Making Online Learning Better

When I think about online learning, I immediately think about e2020. In theory e2020 is an amazing online learning program supporting blended and virtual models, allowing teachers to individualize instruction to differentiate student needs; however, this does not translate in practice. I am not sure how other people have experienced e2020, but here is my experience with it in four different schools:

  • students walk into a computer lab and teacher tells them to continue working at their own pace and gives them an idea of where they should be
  • students get online and skim and skip through the instructional portions
  • students get to the assessment and try taking it using common sense
  • students check their scores and find out which ones they missed
  • students change the answers of the questions they missed
  • students check answers again and if passed, moves on. if not passed, attempts changing answers again

This is not the way education should work. So, how do you make e-learning meaningful? I am not sure if there is an exact answer or formula but here are some of the important elements of meaningful e-learning…

* Catch the attention and interest of students

Can we once and for all retire everything boring within education? How can we engage learners? One of the first things that come to mind is make it relevant. Make is interesting. Make it silly (but not too silly) and make it challenging (but not too challenging). I feel like we tend to dumb things down for students, especially high school students, and we don’t need to. We expect them to act like adults but then give them things suitable for a child then wonder why they weren’t interested in it. Use different medias to reach diverse range of students. I think the number one reason why education is failing is because we aren’t sparking the interest of students in an instant gratification era. We need to make education and learning an instant gratification experience.

* Outline the purpose and objective of the lesson or course

I can’t tell you the number of times I hear “What are we doing today” in a given class period. Sometimes I feel like toying with them and respond “Don’t you trust me” and the truth is they do but they just always want to know. Students need to be told the purpose, objective, and even expectations and this applies to online instruction as well as in class instruction. They almost need a checklist of what they should be able to do at the end of the lesson so that they can self-assess their own learning. They need to be more responsible and take ownership of their education.

* Give students choice rather than formula

We already know that everyone is different and that we all learn differently. Many online instruction is formulaic, which is ironic because it is supposed to assist in differentiated learning. Some students learn better via powerpoint and traditional lecture and other students learn better through examples so why not have both? I can be like a choose your own adventure for learning. And instead of having one or two ways of having students practice and assess their learning, why not give students the option of creating their own assignments? Obviously this needs to be monitored but I feel like things would be more meaningful if the students created it themselves. Maybe not all the time but at least having the option to do so would be a vast improvement.

* Provide practice to build learning

Practice isn’t just problem solving, reading and answering questions, and doing worksheets. Practice should allow students to look at something and be able to see it in different ways – theoretically, in practice, and as a reflection. We need a way to make learning more concrete. We need to make it stick and that means we need to practice more. Reading it is one thing, but if we want students to retain anything, we need to give them ways to practice it and live it.

* Give feedback to help solidify learning

What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? What are they understanding and what are they confusing? All of those things are necessary. We had already mentioned it in our class before but there error is a good thing. We learn through errors. We build through errors. Teachers guide and direct students through clutter to organizing, understanding, and learning. The feedback is essential. I think about the papers I have received from some teachers in the past where there is nothing but the grade. I get a B but there is nothing that tell me why and how I can do better. What do I learn? Nothing. Feedback would tell me what to do in the future and without it I probably will continue to make the same mistakes and continue to get B’s and then get frustrated and ultimately give up. Feedback is imperative.

* Assess learning

Student learning should be assessed much like student practice – it should be in a way that mirrors their optimal learning method. Meaning that student assessments should also be differentiated. Some students do better writing an essay while other students are more successful with multiple choice or true and false questions. The types of assessment should not necessarily be the same for all. Do we need a test for everything just to prove learning occurred? I’m not sure we do.

E-learning can be a great method of teaching and learning and I see great potential in its theories but we need to refine the practice of it. The bottom line for both online and in class learning is that it needs to be meaningful to the students, something relevant to their lives, and something practical for real life. I think it comes down to learning the culture of our students first and then refining education to fit into their culture. We are pressing education on them without learning about what they are all about.

Let’s think about it. Education hasn’t really changed in … forever. Youth culture, teen culture, and student culture has changed immensely and continues to change. Shouldn’t we cater education to the students?

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