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The future of online learning

Schools have gained many insights from teaching online during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. How will this experience influence education in the long term? IB World magazine reports.

The future of online learning

In the past few months, schools around the world have had to quickly make a shift from learning in a classroom setting to an online model of learning due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. This experience is making teachers rethink what learning and teaching looks like in the long term and the role that online learning can play as schools reopen.

As curriculum manager Pilar Quezzaire, says: “Most schools will need to reopen by teaching half the student population across staggered times. They will need to create blended learning arrangements and schedules that distribute learning across online and face-to-face modalities”.

Schools will use more independent learning at home, and they now have a greater awareness of the many tools available that they can use to design education differently, believes Quezzaire.

There will be more blended or flipped learning where direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.

Pelham Philip Lindfield Roberts, Headteacher of UWC Changshu China, which has now reopened, says: “The distance learning experience has prompted us to re-examine our role as teachers, as learning, ‘activators’, versus, ‘sage on the stage’. We aim to continue to explore the virtual flipped classroom approach as a way to promote students’ ownership of learning, learner agency and collaborative learning. We need to realize that it is time to change our ways of learning and our ways of assessing learning to meet these needs”.

Kieran Burgess, Diploma Programme (DP) coordinator at Dulwich College Beijing in China, agrees. As he says in our, ‘Learning through lockdown’: “I suspect the big jump along the flipped classroom spectrum will never fully reset, as students, parents and teachers have all seen the great value in trusting independence and greater personalization of learning and feedback on a much larger scale than before”.

During the pandemic many teachers and learners have demonstrated agency and are learning independently at a rate they could never have been predicted, says Quezzaire. “Teachers and learners also collaborate and share in ways they didn’t before. They have to be very efficient with their time, so collaboration happens out of necessity as a result. That’s a benefit and a strength”.

The experiences of the past few months have shown that: “Teachers and learners do not need direct or face-to-face instruction as much as they thought to have effective learning outcomes. But what they do need is face-to-face interaction, encouragement and social-emotional support. This can change what teachers and learners do in a school day as well as how learning is designed”, says Quezzaire.

“Teachers and learners also collaborate and share in ways they didn’t before. They have to be very efficient with their time, so collaboration happens out of necessity as a result. That’s a benefit and a strength”.

A question of assessment

During the pandemic, summative assessment, especially for qualifications, was either cancelled or reworked to accommodate the situation. This has caused many teachers to think about the purpose and effectiveness of these assessments. “Many schools are asking: Should we move to portfolio-based assessments? What is assessment for, and how can we make it the most relevant to learners?’” says Quezzaire.

Kieran Burgess says: “The value of the predicted grade this year, and the increasing realization from students and parents that this was based on the whole two-year programme of learning, will be positive. I intend to use the backwash effect of this to promote learning for learning’s sake, and to highlight why a grade focus is not the healthiest strategy”.

Indeed, many researchers and policymakers are openly discussing alternative forms of evaluation that take advantage of new technologies. Online assessment and remote proctoring have grown in popularity as a result of school closures. Remote proctoring ensures the integrity of an exam done in a remote location. The system monitors students through video, looking for behaviour that could indicate cheating.

A question of equity

Online teaching during the pandemic has also raised other issues, particularly: resourcing, keeping student engagement and, ‘time poverty’, (when teachers and learners need to be online at different times than in a structured school day). Time poverty can happen when schools have to operate across multiple time zones. Other times it occurs due to teachers or learners having other responsibilities such as family care that make it difficult to maintain a consistent schedule.

When considering the future of online learning models, the issue of, ‘equity’, is all important. Some learners lack access to laptops and technology, or lack motivation and help due to their home life. Certain geographical areas also lack the infrastructure to make online learning easy to do. “Schools will need to rethink their budgets and investments to increase access, address time poverty, and create assessments that take advantage of technologies that make it easier to assess over time and across many assignments”, says Quezzaire.

“We’ve already seen some schools and districts make valiant efforts to provide equipment and services to students. I suspect these efforts will continue”.

Many different kinds of education schemes are also being considered to take advantage of non-digital resources: outdoor teaching and education, project-based learning that in parts can be conducted independently and at home, or collaborative homeschooling so that learners can share resources. “We are at the beginning of rethinking how ‘school’ will look, and in the coming months more opportunities to address equity will emerge,” says Quezzaire.

Support for inclusive education and social-emotional learning are two areas which need focus. “Some schools were not permitted to conduct online learning due to concerns about inclusivity, which means definitions of inclusivity and access must be addressed. As students return from trauma, illness or isolation, social-emotional learning will also become important”.

Schools will have to create new opportunities for face-to-face interaction for social-emotional learning and support staff will take on a bigger role in a blended learning environment facing these changes. “Librarians, counsellors and technology specialists are more important than ever and have a great deal to contribute to a new norm”, she says.

“We’ve already seen some schools and districts make valiant efforts to provide equipment and services to students. I suspect these efforts will continue”.

Schools and the IB

Quezzaire says the IB now has a much better idea of the range of resources available to schools. “We’ve been privileged to see how creatively schools have responded to the sudden move to remote learning. We are also more aware of the challenges to our schools as they embrace new technologies and ways of learning. I hope this will translate into a vision for schools that meets them where they are and where they want to go”.

If you enjoyed this story, consider reading: Taking school online: lessons from research and practice  and Schools respond to COVID-19 outbreak by going virtual

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