The first thing you will observe is that this post is not about online teaching, its about learning. So, although teachers and educators are welcome to read the post, it is more important for online learners and parents of young learners to read this.
In these challenging times, when the ‘normal’ and the ‘routine’ are totally disrupted and many human activities have totally stopped, teaching continues. Trust the teachers to take up any challenge. This absence of a classroom was not a big challenge for teachers, and they have gone and created virtual classrooms. Some have progressed from teaching a few to a few hundred to a few thousand, and more. Where is the classroom? It’s in the cloud – the “cloud classroom”. As far as online teaching is concerned, teachers are overcoming many challenges – challenges of finance, technology, resources, and helping their students use the time wisely. And teachers have come out with flying colors in creating engaging, valuable content.
Yet, the stress is too much on teaching. The purpose of all teaching is that the learner should learn. The student should be at the focus. The emphasis should be on learning. When we say that the face of education is changing, it’s not just the way teaching will change. Its also important to realise that as teaching methodologies change and we move to online systems of education, learning methodologies have to change. The onus is now on the learner to learn. The teacher shall do his/her part, but the learner must take on the responsibility to be an active learner, a seeker of knowledge, rather than just wait for information to be thrust on him/her. The learner should “pull” the information rather than have information pushed or sent to him.
Is the student of the 21st century ready for 21st-century learning? My favourite example in classroom lectures is this. I tell my students: Imagine that when you go home today after college, your parents give you the keys to a brand new, shining, red coloured Mercedes car. Just like that. Your parents tell you that the car is for you. What will be your reaction? You will be very happy. Now, your parents insist that you must drive the car since it is their gift to you. What will you do? Most, or all, smiles vanish. “But we don’t know how to drive a car!” Oh, but you must drive it, now, its a gift from parents you know. Well, the story is clear, that if you don’t know how to drive the car, you cannot enjoy the drive. Long drives are best-enjoyed driving, rather being driven, trust me. Similarly, we must learn how to learn.
It’s the same with education. Too often parents and teachers tell young ones to study. But how does one study? Studying is not as natural a process as breathing, eating, sleeping, there’s more to it. So why does the education system not teach learners how to study or how to learn? We assume that it will happen, somehow. It is a miracle that it happens, even if it is not perfect. Sometimes, what happens is the transfer of information from the teacher server to the learner client. And in the process of this information transfer, there can and will be distortions and no transmission is 100% ideal (Shannon).
So what should learners and parents of young learners do to make online learning meaningful and successful? I share a few thoughts, but I urge you to share your viewpoints in the comments box below. We can only learn from each other, teachers from parents and children, parents from children and teachers, and learners from parents and teachers.
- Create a fixed place for learning. This may be in your home, your neighborhood library, or wherever. just as having a fixed classroom in college/school helps, find a place where you are not likely to be disturbed. Setting up this learner space away from a TV set and from the entrance to your home helps. If you are sure not to be distracted near a window, set up your study table near a window – it helps to look at distant objects from time to time.
- Ensure that you have an ergonomic seating else there will be health issues. If using a laptop, an extra keyboard and mouse attached to it is better as laptop keypads are very cramped. Also, you can sit further away from the laptop screen. Use a headphone to cut out surrounding noise.
- Just as in a college or school, make a timetable or a schedule, print it, and put it up in the learning area. This helps you and others so that if you have a single laptop computer, others know when it will not be available to them. If you have to attend live lectures or meets, your timetable is set up automatically. But so much online learning takes place at all times of the day, so you can plan your schedule. Some like to study in the early hours of dawn and some later at night; decide your timings but as far as possible, stick to this schedule. This study time will also be the time when are fresh and do not answer phone calls and messages!
- See that you have all the necessary resources like your textbooks, notebooks, writing material, your computer or mobile phone with you, in one place. You should not be leaving the online session midway to fetch some stationery or books and notes.
- Identify the learning objectives. What are your goals in studying the subject? What is the expected outcome? What are the time commitments? What will you be able to do after taking up an online course? Which skills will you learn and will those skills be useful anytime soon?
