The changes in habits, behaviours and use of technologies caused by the Covid19 lockdown could have a profound effect on our lives, new research has revealed.

Inside Out, who researches the design of learning environments, contacted Dr Ahmed Hussain, the Executive Director of Wellington College China, to gain an insight into the e-learning strategies that have proved most successful over the last three months.

Wellington College China, who returned to school in April, used pupil and teacher surveys, as well as monitoring of learning, to discover what had a positive impact when applied to e-learning.

The changes in habits, behaviours and use of technologies caused by the Covid19 lockdown could have a profound effect on our lives. They may well span almost every aspect of our lifestyles, and we’ve been discussing how education specifically might be affected in the long term with our friends at Wellington College China, who returned to school in April (2020).

We asked how the underlying strategies and components observed during the lockdown could provide insights into more successful and effective e-learning conditions for teachers, pupils and parents in the future.

Wellington College has over 7,500 pupils across five schools, all of whom have been learning from home while lockdown measures have been in place. But now schools in China have reopened and, thanks to insight from Dr Ahmed Hussain, the Executive Director of Wellington College China, we’re able to explore what e-learning strategies have proved most successful over the three months of lockdown. In doing so, we aim to help the schools throughout the UK, Europe and across the globe which, although restrictions are beginning to ease, are very much still in the thick of it, trying to navigate an effective switchover to e-learning.

In order to focus the study and get the most from what we find, we’re focusing on three key areas: learning, independence, and wellbeing. We’re keen to delve into experiences from other countries and cultures as we develop this study but, to begin, let’s dive into what has emerged from our research in China so far:

Learning

We know that learning, wherever it happens, is most effective when pupils are invested in it, when it’s underpinned with wellbeing and that it requires appropriate levels of challenge and support, personalised to each pupil.

With this in mind, we’ve discovered via pupil and teacher surveys as well as monitoring of learning, that the following has had a positive impact when applied to e-learning:

• Making learning objectives and success criteria even more clear

• ‘Chunking’ work, a.k.a. breaking the day down into larger chunks, even more so than at school

• Direct input from the teacher, even in video format

• Specific face-to-face feedback

• Active learning, with pupils given the opportunity to collaborate with their peers in small groups

• Co-planning and co-teaching for ‘thematic’ experiences, linking learning with the use of an overarching theme

• Providing opportunities for parents to contribute

We also found that as teacher confidence with e-learning approached, so did the quality of the learning experience, so it’s important that teachers are given the right training to get to grips with the various digital platforms needed for e-learning.

Independence

E-learning removes those traditional support structures that pupils are used to, such as daily routines and set expectations, peer influence and direct support from teachers. As such, it’s quickly become clear that e-learning will only become effective when students are able to acquire – and apply – the kind of independence that allows them to flourish without that support.

We’ve found the following to be effective in promoting the independence needed:

• Helping pupils to organise their learning. This could include creating tasks lists, showing how to organise emails, or establishing daily and weekly timetables. Recreating the structure of a normal school day has proved particularly preferable for students.

• Reflecting on what conditions and locations are best for pupils: when it is most helpful to sit at a desk? Lounge on a sofa? Spread out on the floor? How can you supplement learning with physical activity?

• Focused on helping pupils make learning-focused decisions, such as deciding what is best tackled in the morning and what can be left until later in the day

• Helping pupils know how and when to ask for help from and support an adult

• Celebrating and rewarding examples of resilience, effort and effective learning behaviours, and sharing them with others

• Teachers modelling independence such as decision making and problem-solving

• Providing high levels of input before pupils begin to work remotely or independently

• Directly teaching independent behaviours

Not only is independence key for e-learning but it’s also a great characteristic for life, representing a whole host of vital skills including problem-solving, self-regulation, reflection and confidence, as well as 21st-century skills (collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity).

Wellbeing

Wellbeing is a fundamental part of education and its influence on learning is well established. Schools and teachers have systems in place to address social and emotional needs, but they’re not as easily applied for e-learning. In China, pupils displayed a reduction in levels of happiness, low levels of wellbeing (including poor sleep and low social interaction), and lower levels of motivation, so it’s clearly more vital than ever to look after the wellbeing of pupils.

This is what we found to have the biggest impact for doing that:

• Providing pastoral systems, such as tutorial time with a focus on wellbeing

• Opportunities for structured social interaction between pupils

• One-to-one conversations between pupils and tutors focusing on children’s social and emotional state

• Encouraging parents to check in on children

When these actions were taken, indicators for wellbeing rose, so a dip in wellbeing certainly isn’t a given during remote learning experiences.

We consider this the beginning of our study. There’s so much more to explore across international, social and cultural boundaries. In China, for example, the former one-child policy means that many children have had only parents for company. What happens when siblings are in the mix? How does that affect learning and wellbeing? Does it have an impact on independence?

There are many questions to ask, so we invite you to let us know what you’re experiences of e-learning have been. What have your successes been, what challenges have you faced? Whether you’re a teacher, a pupil, a parent or a sibling, we want to hear from you and use your valuable insight to create a ‘roadmap’ to e-learning for educators across the globe.

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