Online learning has changed massively over the pandemic period – and the changes we have been seeing over the past couple of months may well continue after the lockdown ends.
We make seven predictions for the future of remote learning that has arisen from the pandemic.
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Online learning has usually been considered the opposite of in-class instruction – but the reality of future learning is that the two will likely need to work together.
Students need interaction with each other and their teachers – when the pandemic is no longer in effect and lockdowns have been lifted, it would be best to give children in-person time.
What many also assume about online learning is that it is focused on instructions shared over video call platforms. But this does not describe the entirety of online learning.
E-learning is divided into asynchronous and synchronous learning modes.
Asynchronous learning takes place on online program management systems – these can be accessed whenever and wherever by students and teachers.
Synchronous learning requires teachers and participating students to be in attendance at the same time – such learning sessions are generally held over video calls.
The pandemic has led to a rise in synchronous learning, more than asynchronous – video calls are meant to simulate the in-class experience.
But if the future of online learning is to take off, a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning methods will be required, alongside some amount of in-class interaction.
As the current pandemic has demonstrated, a completely online instruction process isn’t conducive for all students.
For instance, not all students have equal access to the internet or a computer – an overwhelmingly online learning environment won’t be accessible to them. In-class instruction, in such cases, would be more beneficial.
We have already seen a number of governments equipping students with iPads and internet access so they can continue their online education from home, a trend that could continue.
And beyond internet access, students with other impairments could be better served in the e-learning environment with increased accessibility models.
With more students joining e-learning programs, we could see platforms include closed captioning and use contrasting color combinations that are more visible to students with color blindness. Adjustable font sizes and zooming features are likely to be added, as well.
It has taken a long time for accessibility to be taken into consideration for e-learning, but with the changed circumstances brought about by the lockdown, things are set to get better.
Not all educational institutions have the IT infrastructure to run online learning programs. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need to be prepared for every eventuality.
The sudden shift to online learning has not been easy for most institutions – even for educational establishments with e-learning opportunities, it was a challenge.
While many institutions have outsourced their online program management systems, this places an extra barrier when trying to make quick adjustments.
But doing everything in-house can also be a tough ask – not all education servers are equipped with the kind of mass use that the pandemic has called for.
If e-learning becomes the norm, server upgrades will be required, and IT staff might have to be doubled or even tripled.
This pandemic period has been a time of experimentation and learning for everyone involved, which should be used to power adjustments in the future.
The lockdown forced institutions to make overnight changes to their learning systems – it made for a steep learning curve for students and teachers.
If online learning is going to be the future of education, additional training will be required for everyone connected with the system.
Virtual classrooms and webinar platforms require attendees to ensure they are muted unless they are speaking, to check that they are sharing the correct screen, and how to use chat modules.
But there is more to virtual learning that can pose a challenge, such as creating the right kind of visuals that are informative but not too dense, and how to use multimedia.
Teachers will need to learn how to create presentation templates that engage their students while also adequately disseminating the information they want to share.
Newer and younger teachers may be more comfortable with technology than instructors who have become used to offline technology and face-to-face interactions.
Either way, training is still required – not all platforms are the same and nobody wants to learn the hard way during a live class.
Virtual reality (VR) has been on the periphery of the online learning sphere for a few years now. But with the possibility of shelter-at-home orders spilling into 2021, VR may come to the fore.
People need interaction with each other and with different environments. The longer people stay at home, the more they struggle with loneliness and productivity.
That is where a tool like VR can be so beneficial – it can be used to simulate the classroom environment, as well as much more.
With VR, students can tour museums, geographical locations that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to, and even historical events.
However, as with most online learning platforms, the success of VR learning will depend on how many students can access it, something that will be in the hands of institutions and governments.
Beyond the Syllabus
Online learning can often feel a bit rigid – the platforms in use don’t allow room for additional materials or conversations.
The in-class experience can be much more wholesome in that sense – teachers can bring in extra materials, show films, play music, and take students outside of the classroom.
But the rigidity of the online platform doesn’t mean that teachers can’t try to bring in additional experiences that made their classes more engaging.
Teachers can create attractive and fun visuals like timeline infographics, and presentations, or run interactive quizzes.
Video calls can be used not just to share presentations, but also to stream content.
Teachers can work on their strengths to create content that will engage their students, instead of focusing all their efforts on learning new platforms.
Creating Online Communities
Loneliness and lack of connectedness have been a massive negative fallout of the global lockdowns.
Not only are students struggling with being at home all the time, but they miss their friends, as well as the stimulation of a classroom setting.
While video calls definitely simulate some kind of interaction, technology still acts as a barrier since most people have to remain muted, and connections can be inconsistent.
Asynchronous learning allows for more interaction, but it isn’t instantaneous. The written word also fails to communicate much of the emotion and gestures of spoken conversation.
There is room for non-study-related discussions – keeping video time aside for students to chat with each other, or for teachers to have water cooler conversations. Moving the focus of online learning away from constant instruction and more about engagement and enrichment will make this e-learning trend more effective.
Open to Experimentation
These seven online learning predictions have arisen over the pandemic period.
Adapting to changes has been challenging for all involved, but there has been time to adjust and learn from what worked and what didn’t during the lockdown.
The most important aspect of online learning has – and will continue to be – the need for patience and for everyone to be open to experimentation.
That will be the best way to find a digital learning experience that works for all.
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