- Online sessions are rarely more than an hour or 1 1/2 hour long, sometimes shorter. Complete all the essential stuff before the session starts. That includes finishing your breakfast or meals, tea/coffee, brunch, etc and also the visit to the washroom. See that you are fresh once you sit down for the online session. Most schools and colleges in most Asian countries do not encourage their students to have meals or tea/coffee during the lecture. And with good reason. Avoid eating and drinking in an online session. Give your 100% to the subject matter; if you are busy with activities like eating, drinking, you have taken away some percentage of your attention from the primary activity of learning.
- Your learning may be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous learning is real-time learning, just like a lecture you attend in college or school. You will be attending a live meet or a webinar and the contents of the live meet may not be available in the recorded form later. So this is the only chance for you to understand the subject matter, ask questions, take part in discussions. In asynchronous learning, you will be able to watch recorded videos, not just once but over and over again, use podcasts, complete assignments and submit them and refer to various sources of information to complete any gaps in your knowledge.
- How do I study in the synchronous and asynchronous modes? In any mode of education, the learner has to be more active. More so in online mode. In synchronous mode, before the session starts or as soon as it starts, ask the speaker whether you can record the webinar or meet. If permitted, record the meet and be an active participant. Don’t just listen to the speaker. Before the online meeting/webinar starts, keep a notebook or a register with you. Write down the date of the webinar/live meet in your notebook, so you can refer to it later. During the session, take notes and if you have any questions, note them down quickly. If any dates are announced for tests or exams or project report submission, make a note of these. If a speaker has permitted questions to be asked during the meet, do so in a chat box and in a way that everyone can see. Why share your question with everyone? Usually, the doubts are common and when other learners see your question they will realise that maybe they too had the same doubt and will be glad someone asked their question. Often the speaker may ask for all questions to be presented at the end of the meet, in that case, you can note down your question in your book and ask later on. When you ask a question, it helps your teacher and course/content creator also. They can fine-tune the content and make it more useful.
- If you are learning in an asynchronous mode, watching videos, or taking tests but not live meets/webinars, then you will still follow most practices as in synchronous mode. However, you get the advantage of being able to watch the video again to clarify your doubts. You can watch the video the second time at a higher speed say 1.25X, to save time.
- Take breaks frequently, but avoid these during live meets. If your sessions are longer than an hour, the teacher will have planned a short break already into the meet. Take a break say, every 30 minutes or so, and use the 5-10 minute break for miscellaneous activities. Since you are watching the computer or phone screen, rest your eyes every few minutes. After every 10 minutes, look away from the screen, at a distant object, for about 10 seconds and blink 10 times. This will relax your eyes.
- Quiz, Tests, Discussions – Take part in all these. This will help you monitor your progress. Make a plan to submit your assignments of time. Use one of the many online calendars to prepare your schedules. Stick to the schedule. Procrastination is the worst enemy of an online learner. Keep all your study material, files sent, and received in an online folder, say on Google drive.
- When in doubt, ask for help. Most online education systems encourage collaboration among learners. Discuss your difficulties with other learners. Use online forums like Quora to ask your questions. However, academic integrity is essential and so see that all work you submit is your effort.
- Keep in touch with your teacher through whatever channels they have kept open like WhatsApp messages, email, etc. There’s one thing teachers miss more than anything else – the love and affection of their students. In a college environment, it happens so often that you will run into your teachers and have enough occasions to discuss so many things with them. That also ensures that teachers know you by name. How will you achieve this online? No, not by sending “Good morning” messages every day on WhatsApp. But you will be identified and appreciated if you are an active participant in online classes. Of course, on those special occasions like birthdays, festivals, you can and should send a special message to your teacher and you are sure to receive a special reply too from them.
- Share your experiences and constructive feedback with your teachers. Youngsters are more likely to be at ease with technology, so volunteer to help your teacher in setting up the virtual environment. Criticism, if it helps in improving the course or delivery system, is welcome, but criticism for the sake of criticizing is a strict no-no.
- Stay motivated at all times. Self-learning and especially online learning require tremendous self-discipline. Maybe you can put up a motivational quote as the desktop screen, or a printout. Set achievable goals, set a meaningful time-frame to achieve your goal and you should be good.
Get ready for learning the online way. You will discover the immense joys of learning.