In covid-19 times we had the opportunity to experiment with different learning methods beside the traditional classroom. This is good!
Having 20–30 students (or more) in a classroom listening to a live lecture is hardly an effective way to teach. There are several reasons why:
- the time spent on getting ready, going to school is lost
- students do not get individual attention in the classroom
- a class is only as fast as the slowest or average student group
- a lot of time is wasted policing behavior of multiple students and personalities
A new education
There are positive aspects of being a classroom also, like the peer pressure of having to interact in front of others, the good and bad examples one can get from peer students, and the social interaction. While the first two can be also achieved in an online setting, the third offers new opportunities.
What if students could learn on their own, and then just meet for fun, sports, activities outside of school? This is already part of the routine for many people already.
In the recent times, we had the opportunity to explore learning online or in a different way from the traditional classroom. How was the experience? VERY positive!
- students could have their own routine
- they can work and learn at their own pace and time
- they can helped by family members
- they can feel more at ease being in a familiar environment
In public mandatory school system, we have observed many changes, some positive some less:
- many students actually rely on food services at school!
- some students have access to computer and devices to learn, some do not or have to share with other family members
- some students have family members helping them and stimulating them, some do not
The most important item in this list is the help from others! But going to school or not is not going to help that. It may help a bit because the teacher can nudge students and give more feedback. This also provides feedback for other students, but has the disadvantage of taking time from teaching or time spent stimulating the top students.
Self-motivation and examples are the most important things a student has to learn, and cultivate.
Teachers, family, friends all contribute to give an example and stimulate students. Online learning can limit interaction if not properly conveyed. What can be done to make online learning effective?
- make sure each students get at least a 10-min conversation with a teacher every week
- quickly identify students that need more help and use more teacher time to help, or make sure family can provide more support
- stimulate students that are more effective online learners, a conversation or extra homework or extra credit can help
In summary students need support networks, both in a real class or an online class. But most importantly they need to take their time and learn at their own pace, in comfort. Being rushed out in the morning to a bus and a classroom filled with sleepy students and tired teachers is hardly an optimal way. It was the way we have known for centuries, lacking the abilities to record lectures and provide homework and feedback online and asynchronously. Today we have the technology and we can save time and effort by continuing to study online as much as possible.
About universities and higher education
Higher education mostly consists of adults individuals who must already have self-sufficient capabilities to study independently. Most of subjects can be taught online and only some laboratory experiments need to be run in person. Students are capable of learning online and are self-motivated — as they chose to join an advanced degree of studies. Online content deliver is effective and can match the speed, routine and interest of most college students.
Universities have become a place for fun activities more than learning. The cost of education has been crawling up while the learning opportunities for students have not increased, or have been diminished. A fancy campus, a fancy dorm room, a fancy gym, a wasteful and fancy cafeteria, a fancy garden, all cost money that does not go into improving or providing education. Decoupling the cost of these “extra” can provide more effective learning and also lower the cost and access to higher education.
As we have public libraries, video game rooms and gyms, we can have add-on subscription to extracurricular activity that can match the interest and pocket of any student. Want to study with others: join a library or study group. Want gym: join one. Want social groups? Join online or in person. All of these are add-on activities that can be and should be completely decoupled from higher education.
And of course it is all about an experience, living with peers, in a new city, etc. All these are choices that have little to do with higher education. Meeting people is always possible online (don’t we mostly find partners online these days anyhow?), and can be done in any add-on clubs.
There are always exceptions, and there are students of any age who may need more help and more support. This can be provided in a small extra-curricular classroom, without having to be the norm for all students.