Tips for successful online learningPosted on 20th Jan 2021 in School News, Online learning Tweet
James Fraser, Director of Teaching and Learning at Scarborough College in the UK, offers some essential advice to ensure a smooth transition to remote learning.
It is very difficult to say exactly in what way virtual learning is going to stay with us but it is safe to say that virtual learning spaces are here to stay. We probably prefer a more hybrid model of virtual learning than we are currently faced with, due to lockdown, but there are many indications that virtual learning will become a permanent fixture. In many ways, it already is.
Brief history of online learning
The first online course was presented over 35 years ago, in 1984. The Electronic University Network provided a small number of courses on platforms such as DOS and Commodore 64. This was before the introduction of the so-called World Wide Web and students had to purchase the software and communicate via the telephone. The first genuinely online course was offered in collaboration with America Online eight years later in 1992.
After that, things started to change very quickly. Universities such as MIT started offering entire lectures and course material not more than a decade later. Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, started operating around 2008 and a Stanford University course on Artificial Intelligence in 2012 attracted over 160,000 students who signed up to learn jointly. At that point, roughly 5.5 university students worldwide were taking at least one class online.
Since 2012, those numbers have been rising steadily and not only have more classes been added to the virtual world, so have entire courses. In addition, online learning has moved to social media platforms, shared learning and the introduction of gamification in e-learning.
Secondary education challenge
Nevertheless, while online learning and virtual classrooms are popular in higher education, foreign language learning and professional development, there are clear reasons why it is yet to steal the hearts and minds of pupils in secondary education. In fact, as you are able to see from Mr Fraser’s examples below, digital learning can be extremely tough on an adult, so never mind a teenager.
Added to this is the fact that where secondary school pupils are concerned, the change to online learning has been nothing short of revolutionary. One day you were in school and the next day you were at home. One day you were presumably writing homework in a diary and the next you had to find it on Google Classroom. For some pupils it has been less life-changing while for others it has been exactly that. No time to adjust, get used to and try to get accustomed to a new way of working: Here’s online learning, whether you like or not.
Ever since the first two lockdowns, the collaborative spirit among pupils and teachers has been awe-inspiring. It is one thing to say you’re 'inittogether' but it is quite another to work together, learn together, fail together and succeed together. Online learning was trial and error on a huge scale. From teachers who had never opened a laptop in their lives to pupils who had to find a way to share one tablet between three. Was it any wonder that ‘You’re on mute’ can now be found on mugs, t-shirts and even across the London sky on 1 January?
Scarborough College have asked its Director of Teaching and Learning and several of its students to share their online learning tips and experiences. Mr Fraser, Director of Teaching and Learning at the College, is a student himself. Studying for his Master’s in Education for the past two years, Mr Fraser was quick to point out while below are his lockdown learning tips, he often found it extremely difficult to stick to them. When starting his course, Mr Fraser did not stick to his own tips but that was also because he only gradually started developing a system himself.
Right now, you may be in exactly the same situation as Mr Fraser was earlier and we hope that these tips will help you. Some may be impossible to implement while others may seem ever so straightforward. But remember, the below is months and months of trial and error in practice and pupils (and one teacher) who triumphed in spite of being in lockdown. Good luck with the remainder of lockdown learning and we sincerely hope that we have made a difference.
Mr Fraser’s top tips for online learning
1. Have a dedicated quiet space where you can work.
2. Work at a desk or table. Avoid working on your bed - your brain associates your bed with sleep and you will feel tired and struggle to concentrate on your bed.
3. Keep your work area organised and tidy!!!
4. Don’t listen to music while trying to study. Contrary to popular belief, listening to music does NOT help you concentrate.
5. Don’t keep your phone in the same room as you study! The temptation to go on social media is too great.
6. Work for short periods of time - twenty minutes is the optimal time and then take a short break. The quality of time you spend learning online is more important than the quantity of time.
