Online and offline learning: Getting the balance right

Educational practitioner Sally Lo discusses the importance of getting the on- and offline balance right and what can we learn from Scandinavia

Scandinavia is well-known for thinking outside the box when it comes to education and it’s no wonder that classroom happiness and children’s emotional wellbeing may soon follow suit. But what can we learn from its practices?

In September, when UK schools begin welcoming pupils back into the classroom, Scandinavian education will start delivering an innovative online to offline approach to early childhood and happiness. It’s no secret that Scandinavian education is regularly viewed as one of the best in the world, and children’s emotional wellbeing is top of the agenda. The Swedish National Agency for Education has issued an instruction for the mandatory teaching of social and emotional learning (SEL) which will be implemented in Scandinavian schools in the autumn term 2019.

Play isn’t just about fun

The challenge for any teacher is managing the balancing act of the increased use of technology and screen time in the classroom, together with making the time for children’s analogue play, which has naturally decreased. As Lego writes in their report Learning through play: A review of the evidence (2017): “In the past few decades, research has repeatedly shown that play experiences are not merely fun, nor just a way to pass the time along the way to adulthood. Instead, play has a central role in learning and in preparing you for challenges later in childhood and through adulthood.”

Play has a central role in learning and in preparing you for challenges later in childhood and through adulthood.
– Lego, Learning through play

With all this new technology, the way we interact has also changed. To cope with the changes in communication, it’s crucial that children get the opportunity to practice their social and emotional intelligence early on. In Scandinavia, and worldwide, the use of digital tools is increasing in school as well as at home, making it essential to prepare for this development and include social and emotional learning experiences as part of early childhood education.

Digital tools

Utilising a diverse range of digital learning tools overall is a positive step forward and brings many advantages, not least for special needs education. Many new tools are designed to meet various demands, but there are others which can be adapted to different needs of the individual pupil. This makes delivering a personalised learning experience specifically tailored for every pupil, much easier than traditional learning methods. However, too much of the good can result in a vast amount of screen time. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that screen time for young children should perhaps be limited in the sense that physical activity is prioritised. Therefore, digital tools which promote both education and activity could be good options.

It can be tricky for educators to get the balance right, enabling pupils to use digital tools but being mindful of unnecessary screen time. As many teachers have noted, children do learn through games and digital tools. Nonetheless, the core question is how to transfer these skills and abilities to the offline world.

It can be tricky for educators to get the balance right, enabling pupils to use digital tools but being mindful of unnecessary screen time.

An on- to offline approach

Working with an online to offline approach is a technique which supports pupils in applying the knowledge and skills they gain online, to their everyday life offline. Here are my suggestions on how you can implement the blended learning approach in four easy steps when working with pupils at your school:

Step 1 – Digital storytime

Start online with your digital source, this could be e-books, movies, games or any other digital activities which engages the pupils.

Step 2 – Playtime

Use the newfound knowledge and explore the subject through analogue play. Depending on the subject and the pupils’ age and needs, this step could be role play, puppets, creating art, or getting creative with building.

Step 3 – Let’s talk

Get the pupils to interact by starting conversations or discussions between the pupils themselves or between the pupil and educator. When purchasing digital teaching aids, make sure to ask for an educator’s guide and/or discussion questions to facilitate this step.

Step 4 – Life stories

What message do you want the pupils to take away from the session? Many digital learning experiences, especially if they are using visual storytelling, aim to deliver a message. What is the message and how can pupils apply it to real life? Support the pupils in reflecting on these questions and help them to remember it when a similar situation occurs in the future.

Using the power of play, and a responsible digital interactive tool, can make it much easier to introduce sensitive topics to children.

A brighter future

Digital tools ideally are not here to take over our lives. Regard them as positive complements to traditional learning methods and work to find a balance between the online and offline worlds. By doing this we can provide a healthier method of learning delivery for children.

Also, with rising mental health issues today, one positive step easily made is to use this blended learning approach to teach social and emotional skills, proven effective in decreasing mental health issues, and improve life outcomes for children. Using the power of play, and a responsible digital interactive tool, can make it much easier to introduce sensitive topics to children.

Sally Lo is also a consultant for edtech company PeppyPals.