A new way of learning

Sean Gardner, Founder of social education company Tute, takes a closer look at the growth of 'social education'€™ in the UK

As broadband reaches universal levels in schools, and with more than half of all UK children under the age of 10 now operating their own social media account, there’s little wonder that schools are turning to online teaching as an integral part of their learning support.

As is often the case with new trends, the US leads and Europe follows. This principle seems also to be the case with online teaching, as a new way of learning embeds in the US and emerges as a growing force here in the UK.

A recent report from The Sloan Consortium, a US organisation dedicated to furthering online education, suggests there were 1.6 million US students taking at least one online course in the autumn 2002 term; that was one in every 10 students. By 2010, this figure had increased by 350% to 5.6 million students, representing one in three students and a 21% growth rate from the previous year’s 4.6 million students. So it is clearly no ‘flash in the pan’.

By utilising the latest technologies, students of all ages and levels are able to take part in interactive online lessons in order to access a broader curriculum, or to support interventions to improve their attainment. Social education platforms enable them to hear and see their teacher via their internet devices, to ask questions and to share a common “whiteboard” . Lessons can be run either one-to-one or as a small group with those participating coming from a single school or from multiple locations, such as a school cluster.

This new means of learning appeals directly to the ‘internet generation’ and provides teachers with an alternative tool with which to engage students . The key to success is that sessions are specifically targeted to the requirements of the individual or group, and support children at the point of need. The nature of working in small groups, and to a specific learning agenda, means that social education is particularly well suited to intervention and enrichment programmes where short bursts of targeted, high quality teaching can supplement learning in the school. The collaborative nature of social education builds pupil confidence, self-esteem and improves relationships between pupils. Its outcomes are therefore wider than just improved attainment, and children say that they enjoy their learning experience online.

In the UK, there is undoubted demand for such a service and its impact is being increasingly recognised through results and positive pupil feedback. Since Tute launched in 2012, we have helped nearly 110,000 pupils and supported over 300 primary and secondary schools across the UK. Established groups such as Achievement for All, BT, and Learning Grids such as YHGfL are now partnering with Tute to evolve the market, and to help improve pedagogy and impact. We are anticipating the demand curve to continue pushing upwards as awareness and technical access continues to grow, and as more empiric data on the positive impact of social education becomes available.

It’s clear that, as in the US, social education looks set to revolutionise the world of classroom learning, having already grown to be an £8 billion worldwide industry. There’s no denying that social education is now upon us, but as always it can only continue to grow if it positively affects outcomes for pupils, and is sustainable. Initial evidence is suggesting that social education has much to bring to improve learning, confidence and esteem. Only time will prove whether I am correct.

Sean Gardner is Founder of social education company Tute.