In the inaugural post for this new blog series, I thought I would open up a discussion about virtual learning and the direction it’s heading for our children. The pandemic has brought on new challenges for students, teachers, and parents in the educational environment, but with it comes illuminating ideas and opportunities. And this is what we will discuss in this post.

You might be wondering why this is relevant. Well, according to the Ontario provincial government, despite the current positive trend towards safe in-person learning returning in September 2021, they are maintaining virtual education as an option for the 2021-2022 school year in grades K to 12. While there are minimal details released so far as to how this will be implemented, the reason for this continuance must be partially related to the parents’ demand. However, is virtual learning a sufficient replacement for in-person classroom learning? And what are the perspectives of the different participating parties in this environment?

Let’s first discuss the different perspectives and the important questions to consider when tackling this issue, and we’ll start with the students:

  • Will online learning be implemented on a strictly online strategy, or will it be done as a hybrid model with in-person learning?
  • Would this ‘back-and-forth’ reality be distracting or limiting towards comprehension momentum?
  • Online learning may be better suited for students with anxiety, but how much should we cater to those concerns instead of confronting the source of the anxiety?

For the parents:

  • Are parents merely advocating for continued virtual learning because they like it, or is their reason more due to fear over the lingering covid-19?
  • Do parents wish to have more control over their children’s learning?

And finally, for teachers:

  • Does virtual learning complicate their roles and responsibilities if their focus needs to be split between two different mediums for learning?
  • Is this an affective form of teaching their students and is the learning atmosphere successful?

It is this last question that is the mostly hotly debated currently. Several online sources have concluded with the aid of studies that the virtual learning has its merits and is a sufficient form of learning, but it is not superior to in-person learning. The following is a summary of pros and cons to online learning:

Pros

  • Less anxiety over participation by the students
  • Students feeling more calm during tests if in a familiar environment
  • Lower costs to tax-payers and private companies
  • Flexible schedules for learning
  • Programs available worldwide to anyone with internet

Cons

  • Social isolation more prominent
  • Increased distractions at home if not a quiet atmosphere
  • Less hands-on learning capabilities
  • Group work difficult
  • Decrease in social development through micro-expressions (facial and bodily)

It remains clear that the solution to this debate is not a “one size fits all”, so variability and personalization should be front and centre when developing the digital infrastructure to aid the virtual education world. Some current apps that have been developed for this purpose include: Remind, TalkingPoints, Edpuzzle, Common Curriculum, and Parley among others.

As this movement progresses, the important thing to remember is that for virtual learning to be an effective tool, the infrastructure must extend beyond just the presentation of the curriculum. The teachers, parents, and students will need apps for messaging, scheduling, organization, video editing, language translation, and so many others. And future opportunities for digital innovation exist because of the shift to virtual learning.

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