7. Learning is a two way process. If you have access to your teachers through Google Meet, Zoom or Teams try to get involved in discussions and ask questions!
8. Try to eat as healthily as possible. Avoid snacking when you are studying. Stay hydrated by drinking water. This will help you to concentrate.
9. Plan to do something you will look forward to in your day / week.
10. Take some exercise each day. Go for walks close to your home to get fresh air.
Scarborough College pupils had been online even before Lockdown. As a Google School, pupils had access to online materials. Each pupil has a Google Chromebook, issued by school, and their own College email address. Prep work is set on Google Classroom and children work on their Chromebooks in class as well as at home. Though the switch to a full online timetable was by no means easy, as could be seen up and down the country, it was not a complete revolution either. When lockdown was announced, teachers worked until deep in the night for weeks to switch every single lesson online. Facilitated by Google Classroom, a timetable was created for the Summer Term 2020.
After working online for an entire term and, in some cases, blended learning during the Autumn Term just gone, one could argue that many pupils have become experts. In addition to asking teaching staff about their experiences and expertise with online learning, we wanted to get an idea from the pupils. What are the top tips for the academic survival of lockdown learning? How do you get the most out of it and is there any way to enjoy it even? You may be surprised to find there are ways to enjoy online learning.
Top 3 tips
Three tops tips stand out as being the most important when it comes to effective learning and staying sane. Be organised, take breaks and go outside if at all possible. "Have your books and computer out before the lesson starts," Kate (Year 9) says. A perk of home-schooling, make sure you do not forget snacks. Snacking is allowed but it’s annoying if you have to go into the kitchen to get them during a lesson.
Your workspace is also part of sound organisation. Many children will be online learning in their bedroom, but try not to sit in bed as well. It doesn’t help your concentration or your posture and sooner or later, you’ll be horizontal and day-dreaming of that holiday in the sun. Have you got a workspace that is free from distractions? If not, can you share your timetable so that others in the house know when you need to focus on school work? "But appreciate that you can work in your pyjamas," Sherry (Year 11) adds.
Taking breaks is essential. Human beings weren’t designed to sit behind computer screens all day long and taking a break by being on the computer more seems a little counterproductive. Sherry takes breaks after each lesson, so long as it’s possible. "I just walk around the boarding house," she says. "Or I go and get a snack for the next lesson." Almost all the pupils we surveyed tried to go outside during breaks. "Just get some fresh air," Lucy (Year 9) says.
Tips 4 to 6
The next set of top tips are: be punctual, ask questions and do not let work pile up. It goes without saying that punctuality and not letting work pile up is part of good organisation. However, pupils were quick to point out the details. It is difficult to catch up with a lesson that has already started and you find yourself catching up and letting work pile up, adding to stress. Kiara, in Year 11, says that you can tell yourself you’ll complete assignments from previous lessons but, "You end up flooded with too much work, which sometimes can be unbearable." Students in the Sixth Form echo this advice, but add that you should be realistic about what you can get done in a day. Don’t give yourself too many tasks and make a small list where you can tick off what you have finished.
Almost every student advises to communicate with the teachers. Ask questions - always ask questions. When you don’t understand things, of course, but also when you are unsure. "Do not hesitate to ask your teacher for help," Kiara says. "I am sure there are many others in the class who, similar to you, do not have a clue as to what is going on during the lesson." Lucy, who is in Year 9, also advises to keep communicating with friends or classmates. Doing so, throughout the day, "Makes it feel more like a normal school day and less tedious."
Last but not least
Among the last tips, it’s important to set goals that are realistic and to go easy on yourself. It will be difficult to feel 100% motivated every single day of the week. If for some reason, you are not motivated, don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll have tough days and better days. Take a break and go again tomorrow. Setting yourself goals that are unrealistic will just stress you out and that’s going to help no one - remember about the list with items to tick off. You don’t want a list with items that are left unticked.