We can make e-learning a positive force in education

Credit: Courtesy of Katie Marron

Meggie Marron, a third-grade teacher at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, reads to her students.

School closures in response to the pandemic have led educators to make heroic efforts to provide their students with online learning experiences and ongoing connections with their teachers and classmates. This highlighted the critical need for all students to have access at home to the devices and internet connectivity necessary for online learning, as advocated by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and many others. . A related critical issue should also be highlighted: the lack of preparation of many educators to use online education effectively.

In response to the sudden transition, many educators uploaded their existing course materials, provided live or recorded versions of their classroom lessons, and used a social network or discussion tool to enable interactions with and between students. students. While their efforts are commendable, in many cases the effectiveness of rapidly implemented online courses has been limited.

Beyond the immediate crisis, there are different scenarios of how the rapid increase in online learning could influence its future use. On the optimistic side, we might see increased recognition of how online learning can extend and improve student education, leading to the widespread implementation of high quality online courses. Schools could then make more use of e-learning to meet social distancing requirements and provide additional learning opportunities and flexibility for their students.

On the pessimistic side, as Michael Horn and others have described it, the rush to e-learning without adequate preparation could lead many to conclude that it is of minimal benefit, more frustrating than productive, and that it is not. used only as a bad face substitute; face to face learning is not possible.

In order to move towards the optimistic scenario, we need to recognize that effective e-learning involves more than just moving a course curriculum and lectures online, just as a successful movie involves more than just filming a live play.

It is about changing the culture of the school, with new types of responsibilities for teachers, students and families, and new forms of interactions between them. This requires providing professional development resources, time, and technology to enable educators to optimize students’ online learning experiences. This requires educators to become proficient in incorporating the following, and more, into their online courses:

  • A strong online presence and ongoing connections with their students, using multiple forms of communication including video conferencing, real-time communications (synchronous) and discussion forums (asynchronous), as well as collaboration and media tools social. These connections help students stay engaged and in touch with their teachers and classmates.
  • Clear expectations, instructions and advice, which are more critical when the teacher is not in the room to supervise the students while they do their work. Done well, it can help students become more independent learners.
  • Multiple resources to support learning, including ‘micro-conferences’ which divide the material into small cohesive modules; online videos, multimedia presentations and readings; interactive online explorations and offline hands-on activities; and other appropriate resources for content and students. These offer students other ways to learn and allow teachers to enrich the learning experience for all students.
  • Modeling and facilitation of online exchanges in order to convey appropriate ways for students to interact and work collaboratively online. It helps students become effective learners, communicators and collaborators online.
  • Approaches to personalized instruction for students, offering flexible pathways through material, alternative ways for students to complete and submit their work, and resources and tools for students with learning differences or backgrounds. learning disabilities. To do this, teachers also need processes to monitor student progress and identify when they need additional support. This allows teachers to guide each student towards achieving their learning goals.
  • In general, a positive and constructive culture in which students are motivated to learn and also encourage and support the learning of their classmates. This type of culture is as important in a face-to-face classroom as it is in an online course, but requires focused effort to initiate and maintain in online environments.

In this optimistic view, the potential of e-learning will be widely recognized as a teaching and learning medium that has advantages and disadvantages different from face-to-face lessons, which will lead to a commitment to help educators to develop the skills necessary to effectively capitalize on this potential and prepare their students to become lifelong online learners. Only then will schools move beyond equity of access to achieve equity in high quality online learning experiences.


Glenn M. Kleiman contributed to California’s early work in technology in education in the 1980s and mathematics education in the 1990s. He recently returned to California after many years at the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC ) in Massachusetts and at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Comments posted on EdSource represent the views of EdSource’s broad audience. As an independent, non-partisan organization, EdSource does not take a position on law or policy. We welcome feedback from teachers on how they are adapting to distance education. If you would like to submit a comment, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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