers and leaders. Commenting through recorded messages is really powerful and accessible. »
We know that online learning doesn’t work for all students all the time, and the challenges of recent years are real and tangible for many people. We must not lose sight of the continued support we must provide and recognize that not everyone will move at the same pace on this journey.
Do it on our own terms
But we must also view the situation we currently find ourselves in as an opportunity – to experiment, innovate and transform on our own terms.
After all, much of the online learning we’ve engaged in so far has been done because we’ve had to due to school closings and closures.
Now, however, we have the opportunity to see how learners might thrive in an online educational environment that they choose to do simply because they want to learn like it and we want to teach like it.
Where isolation is not a requirement, the amount of unlocked potential has not yet been measured.
We should see it as a chance to liberate children from their education in ways we could not have imagined before. It’s something we should all be excited about.
Chris Woolf is the International Director of Wellington College International