If it feels like the UK education system is going through an experiment right now, it’s because it is. We’ve been forced to go from theory to real-world application fast when it comes to online education, and we’re still learning. What we’ve learned so far is that online learning is much more complex than we imagined, and so many outside factors can have an influence. We’re also learning the limitations of the format. However, we’re also finding ways to circumvent these issues and rise above them. Here are some of the biggest challenges in online learning and how to solve them.
Socio Economic Disparities
Probably one of the last things that were envisaged when rolling out the remote learning initiative was the gap between students when it comes to learning environments. They may not come out and say it, but it’s clear that the plan was sketched with the average UK household in mind. Not only do children have to live and study in varying environments, but about twice as many single parents complained about a lack of equipment when it came to online classes.
This problem, however, is not an easy one to solve. First, there would need to be assistance for single parents who want to be there to assist their children during the day. But one of the things schools should consider is how heavy their courses are from a technological standpoint. Even things like streaming have to be done in a way that accommodates the largest number of devices as possible.
Programs should also be tested across platforms to make sure that students can use a backup option in cases when the device is not compatible. Making courses available on tablets, for instance, could prove to be a good second option for whenever a computer isn’t accessible.
Technical difficulties are another real challenge of online classes and one that could be debilitating. This is also where children in need might be more affected. Teachers have to be aware of things like the reliability of internet access wherever the student is, for instance. This is why it’s so important to not only keep things light but give students an alternative in case something goes wrong.
Also, while we like to talk about the ‘digital native’ generation, there will still be a learning curve when being introduced to any new application. This is why you should have an onboarding session before getting started, and consider getting the parents involved as well.
You also need to have a system in place to provide quick assistance to students in case something happens. This doesn’t mean that you’ll have a full time IT team, but at least be able to know if a student needs some kind of alternative arrangement.
Passiveness Among Students
Students are too often turned into bystanders when it comes to online courses, and it’s the educator’s job to make sure that they engage them as much as possible. Students have no problem staying in front of a screen when it comes to games and videos, so all that needs to be done is to incorporate some of these elements into the coursework.
Making alternative entertainment-based content revolving around a subject can be a good idea. Turning to an objective-based approach to teaching is another. Letting students progress at their own pace while they unlock ‘levels’ allows them to have more control over their learning, and make the whole experience more interactive. You could also help the most gifted and eager to learn to elaborate on their knowledge of a subject by making additional material and tests available to them.
Lack of Control and Discipline
A lot of the control teachers take for granted over students comes largely from the environment. Eliminating outside stimuli and being in a space dedicated to learning puts students in a much different frame of mind than at home close to all the creature comforts they’re accustomed to.
The only solution here is to be equipped with tools that allow you or your staff to control activity online and eliminate distractions. Tools like classroom.cloud, for instance, make managing online learning much easier by allowing teachers to see how students are using their internet during classes. It allows teachers to lock certain apps completely or certain pages. It also allows for easy and direct communication between students and teachers and allows them to test the progress of students through small surveys, among other things.
Isolation is one of the biggest challenges of online learning, both for teachers and students. As a teacher, you don’t want to be reduced to being a chatbot. You want your face to be visible, and you want to engage in face-to-face interactions as much as you can.
When given the chance, most students will choose a class setting instead of learning from home, and this is mainly because of the social element. However, you can keep this alive by using the various tools that are available to you.
Organising virtual group activities can be a great way to do so. Encouraging virtual group work is another great option to allow old and new friends to work together.
You should also try to schedule check-ins with your students if you have the chance. You want to pay special attention to those who are the most in need. This could be done by email, but video would be a better option. This will allow you to get a sense of whether they’re falling behind or feeling discouraged.
Lack of Motivation
This is another common issue and one that is somewhat connected with isolation. Without someone to peak over their shoulder and motivate them, some students will slowly start to drift and lose motivation. The solution here is to give them goals and make sure that they always have objectives to meet.
You want these goals to be measurable and clear. You want to let each student know how much time they should be spending on specific tasks, the parameters for completion, means for accountability, and a due date. Constantly having goals will give your students something to focus on.
Data security is another very important issue and one that we tend to overlook until something goes wrong. Students, teachers, and parents have been connecting since the beginning of this pandemic without paying much attention to what and how information is being shared online.
The truth is that all data becomes vulnerable the minute it is exchanged through an online format. We only have to take a look at the recent Zoom case where it was realised that the app was storing hours of conversation that could be accessed without a password.
The only solution here is to limit the number of tools you use and choose your providers wisely. Also, go with providers if they have a reputation for taking security seriously.
Online learning comes with its fair share of challenges and will require the help of all parties involved. At the end of the day, however, most of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of educators, and they have to do everything in their power to maintain standards and reach objectives.