Distance learning. Close nightmare. If it feels like walking down the cobblestone road while simultaneously cobbling it, you are reading the right article. The one that might improve your remote learning experience.
Here I am, at 36, trying to peer into the murky waters of distance learning. While I am not suffering from computer illiteracy, it would be a stretch to call me a digital native, which makes me shudder at the thought of figuring out Google Classroom. And yet, that's exactly what millions of parents and students across the country have to do to get through these uncertain times of remote learning.
On top of technical difficulties, there is also a host of other challenges I am about to discuss. Fortunately, there are also solutions proffered by the king of online learning (or khan if you will) Salman Khan. Having founded an eponymous digital learning platform, Khan Academy, he is the wealth of online learning knowledge. If your history with digital classes is dark and not exceptionally successful, his advice might help you out. So without further ado, here's my attempt to share his wisdom.
How Do Online Classes Work?
Just when the college life couldn't get any worse, you get burdened with distance learning. It hits the moment you are least prepared for it. Is online learning as good as face to face learning? No. Distance learning is a nightmare. But it doesn't have to be so. And before I plunge headfirst into the discussion of approaches to mitigating the challenge, let me clarify how online classes work.
Distance learning students are presented with either prerecorded or live lectures, which can be accessed via a learning management system (LMS). High schools and colleges have their own LMS, most of which also feature syllabi and grades. While some classes can be viewed at a self-directed pace, others (usually conducted via Zoom) have to be synchronized with other learners.
What sticks in my craw is the fact so much of what you learn in college is driven by social interaction, which is curtailed or entirely absent online classrooms. Sure, you can interact via discussion forums, but is it really the same?
Distance Learning Breaks
As has been established above, at the heart of distance learning challenges are two issues: First, technical difficulties of taking an online course. Second, the lack of meaningful social interaction. However, according to Khan, interviewed by The Washington Post reporter Heather Kelly, spending hours on Zoom is a challenge on its own. He advises to cut down the length of study sessions for younger learners. It is beneficial to take short breaks every 30 minutes or so. Even if you are a seasoned screen abuser, like me, don't neglect this sound advice. Go ahead and stretch right now.
Personal Learning Space
Create a space where you feel comfortable not just studying but also resting. However, do not go overboard with mimicking your classroom to participate in effective distance learning. When working on your study nook, pay attention to the light. The lack of it will surely cause eye strain and mental fatigue. Furthermore, do not neglect ergonomics. Sitting with a laptop on your lap is not a sustainable way to study at home – neck pain will quickly diminish your ambition to uncover the new depths of your discipline. Finally, get rid of all distractions. Turn off your phone and close all browser tabs that eat into your attention.
Less Is More
The distance learning expert suggests that rather than having an hour-long Zoom session with 30 students, it's more effective to have a 20-minute session with only ten classmates in the shared digital space. So, if there are educators out there who are reading this post, please take heed and try to introduce a change in the way your classes are conducted.
Focus on Basics
Sal Khan goes so far as to suggest that school districts should focus on basics. "Trying to teach six or seven classes all at once is kind of ridiculous," he says. (The Washington Post, 2020). The entrepreneur's advice is to stick to reading, writing, and math lest those skills atrophy in younger school-goers. I tend to agree. The lack of those basics skills can hinder one's progress for the rest of their life. Hallelujah, you might think, online learning is not going to be so arduous after all. I am sorry to disappoint you, but schools and colleges across the country are not so keen on cutting the study load, which means you have to white-knuckle through this trying period.
Advice for Parents
The founder of Khan Academy addresses the concerns of parents who are struggling as much (if not more) as their kids due to the school lockdown. He says that you should attempt to understand all demands the school puts on your child. If you keep a good check on their learning process and realize that it's not sustainable, communicate it to the administration. In some cases, the teachers might reduce the study load for your kid. However, make sure not to point fingers. Instead, start a conversation. If it doesn't help, hire paper writers cheap who can teach your child how to craft beautiful essays.
Despite the challenges imposed on us by the pandemic, compulsory distance learning pushes the world further into the future. What used to be a niche endeavor has become the new normal. Perhaps, it's a good thing. So chin up and try to come out of this pandemic smarter than ever before!