The parallels between online learning and remote work are striking. Both have been available as alternatives to traditional models for several years now. Aided by advances in technology, they have made recent strides forward. This has enabled widespread acceptance of both in the face of sudden changes brought about by the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the similarities don’t end there. Just as many remote workers have discovered that there are downsides to working from home, some students who’ve left the classroom in favor of distance learning encounter problems.
Online learning challenges
Online learning might be a solution to our need to ensure better health and safety for students amid the crisis of Covid-19. But it’s not without issues of its own.
Technology plays a critical role in the success of online education. Malfunctions or the threat of data breaches or denial of service can detract from the experience. Network security providers can mitigate this issue on the institution’s end, but the end-user is often left responsible for their own system’s performance.
The issue of technology also factors into concerns about equitability for online education programs. Students don’t have uniform access to the means necessary to acquire personal laptops or desktop computers or afford consistent high-speed broadband internet. Any gaps in this area present barriers to effective learning that wouldn’t otherwise exist in a traditional classroom.
Finally, both students and the teachers themselves must have a certain level of proficiency in the medium. Individuals who are computer literate will have no trouble digesting information. Teachers who are digital natives can use the technology to present lessons with better clarity and in a more engaging way. Any shortcomings in this regard will hinder outcomes.
The need to help low achievers
Now that the spotlight is on online education, the hope is that much-needed changes will be accelerated. And in that respect, the lessons from previous studies should prove vital to understanding how we can better serve those who need the most assistance.
Low-achieving students are a group that might already be operating under several factors that put them at a disadvantage. It could be economical, a lack of social support or motivation, a gap in computer literacy, or a combination of those things.
If we’re not careful, the shift to online education threatens to amplify those factors and worsen these disadvantaged students’ outlook. The implications of such failure are of obvious importance to their parents and teachers. But they are also critical to society as a whole.
Our collective responsibility is to ensure that each new generation is educated sufficiently to be equipped with the tools they need to thrive. Doing so will boost economic productivity and nurture individuals who can make a positive contribution to society.
Addressing the deficits
As we learn more about online education on the fly, we can expect to unearth many opportunities for improvement on all students’ behalf. But what can be done right now to help low achievers?
Personalized learning has been identified as a solution to address gaps in education outcomes. To do that, we need to properly identify the needs of students who are encountering the greatest difficulties.
This practice must be founded upon a strong relationship and effective collaboration between students and instructors. Achieving that faces the same hurdles any remote worker will have encountered in dealing with their colleagues. Online communication methods are less effective than personal interaction. Both sides must make intentional efforts to communicate better.
Teachers also need to foster a greater sense of cooperation and peer-based learning in their classes. Doing so will help overcome an instructor’s personal time constraints when coaching 1:1 with low achievers. Peer reviews and external tools allow students to interact on class-related topics in the instructor’s absence to encourage informal learning.
Online learners also need to be given a similar level of support to what is normally made available on campus. Student services in online programs tend to be lacking in this regard. Effective virtual support would be able to actively probe deeper into the root cause of performance-related issues. It’s a function that needs to be separate from the instructor’s role in delivering educational content and assessing comprehension.
Prior to the pandemic, evidence indicated that a hybrid model provided optimal learning outcomes. Students might do best when they are able to blend online learning with the benefits of attending class in a traditional setting. With access to the instructor and in-person communication and interactions with their peers, they can offset the drawbacks of distance and isolation.
Until health and safety concerns subside, however, we need to step up and do better to serve disadvantaged students in the online environment.