If you thought that eLearning has now suddenly come on as something that was developed because of a world-wide pandemic, let me give you a brief history lesson. eLearning started a while ago, even before the use of the internet. In the 1840’s, Isaac Pitman, a teacher at the time, wanted to teach a better, faster way of writing. He was sent completed assignments by mail and he would then send his students more work to be finished using the same system. While this early form of eLearning was through snail mail (and we can thank our lucky stars that this isn’t how it is now), we have undoubtedly progressed in technological eLearning- what is now the primary way schools around the world are finishing out the 2019-2020 school year.
Let me first start by prefacing that the term “eLearning” can have many implications on a student’s overall life experience. COVID-19 has caused many people to make “eLearning” synonymous with “at-home learning” and the challenges that many students face with that (lack of resources, lack of social contact with peers, pressures/challenges of home life for some students, etc.). For the sake of this blog, I want to narrow down the term “eLearning” to specifically address the pros and cons that it has on student learning experience – not student life experience. It’s important to realize that eLearning can also take place in a school- not just at home. If you need assistance or aid during this time in the Indianapolis area, please refer to the list of resources at the end of this article.
Alright. How does eLearning affect student experience? Let’s start with the pros. The brain learns in so many different ways (trust me- at one point I wanted to be a doctor). There are four basic types of learning based on the VARK model. Those are Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. Each of these are obviously difficult to adhere to during a specific lesson taught in-person to 25 different students at a time. One of the great things about eLearning for students is that online-teaching can make content accessible through each of these ways for the learner.
If a teacher can post a video that models the instruction for the learner, then visual learners won’t digress much from where they would if they were learning through in-person instruction. Through this, students are also given the chance to pause, rewind, and listen to the instruction again, which helps auditory learners. Reading and writing starts to get a little foggier. However, with the way the world is progressing, students should be learning how to navigate, type, and read online-texts. It may be different from the pencil-to-paper writing that we primarily use in the classroom, but still engaging students through online-posts and responses should be satisfactory for reading/writing learners. Kinesthetic requires some creativity on a teacher’s part. How exactly do you get students hands-on experiences when you aren’t there with them? Well, this can look like walking through a mini-lesson online that teaches them to make something. Or providing simulations with 3-Dimensional graphics can replicate physical demonstrations. Whatever educators choose to do with online education platforms, there are multiple opportunities with different pathways for students to learn.
Another major pro is that eLearning is forcing students to gain independence in fields that will make them what so many schools tote as the primary focus – college and career ready. A projection was made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that by this year- 2020 – over 77 percent of jobs will require some kind of technology skillset. Many students are learning how to access documents, respond thoughtfully, and navigate standard platforms (ie. Google and Microsoft) which are inherently boosting their skills and making them more “college and career ready”.
While many schools claim that to be the overall goal, my job as a teacher is to develop capable, independent learners. I say this as an umbrella term, encompassing “college and career readiness” in it. While I would love to see my students’ faces every day during this time, I can’t help but be thankful for the opportunity it is giving some of my students to gain that independence and monitor their own learning. Obviously, this is different for each student and vastly depends on the topics listed above when talking about life experience. However, some students are taking this time to really lean in and hold themselves accountable.
I want to tell a quick story. Anyone who knows me knows that I love live theatre. I received an undergraduate degree in it, have performed and designed professionally, and frequently look for productions to attend. I recently co-directed a show at a middle school here in Indianapolis — Frozen, Jr. (Side Tangent: Holy cow. If you really want to drive yourself mad, tell a bunch of 13-15 year olds that they actually CAN sing “Let It Go” whenever they want and I can’t do literally anything about it because it’s in the “spirit of the show”.) During the week leading up to the show, I was getting nervous because one of our leads hadn’t learned his lines. I mean, we had been practicing for almost two months! How could he not know them by now? It finally came show time and on opening night, right in the middle of a scene, he forgot a key line. Everyone on stage kind of froze for a second, and then . . . he continued on and improvised to get through the scene. A week before, I would have been so frustrated, but this time, I was so PROUD. It’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Teachers – some advice: allow students to forget their lines during this time. Give them the chance to work through it and put the ownership on them to get done what needs to get done. This alternates from grade level to grade level, but can really be a great time to loosen the reigns a bit.
While I’d love to keep this blog about how great eLearning is and all the positives it has on student learning, there are some cons to the situation. I’ve already touched on some of the potential problems that many students face in their day-to-day lives. In specifically talking about how it affects learning, however, there are clear topics that obviously take a hit when not in person. Some of the main ones include inconsistent feedback, lack of accountability in falling behind, increased anxiety, and missing the encouragement to take academic risks with an educator at hand. I also strongly believe that the environment that a student learns in heavily affects their ability to retain and gain knowledge. Subconsciously, students’ brains respond to colors, anchor charts, maps, schedule organization, etc. Whether a student realizes it or not, their brain is always learning how to be more organized – always inherently asking the question “what is the best way for myself to learn?” Again, all of these concerns look differently for each student. However, even one of these concerns can completely derail a student’s outlook of school, demoralize their growth mindset, and digress the learning they had accomplished during the school year.
To summarize, eLearning has many implications on how it can affect a student’s life and routine. When it comes to the learning process itself, there are many pros that can come out of a time that seems so hectic in our world. Students have access to learn in different ways, can tap into that independence that they are often allotted to push aside in a classroom, and really take the reins of their own learning. It comes with some challenges, as all change does. However, many of the challenges can be overcome with giving students the support, encouragement, and confidence that crave.
If you need help or assistance during this time, contact your students’ teacher or reach out to a resource found through the following website. Be safe. We’ll see you soon.
1 Retrieved on April 29, 2020 from vark-learn.com/introduction-to-vark/the-vark-modalities/
3rd Grade Teacher