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E-learning is transforming the way education works. Some parts of the e-learning experience will be maintained in the form of blended learning.
We need to do things differently instead of simply translating traditional methods into digital ones.
Tips and Tricks Covered in This Post:
- Think carefully about using apps focussed on pre-packaged content.
- New types of assessments are possible.
- Allow students to work independently and collaboratively instead of focussing purely on the content.
- The use of an appropriate instructional management system is essential.
- Videos need to be short.
- Use streaming services sparingly – mostly for interactive sessions.
- Allow students to learn in their own time.
- Be aware of technical issues such as sound in your videos.
- Make videos fun and engaging and don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Resist the temptation to use too many apps.
- Extend and differentiate.
- Provide and gather feedback.
- Be patient.
- Don’t try to do too much. Allow for thinking and reflection time. And off time.
(Templates are provided to assist teachers in implementing collaborative learning.)
E-Learning Without Warning
Teachers are amazing. As are our students. With almost no warning, and with very little training and preparation, many school communities have jumped into e-learning to maintain some semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. And they are doing some brave and amazing things.
Of course, there are serious issues: inclusivity concerns, technical problems, lack of parental supervision, difficult home circumstances, parent outbursts, and so on. And there are no easy solutions to these problems. At the very least, I think we now realize that governments and organizations around the world must prioritize systemic solutions for those who do not have access to the internet and affordable devices.
While technology integration into education has been something of an incremental revolution over the past five to ten years, it now looks as if a disruptive paradigm shift is coming our way. As school administrators and teachers see the potential of e-learning, and as students and parents become immersed in the process of digital education, the revolution will become enmeshed in how schools do things long after the current pandemic.
This is not to say that children will (or should) learn entirely online. The e-learning model has worked well for many years for adults in professional learning scenarios, and with university students. But children at school still need some measure of contact with their teachers and peers. Especially younger children.
Thus, some hybrid version of online and in-person teaching will be the way education works in the very near future. A blended learning model that fuses online resources, activities, and other digital learning experiences, with in-class, in-person learning can significantly enhance school education – especially when combined with evidence-based, progressive pedagogies.
What follows is some very basic advice both to those who are new to e-learning, as well as those who have some experience with it. My aim here is not to list platforms and apps which can be used, nor is it to offer comprehensive advice on developing and planning e-learning modules, but rather to offer some practical and pedagogical advice to enhance e-learning. I have also tried to steer clear of e-learning jargon such as asynchronous learning, program flow models, VLEs, and the like. For something more comprehensive, please have a look at this link: http://www.fao.org/3/i2516e/i2516e.pdf
Many of the following suggestions apply both while e-learning is a full-time pursuit, as well as when we shift to a hybrid or blended approach. Importantly, although I do believe there is a place for blended learning for younger children, I believe the full e-learning experience is not always appropriate for them. Printed activity packs might be much better in this instance, and we can bring in the tech when they get back. This guide is thus aimed primarily at high school teachers.
Please feel free to offer your suggestions and comments at the end of this post.
Bottom line: Teachers simply cannot always assess the way they used to with paper-based, analog assignments. But there are still ways to do this effectively. In fact, one of the great strengths of digital assessment is that it makes us more aware of assessment best practices.
Ticking and crossing with a red pen can be done digitally, but it is cumbersome. And there are other, arguably more effective options.
For diagnostic and formative assessments, there are self-marking quiz makers such as Google and Microsoft Forms – which can be used as an easy way to gauge understanding. It is imperative that students and teachers know, however, that these are low stakes, and should only be a means of dip-sticking understanding.
For summative assessments, collaborative documents allow teachers to comment and suggest corrections. Many of these comments can be premade and applied as shortcuts – which can actually make this kind of assessment happen more quickly. And more richly.
But the true gift of digital assessment is that it brings about the possibilities of enhanced assessment types.
- Students can display their understanding in a range of ways – from videos and presentations to animations, simulations, and models. Technology thus provides a beautiful way to encourage students to be creative and to personalize assessments.
- Speeches can be recorded and edited before submission – which invariably results in more focussed time spent on honing this skill.
- Students can discover the power of learning through mastery by revising their work based on both teacher and peer feedback.
- Collaborative group assessments can also be made more meaningful and educationally sound. (More on the power of collaboration below.)
Collaboration and Content Creation
E-learning – like all learning, must not always be about content delivery. Students must also be afforded opportunities to work both independently and collaboratively to enhance their understanding. As mentioned above, digital pedagogy allows students a plethora of ways to demonstrate understanding, and to co-create content, rather than just consuming it.
It is in collaborative work that digital learning is truly transforming education. Structured, student-driven group work such as the creation of wikis and especially the use of cooperative mental models is the principal place where digital technology is transforming education. As an example, many Visible Thinking routines (as developed by Harvard’s Project Zero), provide ways for students to work together in a structured way to create understanding and enhance thinking skills.
Imagine a PowerPoint or Slides or Keynote presentation where all members of the group are contributing, discussing, fine-tuning, and learning – all at the same time. Or an activity where students are required to call on previous knowledge, to develop that knowledge, and to share it – all working collaboratively. These are just a small sample of what is possible.
