Why e-learning during a pandemic can’t work

These are challenging days. Teachers are scrambling now to find ways to teach their students using some form of e-learning. While families with multiple devices and parents at home will be able to do this, in many cases e-learning can’t work. We haven’t done the human capacity building that is necessary for this to take place.

We should have been doing this, but we haven’t done the necessary capacity building.

At my last school, we worked for over a year to build capacity with our students and teachers. We had a Chromebook for every student from grades 3-6 and they were obliged to take them home every night. We trained the kids on how to use Google tools. That was the capacity building that would need to be in place right now to make an e-learning system take place.

Students need to be taught that the computers are for daily learning and the expectation needs to be there that they will use the machines – that takes time, that is a paradigm shift.

And before you say but… this was a very poor school. With the help of our school board, we made sure the computers were always available – after school, on the weekend and if there had been enough time, for the summers as well.

We are woefully underprepared for this current situation.  We have squandered an opportunity to set up good e-learning relationships.  It would take a long time to get this set up, I am not sure why we are trying to do this now.

You can only build this capacity while you are still in school. We should have been working on this years ago, but there was no real support for this. Even a flipped classroom takes in-person time to set up.

I talked to one of my students this year who tried to set up a flipped learning system in his high school classroom. He did assign work for students to do at night that could be taken up the next day. The project failed because students didn’t see the assigned work as something they had to do.

We talked about this and realized that such a system would only work with some careful in-class learning. As in our school, a good e-learning relationship can only be set up if there is a prolonged in-person training period prior to enacting the system.

We needed a year to set up our system. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the school, the new principal stopped buying the computers our students needed and the system fell apart. There was no system-wide support for this kind of a relationship so the experiment ended.

I write this post with a certain amount of frustration. It seems that we never think of the important human relationships that we need to structure first before we plunge headlong into technical solutions to learning. Yes, we have the technology, but no we have not developed the important human linkages necessary to make this work.

It is not really the technology that is slowing us down here, we just haven’t done the necessary human face-to-face work. Yes, we could easily get the Chromebooks to the kids who need them. We could set up mobile hubs in neighbourhoods that do not have internet access. But we have not done the necessary work with our students, especially at the elementary level to make all this work.

These are extraordinary times. Our students and our families are really on their own now. Maybe we will learn from this. Maybe we will construct the necessary human linkages to make real, meaningful digital learning work in the future.

I hope people are thinking about this. Technology rarely solves important human problems.

3 thoughts on “Why e-learning during a pandemic can’t work

  1. Connie

    Hi Paul, you’re absolutely on point. Working closely with you, I remember how you brought tech to all kids and classrooms and what a difference it made.

    Like

  2. I appreciate that kids at varying ages have differing levels of ability to consciously manage their own learning. Certainly the current model of education relies heavily on instruction and direction from adults. Transitioning to add remote instruction model is certainly problematic at this point in time. I wonder if part of the challenge comes from the fact that technology in schools is implemented to support instruction? Would it be different if schools worked instead to help kids develop the skills to use technology for learning? There is indeed self discipline required to consciously use the technology for learning rather than gaming or watching YouTube videos, is there a way that Ontario’s education system can respond to support Ontario‘s kids at home with learning during this time – – regardless of technology?

    Liked by 1 person

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