MAG_8702Up to now, elearning has been the preserve of tertiary education (colleges, universities) and industry. I want to explore reasons why it could be useful in secondary education as well. I have called this post 51/2 reasons (5 and a half reasons, not five half-reasons) because I’m not fully convinced the final reason is a valid one. Before I start, I feel a need to clarify what I mean by ‘eLearning’. It has become clear to me that there is some confusion over the term as different people take it to mean or to include somewhat different things. My definition of elearning is largely learning that is done online. In this definition, I do not include using computers and software in a classroom as part of a lesson. To me that is what I have been doing and promoting for years; it is now the norm in teaching(*) whereas online learning is not, or not yet, part of the norm. So, what are these 6 (or 5 and 1/2) reasons we should introduce elearning into high schools?

  1. Teaching less popular subjects and/or additional subjects. Let’s say you have a group of students who want to learn economics or parapsychology or African biology but you’ve not got a teacher or a classroom or a timetable slot to allow this, what can you do? The traditional answer would be that you don’t offer those subjects and tell your students to pick another subject, which also risks potential students opting for another school which does offer those subjects. Elearning offers the opportunity to provide such courses in a number of possible ways, such as linking with another institution and sharing teaching resources online, buying-in courses provided by outside educational bodies or sharing a teacher from another institution. In this way, elearning can enable a school not only to offer a wider range of subjects but also to make the school more appealing for potential students.
  2. Teaching difficult to reach students. There are a range of students who might be considered ‘difficult to reach’ and for whom elearning may hold some potential. Let’s consider students who cannot physically attend school or who can do so only on a restricted basis, such as traveller children, sick or hospital students, young carers and excluded students. while these students remain on the attendance books of a school, the school has a responsibility for their education. Where such students acnnot attend school, then elearning has the potential to reach them and to provide them with a level of education despite their chosen or enforced circumstances.
  3. Sharing teacher capacity. We know that teachers are expensive but also important. Yet schools cannot always ensure the availability of quality teachers able to provide teaching across all subject areas. Schools may experience either temporary or long-term teacher shortages. Elearning has the potential to mitigate this by allowing teachers to teach groups in different institutions. So a school with a teacher or teachers particularly skilled in teaching a particular area or subject, say advanced calculus, can offer the teaching services of a teacher to teach advanced calculus, online, to students at another school which does not have such a teacher. In return for part payment of the teacher time or for the the second school offering online teaching in another area or subject. Of course, this arrangement need not apply only to the sharing of a physical teacher but also to any range of teaching resources a school may have to offer online which another school may lack.
  4. Alternative to Homework. I know this is a thorny issue but homework in its traditional sense is largely an out-dated concept which, even in its heyday, rarely reflected sound educational practice. Traditionally, homework, where the teacher remembered to set it, usually involved reading a passage from a book, writing an essay, doing textbook exercises, all of which usually reflected or repeated what had been taught in class and rarely provided the student with extra insight or learning. Elearning has the potential to offer students much more than this by becoming an extension to class teaching and an enhancement to student learning. The only caveat is, of course, that the student should have access to online resources out of school hours.

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    Student demonstrates to visitor how she revises using Virtual Lab at the eLearning Conference

  5. Timetable flexibility. Anyone who has ever had to face the task of timetabling or scheduling will know it can be a nightmare to match subjects, teachers, classrooms and groups of students together. By incorporating elearning options within subjects, a school may be afforded greater flexibility in its timetabling. A class does not always require a teacher to supervise or lead elearning, therefore one group of students studying a subject may do so online for a period while another group is led by a teacher.
  6. Saving money. This is the half reason. I know some people in schools will jump at an opportunity to save money and I’d sympathise with them if I had responsibility for budget control. However, I’m not fully convinced that elearning will always be money saving. Sure, providing learning online can be cheaper than paying for a teacher but there is also a lot of finance and time that has to be supported in setting up online facilities, developing online resources and monitoring/maintaining systems and these should not be overlooked in a rush to engage in elearning. Nevertheless, in a long term, elearning may have the potential to save money and if anyone can achieve this and maintain a delivery of quality learning then I’d be more than happy to talk to them! Bonus. Extra Support Learning. We all recognise that there are some students who have the potential to learn but who learn more slowly than their peers or who sometimes need materials presented in certain ways in order to better grasp their significance. Such groups of students may include those with special needs but not exclusively so; it could also include those with language barriers and those with attention difficulties. For such groups, elearning has the potential to offer extra learning opportunities in addition to their regular class-based sessions.

Elearning also has the potential to offer resources in particular ways or formats (such as audio podcasts) for students who find it easier to learn in such ways. Even for your high-flying students, elearning has the potential to offer extra learning support in which to extend their thinking and knowledge within the subject. I’m sure there may be many other reasons or benefits of elearning in secondary education, if you know of any, please add them as a comment.

Source: Doug Woods