Just like there are different types of screen time, we also have different types of virtual learning.
The reality is that there is much more nuance and considerations that we need to think through before broadly labeling online learning as a failure. So, let's take a closer look at the different types of online learning to see why the new environment was so challenging for everyone to navigate.
And with these considerations, perhaps it makes sense to invest in the technology infrastructure to make sure that should we need to utilize a purely virtual environment again; we will be prepared.
Most of the hot takes on the success or failure of remote learning are largely focused on the distribution of packets & worksheets. In other words, busy work that is intended to keep students occupied but may or may not have resulted in real learning.
To be honest, it is unlikely that packets and worksheets alone would have worked in a real classroom. Often, packets and worksheets are considered supplemental to learning. They are often paired with live instruction and then used to reinforce the understanding of key concepts. Rarely, if ever, should packets & worksheets stand on their own.
For the self directed students & independent learners, they were likely able to find success in this low touch model. However, the majority of students likely struggled with this model.
In this model, teachers prepare a short video, identify a YouTube video, or other pre-recorded video for students to be prompted on the topic of study.
After watching the video, students will often be asked to complete a packet or worksheet to test their understanding of the material they just viewed.
While this model can have more utility than simply packets & worksheets alone, it is still largely geared towards students who are able to work independently.
Once again, the majority of students will struggle with instruction that utilizes blended learning in this manner.
For interactive learning, there is an actual teacher that is available real time for the lesson.
Similar to a classroom environment, the teacher introduces the lessons, work through a series of group exercises, answers questions and finally enables students to work semi independently for a period of time to test understanding.
As you might imagine, this model of virtual learning is preferred by most students. Not only do they have the benefit of a live instructor but there is also a group of peers who are interacting & engaging as well.
So, when their peer asks a question, there are multiple opportunities for them to test their own understanding.
With questions that they already understand they can either choose to help or continue independently. For those that they don’t know, they can pay attention to get assistance to an area of challenge.
Finally, in a well designed interactive learning environment, teachers can assign additional problems (homework) for students to work through independently to truly solidify their understanding.
Given all the benefits, one might ask - why doesn’t everyone host live interactive classes?
The reality is that it is nearly impossible without a complementary technology infrastructure to accompany the instructor. Teachers can’t simply utilize the materials that are often available in a classroom environment.
In addition, live-streams require a higher cognitive load than traditional in class instruction. We’ve all read articles about Zoom fatigue. This is especially magnified if a teacher is teaching multiple classes each day. As a result, it is nearly impossible to maintain the course load of a standard week with a single instructor.
Finally, most classrooms are designed for 20-30 students. A large class size like this that has true interactive, engaging instruction is not yet feasible for live-streaming instruction. The upper limit so far is closer to 10 students.
This means that instructors must necessarily make a trade-off. Do they try to host a 25 student livestream? Or, do they instead host a blended learning model?
For most instructors, they ended up settling on a blended learning model.
What’s important to note is that this choice is not fixed. With additional investment in technology infrastructure, we can create a more similar virtual environment that replicated the model that students learn best in.