After a full school year through a pandemic, most of us know what online learning looks like now, right?
Well, not exactly. There’s a huge difference between the “emergency remote teaching” that public schools scrambled to assemble in response to the pandemic and carefully crafted virtual learning through schools that are designed to be online from the get-go.
Unfortunately, many students and parents now think that the emergency remote learning they experienced with traditional schools is what all online learning looks like:
Online learning carries a stigma of being lower quality than face-to-face learning, despite research showing otherwise. These hurried moves online by so many institutions at once could seal the perception of online learning as a weak option, when in truth nobody making the transition to online teaching under these circumstances will truly be designing to take full advantage of the affordances and possibilities of the online format.Hodges et al., “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Learning and Online Learning”
Here’s why online school may actually be a good fit for a wide range of students. Traditional schools needed to rush to remote learning in response to the pandemic. Rushing led to mistakes. Surveys show that these mistakes are what account for students’ poor remote learning experiences, not the online platform itself.
Here are five major mistakes that traditional schools made that experienced online schools avoid.
1. Not Providing Students Enough Face Time
You may have experienced or heard of the horror stories about 8-hour Zoom calls, but the opposite problem was more prevalent last year. In 2020 a staggering 78 percent of high schoolers reported spending four or less hours a day in class or working on assignments. One quarter of students reported seeing their online instructors less than once a week.
It’s understandable why students felt less connected.
Interestingly, despite the statistics above, many students found better connections through quality online learning. 42 percent of students said that they felt more “included as a part of the class” through online learning than in-person learning.
2. Not Checking In With Students Individually
Direct communication from instructors is critical for students’ success. It not only provides clarity for academic expectations but also accountability for troubleshooting unexpected obstacles. Simple, personal communication with students about their wellbeing and access to materials had a tremendous impact on their satisfaction in the past year.
Among online students who didn’t receive personal messages from their instructors, less than half reported satisfaction with their online education during COVID. But, all other factors aside, direct messages from instructors bumped student satisfaction of online courses to 68 percent.
This is a significant boost given that national student satisfaction before the pandemic was 58 percent. Clearly, there are more significant factors than online versus in-person.
3. Not Connecting Content With the Real World
Students don’t tend to see value in learning concepts disconnected from the real world. Anyone in education has heard the question, “But when are we actually going to use this?” Hearing the answer, “You’ll use this on the test,” isn’t very compelling for students preparing for their future careers.
Only 42 percent of online students were satisfied with their online courses last year when real-world connections were absent in instruction. But applying real-life applications to instruction bumped student satisfaction up to 67 percent.
4. Not Asking Students To Assess Their Learning
Self-assessment plays an important role in students’ confidence and motivation.
Students need to self-assess to know when they are learning, how much effort they must expend for success, when they have been successful, when they are wrong, and which learning strategies work well for them. Accurate self-evaluation enables students to see what they have mastered and identify what needs further work.McMillan and Hearn, “Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement”
When online courses didn’t implement self-assessment last year, student satisfaction hovered at 50 percent. When self-assessment was present, 68 percent of students were satisfied.
5. Not Committing To One Learning Platform
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the past year is that hybrid learning doesn’t work. Hybrid learning has come to refer to the practice of simultaneously teaching in-person and virtually. It served to accommodate a diversity of people’s needs, but its demands proved unsustainable with uninspiring results.
Hybrid learning requires teachers to juggle two jobs at once, which has led to burnout and lower quality instruction. Matt Alvut, a middle school teacher in New York, shared about the cost of his divided attention:
You want me to be there for the in-person students, and there for the remote kids. I don’t feel like I’m getting either one.
Kristine Harootunian, a high school math teacher at South Burlington High, spoke on how overwhelming the hybrid model has been:
With the amount of stuff we are juggling, it feels like it’s impossible to always kind of keep your head above water. So even if we’re doing our best, we’re still dropping balls left and right.
Paul Yenne, a teacher in Colorado, wondered whether or not he had given students the education he knows he can:
The most exhausting thing is just to try and hold attention in two different places and give them at least somewhat equal weight. What kind of wears on me the most is just thinking, ‘I don’t know that I did the best for every kid,’ which is what I try and do every day when I go in.
Back To School: Good News For A New Year
As we begin to plunge into the 2021-2022 school year, we have good news to grasp onto.
In each of these mistakes is an opposite and positive application with data-driven results. Whether online or in-person, if we personally check in with our students, if we connect what they learn to the real world, if we help them assess themselves and give them the face time they need, we already know most students will have a positive education experience.
The more of these strategies schools can implement at once, the more they can expect to find satisfied students.
About Sora’s Virtual High School Experience
In the past year, Sora students’ academics have been largely unaffected by the ups and downs of the pandemic. This is because Sora was carefully designed to be an online school and has functioned remotely since its founding.
That means vetted faculty with online teaching expertise, evidence-based instruction methods that drive student engagement, and an academic community that many students say feels like a family.
If you’d like to learn more about what online education that’s made to be online looks like, click here to speak with our admissions team.