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Research into Online Learning

A brief summary of research in online learning (collated by Andrew Meadowcroft, TLC Coach at South Thames Colleges Group)

Teachers moving to remote learning have to access video conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams, which offer real-time online learning with the aid of instant messaging. This technology is popular with teachers delivering and useful for carrying out individual tutorials (Bachner & O’Byrne, 2019) to evaluate progress and provide student feedback (Liogier in SET, 2020).

Conversely, asynchronous (learning that can be carried out both online and offline) makes learning accessible for those unable to attend live lessons (UCL, 2020); students can work at their own pace, for example, watching a pre-recorded virtual lesson complete with activities (DfE, 2020). Though there is no current empirical evidence to prove that one approach is more effective than the other, there is anecdotal evidence taken during the Covid-19 outbreak that suggests delivering teacher-oriented lessons reduces learner engagement and has been shown to negatively affect attendance (Moorehouse, 2020).

It is therefore important that virtual lessons go beyond didactic instruction and are underpinned by the same sound pedagogical principles that are applied in the classroom: “revisiting prior learning, chunking up new knowledge, teacher explanations or modelling, scaffolding, pupil practice, learning checks, to name a few.” (Smith in DfE, 2020). To help with the challenge of applying traditional class-based strategies like groupwork to an online lesson, teachers have a number of digital tools at their disposal. Discussion forums give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning or responses to questions as part of a lesson or in their own time (UCL, 2020).

Advances in video conferencing technology from platforms have enabled multiple forums or ‘breakout rooms’. Studies have shown that collaborative breakout rooms increase student engagement and interaction (Saltz & Heckman, 2020; Chandler, 2016; Peachy, 2017).

Teachers who prefer to take a pre-recorded approach need to be aware of the pitfalls. Clay (2020) argues there is a higher propensity for student disengagement. He advocates for adopting a hybrid model with pre-recorded expositions kept to a maximum of 15 minutes, though others have recommended shorter videos of 6 minutes to avoid cognitive overload (Guo, Kim & Rubin, 2014). There are, however, obvious benefits to this approach - video presentations maximise ‘teaching’ time, are more reliable than real time presentations and include the ability to edit. (Clay, 2020).

Whatever model teachers plan to use, it is necessary they consider the factors that mediate student learning: engagement, interaction, active involvement and cognitive load. Teachers designing online lessons must be mindful of the amount of resources learners are expected to access (Chang & Ley, 2006).

Moving to remote education naturally provides opportunities for students to study and learn independently. By definition, independent learning involves no teaching, but guidance and monitoring of individual progression (Petty, 2009; 2020), so teachers may need to significantly adapt their previous approaches to become more remote ‘facilitators of learning’.

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