Questioning Online Learning
As the world’s educators move to online and blended learning models, it may be a good idea to pause for a moment and critically think about a few questions around online learning.
One of the greatest misconceptions around online learning is that we can superimpose 19th century teaching strategies on top of 21st century digital tools. Compare for instance the child who happily spends hours playing online games with the disengaged learner who barely completes the online or blended learning tasks set by their teacher. It challenges us to ask a few basic questions: Why? How? and What to use?
Learning Science has developed as a field for many years now. We know that learning happens in certain ways. In the early years, many believed that learning happens through repetition and conditioning. Remember Pavlov and his dogs or Skinner and his pigeons? Many face-to-face and online learning tasks are still based on stimulus and response where positive behaviour is rewarded and reinforced.
Cognitive theorists emphasized the importance of thinking in learning. Think for example of Bloom’s taxonomy or Gagne’s areas of learning and events of instruction, or Gardner’s multiple intelligences.
Learning scientists have identified different instructional strategies to support how learning can take place in the best possible way. Constructivism and it’s cousin, constructionism, are particularly useful as strategies to actively engage learners in an online world.
Did you know that South African born Seymour Papert was one of the first to argue for children to use technology to create – in the 60s! Papert is/was considered one of the world’s leading researchers to understand how technology can support teaching and learning. He inspired the development of constructionism.
Constructionism is based on three main premises:
a) Learning is active so learners actively make and create to make meaning through the experience of learning;
b) Learning is visible so learners end up drawing models of their learning, they interact with each other in online forums or share video posts making the learning between them visible; and
c) Learning is shared meaning as teachers we create opportunities where learners can work together in different group configurations and equip them to work in these groups.
What to use?
When we start with the HOW of learning, the WHAT tools to use changes. If our belief about learning is based on behaviourism, we’ll choose digital tools that will give learners many opportunities to repeat, practise and revise content. If on the other hand we’re moving towards a belief that learners must be given an opportunity to make their own meaning and create knowledge, then we choose different tools to support this constructionist strategy.
Tools to support a constructions strategy can include:
- ePortfolio creators: let learners create an ePortfolio where they collect all the digital resources and products they create. Useful tools to use include Google Sites, Microsoft Sway, Jimdo, Wix or WordPress
- Foster engagement with content: rather than getting learners to write reviews and reports, how about using different formats? A book report can be replaced with a video preview much like the ‘upcoming attractions’ we see before watching a movie. Rather than worksheets, consider giving learners the opportunity to identify a problem for example the elderly not accessing fresh food and milk during the Covid-19 quarantine period. Let them create a Vlog series of how they investigated the problem, interviewed different community members and researched how others solved the problem in other parts of the world or how they can solve the problem without leaving their homes. All of this can be done online with parents’ help or oversight. Tools to use: FlipGrid, Animoto, Microsoft PowerPoint’s video maker function (for offline), Skype, Zoom or FaceTime chats, or use PenPalSchools (click to open)
- Let learners research exponential growth for Maths and Life Science. They can track the number of infections on a spreadsheet and then create graphs from this.