The final debate of the course turned out to be a fantastic opportunity for dialogue around the use of technology in education, bringing a lot of this courses discussions together, and for that, I applaud the two groups involved! The topic at hand was whether online education is detrimental to the social and academic development in children. In true spoiler fashion, welcome to the world of grey.
A crucial start to this discussion requires the clarification of whether we are talking about COVID learning, or online learning. Remember COVID? That never ending, still with us, virus that changed the way we live forever. The education world we were flung into March 20, 2020 certainly does not reflect well upon the abilities of online learning and its use as an educational tool for students. If we are talking about COVID learning, the debate ends here and most of us can likely agree, that aside from no learning, it sucked and we never want to do it again.
If we shift to debating online learning as a choice for students to access in their schooling, where teachers have the skills to deliver an engaging course and students have willing chosen to register for the course, the dialogue quickly changes and the debate begins.
The cons of online learning
- Inequitable ICT access will always stand in the way of educators fully supporting online learning. It favors the privileged and manifests the already existing achievement gap in education (Anderson, 2020; Catalano et al., 2021; Chiao & Chiu, 2018; Ogodo et al., 2021).
- Studies also show the negative effects that online learning on social development for students. These findings site feelings of isolation, anxiety, and mental exhaustion for those student learners that are completing online learning in post pandemic online environments.
- Not all home support is equal, bring in inequities again. Some students are able to access caregivers that are willing/able to help them with their schooling. This can not be said for all online learners however, so to have online learning as the only avenue for students to access their courses, we are again contributing to the digital divide. .
- There are also concerns about whether online learning limits the course offerings a student is able to take given there are barriers to engaging virtually in certain subject areas. Mentioned examples include Welding, Automotive, Wood Working, etc.
The pros of online learning
- As a supplemental, or in addition to, option for students online learning offers great advantages and flexibility. Course which may not have been offered in certain schools prior to online learning, can now occur. Students are also able to maximize their learning experience by using online learning opportunities to create personal learning pathways which work within the parameters of their own lives.
- Online learning offers the ability for teachers to customize learning for students. Whether in an online course or through use in a face to face classroom, online education has the ability to personalize learning for students.
- This is a cost effective way for a division or school to offer courses they may not otherwise be able to run.
In the school of 800 students I work in, we have various delivery models at play. We have face to face courses, modular non-attendance based options, and online learning forums. Each of these options was created with the intent to provide students choice and to acknowledge that current practice in other high schools are not working for these students. We use a quarter system to minimize the work load for students, and we carry “students over” from quarter to quarter, not requiring them to complete work more than once unless it is needed for a passing grade. Of course these are the programs we have for our Adult 12 students, aged 17-22. We are afforded a little more flexibility because a grade 12 graduation certificate allows then to join the work force. For those with post secondary aspirations, the programs are run through a more traditional pathway of in person courses.
As educators, how often do we spend time working within option grey? Education is not a one size fits all model, and teachers often find themselves adapting course content, processes, and marking in order to accommodate the individual learner needs of our students. The example of online learning as a choice, acts to aid and support educators in individualizing learning for their students, an encouraged best practice for educators world-wide. There is no doubt, it does not work for everyone, however the reality is, either does in person schooling. And so, welcome to grey!