How do you take the next step when you suddenly discover that something you thought was abnormal is perfect for you? How can you properly evaluate the explosion of schooling options, especially in the online and homeschooling space? These are two of the questions I am going to try and answer for you in this article. I will attempt to give you some guidelines to use when trying to make sense of an education opportunity that you may have thought was only for unconventional families. Still, you may have discovered it seems perfect for your children.
Remote learning has taken the limelight and has been a topic of discussion on television, radio, and online media since the Covid pandemic took hold of the world. With schools having to shut down and go online many children (and their parents) have had an experience of homeschooling and online schooling forced on them when they may not have tried to learn this way by choice. There has been a very mixed experience of this.
Some children have discovered that online learning meets their needs in ways that traditional education cannot. They can work at their own pace and spend more time on things that they find difficult. They are not faced with constant interruptions caused by having to change from class to class. Children are not distracted by the behaviour of other children or the lack of comfort of the classroom. Children also like to make more choices about what they learn and when they learn it, which means that they are more engaged with their learning. They are also not held back to the pace of the rest of the class when they find the work easy.
On the other hand, children can lose focus, be tempted to play games or waste time and can find themselves falling behind without the teacher being able to notice or keep them on track. The concept of ‘Zoom’ fatigue has also become an issue. People working from home and children learning remotely have found the challenge of being in online meetings for protracted periods mentally exhausting. Concentration slips and attention wanders. Teachers have had an immense struggle to keep their students engaged and often have no way of knowing if they are paying attention.
Schools that pivoted to an online model during the lockdown made the mistake of trying to run a synchronous timetable. That is, they tried to follow the same schedule they would have if the students had been attending live lessons. Proper online schooling does not work this way. Being an online learner is like homeschooling with one significant difference: The student becomes more and more capable of learning without any adult assistance at home.
It is a feature of an excellent online school that we provide a process for children to learn the skills they need to be independent learners. This process includes self-pacing, time management and the ability to schedule their day. It also includes teaching children to work collaboratively with peers in remote locations. No parent should choose online learning for their children without expecting the learning process to be delightfully different.
So, with what should you be delighted? The school should engage with your child as an individual and tailor their learning to suit their needs and interest. Your child should be able to advance at a faster rate in areas where they have an aptitude and intense curiosity. They should be able to take their time and work deliberately when they need to.
Testing and assessment should also be significantly different from a traditional experience. Online systems offer the opportunity to use machine learning and data analysis to make learning specific to a child’s needs. Online learner management systems should collect data on everything a child is doing and learning and start to offer suggestions for improving their understanding and mastery.
There is a story about a father with three young daughters. One is two years old, the second is four, and the oldest is seven. He sits down to tell them a story. “Mapule climbs up the stairs and opens the door; there is the Dragon!” The seven-year-old says, oooh! “Mapule climbs up the stairs and opens the door.” The four-year-old says, oooh! “Mapule climbs up the stairs.” The two-year-old says, oooh! Because climbing up the stairs is wonderful to a two-year-old. As our children grow, they lose their sense of wonder and curiosity.
Online schooling executed well, offers children an ongoingly engaging experience. Using, video, games, simulations, discussion platforms and immediate feedback in a way that traditional school models are unable to. It keeps children in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, where the work they do is neither too easy nor too difficult.
When you are deciding if you want to enrol your child with an online school, ask yourself; how often will they start a lesson and say “oooh!”
By: Colin Northmore, Principal of Evolve Online School, a brand of ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider. Visit www.evolveonline.co.za