I have written quite a bit about thinking routines as well as how technology can be used to enhance these. Please check out these links for more:
- What is Visible Thinking?
- Visible Thinking Lesson Ideas (Microsoft)
- Visible Thinking Lesson Ideas (Google)
I have also developed the following templates which you are welcome to make your own:
- 321 BRIDGE TEMPLATE
- Compass Points TEMPLATE
- Connect-Extend-Challenge TEMPLATE
- I Used to Think TEMPLATEJIGSAWPEEL THE FRUIT TEMPLATE
- QUESTION STARTS TEMPLATE
- See Think Wonder TEMPLATE
- THINK PAIR SHARE TEMPLATE
- THINK PUZZLE EXPLORE TEMPLATE
A learning platform of some kind is essential for e-learning to happen properly. We cannot rely purely on things like WhatsApp and email to teach, engage, and assess effectively online.
A well-chosen learning platform becomes a secure repository of resources, a discussion platform, an assessment portal, a collaborative gateway, and a place where learning is enhanced and enriched – regardless of whether children are at school or not.
The choice of the appropriate learning platform (or instructional management system) is a central one, and very much depends on the core nature of the organization, the number of students, and the functionality required of this platform. There are many to choose from and the choice must not be made lightly. Consider the simplicity of use, cost, provider reputation, and support as the main priorities. More on selecting an instructional management system at these sites:
Once a platform is selected, do everything you can to stick to it. If you must change for whatever reason, do so sooner rather than later.
Provide in-depth and hands-on training and support during adoption.
There are better ways of teaching than lecturing. And there are better ways of teaching on-line than videoing or live-streaming your entire lecture. Try to avoid simply translating what you do in class to what you do online.
If you must video everything you do, record a video rather than streaming it – simply because you can edit and shorten a recording, and thus pack more into it than you do when you stream.
One of the great things about e-learning is that students can learn when it suits them. And at their own pace. Forcing students to attend scheduled live-streamed lectures takes away this freedom. Students do find their own rhythms, and they learn to manage their own time. If you must live-stream, do so sparingly, and use it mainly for interactive sessions such as questions and answers.
When recording yourself lecturing, try to keep your lecture as short as possible, bearing in mind that students can pause, rewind, and re-watch your video in accordance with their rate of understanding. Five minutes is ideal, but certainly no more than ten. If you absolutely must make videos longer than this, consider a series of shorter videos rather than one long one.
Videos do not have to be professional productions. Students find it endearing to hear a dog barking in the background or a hoot of triumph from the next room as your wife gets some amazing responses to her on-line task. Having said this, please make sure everyone in your household is at least wearing pants when they walk past your webcam.
Be careful with your sound and speak clearly. You don’t need to shout but do make sure your voice is clearly audible.
Try to accompany your videos with a transcript or a set of notes. The dictates of flipped teaching also tell us that the application of the videoed content is paramount.
Add some fun.
Using Apps, Software and Web Services
There are a plethora of learning applications and services out there. Please forgo the temptation to use too many of these. Explore what is out there but do so carefully and intentionally. Select a few trusted and effective software/ service options and use these more deeply.
Also, investigate the privacy policies and hidden costs of the software you select.
Beware of the monetization trap. It is often better to pay for a great app than to invest huge amounts of time into creating lessons on a free platform – only to find that the company ends up monetizing and school budgets mean you can no longer use these services.
Waive the temptation to use software and web services that provide pre-packaged and aligned content. Techy teachers have struggled for many years to try and make developers understand that teachers need tools to enhance understanding, the acquisition of skills, and engagement far more than they need content. One of the major jobs of a teacher has always been to translate canned curricula into something digestible and appropriate for their own teaching contexts and to encourage the acquisition of skills and values along the way. This should not stop when we step into the world of e-learning.
A Few Other Suggestions
- Be patient.
- Add optional sections to extend those who would like to take their learning to new heights.
- Try to allow for differentiation between various skill levels (with the option to move up from one tier to the next).
- Like any good lesson, start e-learning sessions with a hook. An interesting question, a video, a podcast – anything that can stir the imagination and fire up students’ curiosity.
- Provide regular feedback and ask students for theirs.
- Be careful about providing too much content too often. Allow students the time and set up opportunities for them to process, think, reflect, and digest.
- Encourage students to take regular breaks. And to switch regularly between subjects – as they would if they were at school.
- E-learning is ‘always on’ learning. But staff and students don’t need to be. Try not to publish work or engage in learning activities in the evenings or over the weekends. And encourage students to exercise, to have fun with their families, and to rest. And do the same as a teacher.
Challenges and Opportunities
E-learning holds many challenges, but it also unlocks many opportunities – both short-term and long-term. Adopting a measured, intentional approach to its implementation can help to make digital learning an essential part of enhancing education. And technology is exactly this: an enhancer. Used badly, it amplifies flawed pedagogy, used well, it significantly enhances and transforms education.
Best of luck to those forging ahead with their own and their students’ e-learning journey. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your students. We’re all in this together.
Please feel free to add your comments, questions, and experiences in the comments section below.