Another dot in the blogosphere?

Leveraging on learning loss

Posted on: January 19, 2022

Today I link a conversation I overheard about COVID-19 vaccines with a blog entry about learning loss.

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov on

The conversation was between two mothers who were discussing the merits and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine boosters. One remarked how the booster knocked her out over the weekend while another said that one vaccine was better than another.

Both failed to recognise that the possible after effects of the booster, e.g., tiredness, soreness, fever, are normal and evidence that the body was responding to the vaccine. And whichever the rigorously researched and properly approved vaccine you got, it boosted your immunity. 

They conveniently forgot the impact of not getting vaccinated, i.e., running the risk of carrying and spreading COVID, helping viral variants emerge, getting severe COVID in the short term, possibly suffering from the effects of long COVID, or dying in isolation.

In other words, while discussing the effects of COVID vaccines, they focused on the wrong things. They did this perhaps because those things were immediate and personal.

Photo by Alena Darmel on

How is this linked to the worry about learning loss among students who miss out on school because of pandemic closures?

I borrow from John Spencer’s recent blog entry

I see bigger concerns than learning loss. Often, the biggest issue seems to be the lack of soft skills or the absence of student self-direction in their learning. In this article, we… examine how factors like soft skills, stickiness, play, and self-direction might help students prepare for an unpredictable world.

To be clear, Spencer was not saying that there was no loss in curriculum time, assessment measures, and content gains. He was pointing out that there were other factors that were just as important. These factors are not quite addressed in school and tend to be long-term or hard-to-pin-down.

His thoughts on slow thinking/deep work, leveraging on the natural inclination to play, and so-called soft skills might provoke influential educators or ambitious policymakers with fuel for a pedagogical fire.

Here is my takeaway. I was triggered by his thoughts on content knowledge and how sticky it is. For example: 

When we think about learning loss, it’s easy to imagine a place where students are supposed to be and contrast that with their current content knowledge at the moment. But learning loss also occurs when students learn a topic in a shallow way and then forget it later.

I mentally clapped and cheered when I read this. There has been a learning pandemic that started before COVID and it has lasted decades. Learning loss occurs even in good or normal times.

Learning loss happens when “learning” is shallow and for the sake of test. I call this garbage-in-garbage-out (GIGO) learning. Learning loss happens when students learn content from working a project but fail to learn how to better communicate or manage themselves.

Learning loss is real and evident when teachers of the next level need to reteach something students should have learnt in the previous level. This started well before the current pandemic and there is no vaccine for it.

Stakeholders, especially parents, are aware of it now because their children stay home from school. They bemoan learning loss and demand that something be done about it. They are concerned because the issue is now immediate and personal.

Teachers and educators should take the opportunity to not just remind them how normal this is, they could also point out the opportunities to fuel changes in focus. Yes, knowing facts is important, but so is being able to determine if those facts are correct or not. Getting good grades is a stepping stone to university education, but this does not necessarily make you a good team player or a desirable worker.

It is time to leverage on the conversation about learning loss and point out what stakeholders are not focusing on — sticky learning, life skills, and long term outcomes.

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