Mary-Jo Hill

14 Apr 2020
So, what do we know about online learning?

I am entering in and out of full reflexive mode, like some of us right now, one of those fortunate enough to be able to wander mentally at the moment. I am honestly unable to consider what it is like for those on the immediate edifice of hunger or loss or wading through each hour in shock or with numbness – despite experiencing the loss of my parents in pre-COVID-19 days and one of my best friends losing her mum in the last few hours. This rollercoaster effect of emotions is heightened and magnified and with that, in the times of COVID-19, the need for real collective efficacy has never been more important.

Routines, structures, timetables. Oh, how I long for them! Learning on your own, on a laptop, is a whole world away from the experience of our school communities, or the workplace and yet we have all been thrown into an on-line world at break-neck speed. These experiences in schools for staff and for the children being home-schooled are more varied than ever; in access, capability and expectations. Expectations are being lowered all around as the reality of just getting through these extraordinary times is the best one that most can wish for.

And yet, online learning has developed a lot over the last two decades. Technological change and increased familiarity has meant the oft -used asynchronous discussion at the centre of delivery from the teacher never really matches the immediacy or dynamism of the live environment. I am not too sure what prompted my anticipation of ‘Have I got News for You’ on the BBC last Friday as being able to successfully fulfill my need for satire and do so on time-lagged Zoom. (It didn’t)

The development of online learning

So, what do we know about online learning? Smith (2011) found (n=507) that a series of factors including preparedness for online study, the e-tutoring abilities of staff, the level of collaboration with peers, course design and the ICT skills of students were all issues perceived by students to be related to the quality and effectiveness of online learning.

Price, Richardson and Jelfs (2007) surveyed undergraduate students (n=99) and found that students studying online showed lower levels of academic achievement than those studying face-to-face, yet feedback on other factors contributing to the educational experience was constant across the range. They therefore suggested that this discrepancy was because face-to-face is a more effective means of generating the depth of understanding required by students to do well in their studies, although it was acknowledged that this could also have been to do with the actual tutors involved. Can we therefore infer the fact, that as always, it is the whole package and the quality of the teacher and the whole school ethos behind it that will determine its success?

In pedagogic design, on-line education must employ sector-leading strategies in engaging students and for this, collaboration and interaction have to be key. I have participated in supervision on-line this week and I find it hard to remain motivated, engaged and present: the actual active contributing factor from me as a learner seems much smaller ; only a few minutes amongst many, many more. And that seems to be what everything has become. Smaller, slower and finding it harder to be present for others.