Another dot in the blogosphere?

Online learning as an unpolished gem

Posted on: January 14, 2022

This critique by Martin Weller on why “education secretaries hate online learning” does not apply only to politicians. Other stakeholders like administrators, teachers, and parents can be just as misguided.

Weller offered possible reasons for why these folk might portray “online learning as, at best, a lazy, cheap option and at worst, some form of abuse”. Among them are these gems.

There is…

Faulty generalisation – nearly every Education Secretary seems to feel that their own experience of education is the only dataset they need to draw upon. They want Latindiscipline and Oxbridge type higher education. Online learning does not look like any of these things, so is, ipso facto, a bad thing.

Combined with…

Ignorance – I haven’t seen any desire to engage with what online, or blended, learning really looks like in a positive sense from any recent education secretary. And so they operate in a state of wilful ignorance about how effective it can be, and what is required to make it so.

Take any complex phenomenon, try to reduce it to a soundbite by combining anecdotal generalisation and wilful ignorance, and you get oversimplification and a standstill.

The oversimplification is that online learning is cheaper because it is more efficient and lazy because you do not have to show up in a classroom or because you can reuse resources.

The design, development, evaluation, and revision of online learning experiences is not cheaper than face-to-face. Factor in the time and effort to create a short YouTube video that is not just a talking head. Heck, consider what it even takes to make a talking head video good with proper script writing, camera work, sound, lighting, backgrounding, illustrating, editing, etc.!

Now consider how online learning might comprise asynchronous tasks. This could mean that learners do not Zoom or otherwise meet ‘live’ by other means like text chat or audio exchange. This is an intentional design element to take advantage of self-managed and dispersed individual time (over shared and limited classroom time) as well as reflective and investigative space (over immediate  or superficial talk). How is this lazy?

If a policymaker has only seen teaching from the student side of the desk, s/he cannot possibly empathise with what a teacher experiences. If a teacher has not designed lessons specifically with online affordances and limitations before, or not been given professional development to teach online, they cannot make comparisons or put online learning down.

To move forward, we need to learn from the pandemic pivot to online teaching and learning. Both successful and failed attempts offer lessons and ideas for education as a whole. We lose if stakeholders make uninformed judgements and throw away the gem in their hands only because it was not polished.

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