Learning Barriers That Still Need To Be Addressed In Online Education

Zara Raza

By Zara Raza, marketing lead, SchoolCues.

While some students have been accustomed to homeschooling or online education from a young age, most have found themselves forced into that model since COVID struck. The abrupt switch from learning in a classroom setting to learning at their homes has been challenging. 

For starters, not all children have total or even partial access to a laptop or computer, rendering online learning especially difficult or impossible, but even for those who do have their own equipment, the conditions at home might not provide a conducive learning environment due to excessive noise or crowded households. 

That said, with regards to children who are in possession of both the equipment they need and the space to use it for optimal learning at home, they still face a series of obstacles, which, while difficult to overcome, do have solutions.

Less Social Activities Means Students Get Bored

Remote learning can be damaging to children’s mental health because of the loneliness and lack of human contact with their peers. It’s understandable: waking up and spending their entire day in front of a computer screen is unnatural and demotivating for kids. On top of that, they’re required to watch long lectures with limited interaction, and that is at the heart of the problem: not being able to connect with their classmates and teachers. 

Socializing and engagement in an online classroom are limited, especially if a teacher doesn’t take measures to ensure more interaction. During a lecture in a Zoom room, many teachers will have their students muted, expecting them to be taking copious notes and paying close attention, but students are ultimately left to their own devices without much supervision, especially if their parents aren’t around. 

Attention spans have already been shrinking due to the ever-growing use of mobile apps and video games, but with education forced online, what was already an issue has become exacerbated. One of the most important places where children can disconnect from the virtual world and enjoy genuine human interactions was suddenly taken from them.

Of course, not everything is so black and white. Online learning also has plenty of benefits, and can even be more effective if used in tandem with in-person learning that ensures socializing and interaction. More importantly, there are ways to optimize virtual classroom activities to inspire and maintain student engagement, starting with the first day of class.

An introductory activity could entail having students create a short video message introducing themselves and sharing it with the rest of the class, after which, you can quiz the students to see who remembers the most from their classmates’ presentations.

In fact, it’s always a good idea for teachers to focus more on class discussions. Online meeting platforms such as Zoom and GoToMeeting have a “whiteboard” feature. Schools can utilize it as a medium to encourage more participation, starting with something as simple as asking every student to write down their answer to a particular question and comparing answers. 

Teachers can also shift to a different style of learning where they assign some readings to students, and ask them to “run the class.” Becoming the focal point of the classroom, and enjoying a certain degree of possibility and power, students will find themselves inspired to pay more attention and take charge. Their critical thinking faculties will be activated, which means staying awake and participating won’t be as much of a challenge. 

There are also a number of amazing digital tools that will help increase student engagement, from content creation apps to platforms for online group projects and interactive lessons.  Video conferencing apps like Google Hangouts let students create online study groups. Ideally, the instructor would supply each group with prompts and questions to answer, but then students would have to come up with responses as a team, and then compare their work with other groups. 

Technical Issues In Distance Learning

It’s no surprise that when relying on technology, annoying issues will arise, and when they’re difficult to fix, the problem can break the flow of a class, and students become distracted. That is why it’s key to make sure everyone has a strong internet connection, the right hardware, and troubleshooting backup plans, especially for students, so that they can solve the problems on their own.  Having a step-by-step guide for students to follow when resolving technical difficulties will activate their sense of initiative and resolve, and will also save a great activity from falling apart. 

Knowing what IT support you can rely on is also key, especially after having attempted to follow basic protocols troubleshooting technical issues. Ideally, there’d be an IT department both the teacher and the students can contact as soon as an issue arises. 

The main takeaway for overcoming technical barriers is preparation and anticipation. Having manuals you can follow and an IT support department ready for your call will account for the vast majority of problems that would otherwise force you to waste a lot of time that should be spent on online classroom activities.

Less Kinesthetic Activities

In brick-and-mortar schools, teachers have resources and materials handy for students, especially for more elaborate activities such as science projects. This begs the question: how does one transfer such engaging projects onto the online space for remote learning? 

For starters, schools can create online simulations for experiments and other activities, like the kind you can find in virtual reality games which require actual physical movement. VR games are becoming increasingly advanced and their capabilities can be harnessed for learning purposes, even those involving kinesthetic activities.  

Of course, it won’t have the same impact as real-life experiments and activities would. It also goes without saying that there’s no appeal or learning value in simply watching a teacher perform the experience if the students can’t participate or also do it themselves. 

Depending on the danger-level of the experiment, schools can still provide the materials to students, and coordinate with parents to make sure they can supervise the student as they copy what the teacher shows them on the screen. 

If the experiment isn’t dangerous, then perhaps the students can try on their own. Even if every student isn’t able to participate, the class will surely benefit if at least a fraction of the students get their hands dirty—those watching and taking notice will find entertainment in watching their peers try to follow the teacher’s instructions. 

If schools choose not to go this route, then they need to find better ways to create more immersive experiences for kids. Some ways schools address this issue is by having virtual field trips, connecting certain concepts to real life, and asking students to summarize material using hand motions or using other objects that may be at hand for students at home, to present examples.

Cheating On Tests

Both in-person and remote learning face the challenge of dealing with students trying to cheat. Not surprisingly, thanks to having an online question-answering database like Google at their fingertips, students have more opportunities to cheat than ever before if they’re attempting to take a test remotely—even if they’re on video. 

Teachers won’t be able to keep track of who’s looking up answers on the sly. If only there was a way for them to share all of their students’ screens and supervise what they have in front of them. 

That said, technology always finds a way to solve problems. After all, that’s what it’s for. Digital proctoring solutions such as ProctorU and Examity allow teachers to monitor and supervise their students while they’re testing. 

There are also ways for the tests themselves to be designed so that cheating becomes much more difficult. For starters, create questions that require more critical thinking, analytical skills, problem solving and synthesis, questions that don’t have simple answers that can be quickly found on the internet or in their textbooks. 

By asking more questions whose answers don’t have to be specific, such as on a multiple choice, fll in the blank, or true and false, you allow for a greater variety of responses, making it impossible for students to copy. 

Students Who Are Not Tech-savvy

Not every student has grown up with technology at their fingertips. Because of this, it may lead students who aren’t tech-savvy to fall behind the rest of the class. This is why teachers and school administrators need to give the time and resources necessary for students to learn about the specific educational software their school is using.

As mentioned above, there are certainly ways to resolve these challenges. However, teachers and school administrators will need to be more proactive in implementing these solutions to keep students engaged and motivated to learn. Students will not have the same level of attention as they did in a traditional classroom, and many will continue to go off-track if schools do not calm the tide of this disruptive shift in education. There is no saying when schools are completely safe to operate in-person, but there are workarounds that can have great results.

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