As a year of enforced home schooling draws to an end, parents and teachers all over the UK are breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Seen by many as a stressful, disruptive and often quite upsetting replacement for the real deal, remote learning has developed quite a bit since schools and colleges first closed their doors last March. Teams, Google Classroom and SeeSaw have now replaced the physical classroom as teaching has moved online.
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s important to look at the positives that come out of all challenges. While traditional lessons have been paused, new skills have undoubtedly been acquired.
Technology is now a fundamental pillar of the working world and the last year has seen whole companies move from central offices to home working. Online meetings are here to stay – and now that we’ve found that they can work, why not? They are more convenient, less costly and better for the environment.
So instead of talking about the terrible Wifi, the annoying chat function and the ever-present curse of mute, we should take a moment to celebrate what online learning has done to help young people prepare for their futures.
Increased attention spans
Screens are fun for leisure time, but most school children were not previously used to them as part of a formal learning setting. Now, many of them can sit quietly and pay attention to someone teaching onscreen, waiting their turn to speak and staying focused without physical stimuli, for an hour and more.
Ask many parents about face-timing families and friends and they will agree: sometimes children are just too self-conscious to speak. It’s very different when you can see yourself on-screen. But as the world of work embraces online meetings, this is a skill that will be required for future employment. If young people can feel confident enough to raise their hand in a digital class, ask a question and talk ‘to the room’, it helps them prepare for digital meetings and presentations in the future.
“If young people can feel confident enough to raise their hand in a digital class, ask a question and talk ‘to the room’, it helps them prepare for digital meetings and presentations in the future”
It’s good for people of all ages to be aware of how they come across. While seeing yourself on-screen can make many self-conscious, it also shows young people that a smart appearance and friendly manner is important. This is a good thing to know from a young age.
Pupils have had to log on, download, print, capture and hand in work themselves, or at least in part. They have had to leave one lesson online and join another. It doesn’t sound much, but for many primary school children this has potentially developed a whole new skillset that will ready them for secondary school. For older children – welcome to deadlines and self-management!
Without the physical presence of a teacher, learners are more inclined to work through assignments without asking for reassurance or help. This is a good thing as it develops their confidence and enables them to work independently.
It’s almost impossible to talk over each other in online meetings. The natural slight delay, combined with the lack of physicality, means that people allow each other more time to speak in isolation and everyone gets a share of voice. This is good training for young learners as it shows them the need to listen, take time to absorb other opinions and respond thoughtfully.
Nathan Bradbury, one of our peer tutors, has noticed all of this in the last few months.
He is tutoring 12–13 year olds in maths online and at first, found it quite challenging. He could see the learners were not engaged and was concerned that they might struggle without being with them in-person – however, they found a rhythm and soon started to thrive.
Nathan gave them more responsibility and a larger share of voice in the online sessions. They became more relaxed, chatting on camera more comfortably, and were able to listen to his initial instructions before taking the time given to get on with their maths challenges, with the confidence to ask questions if needed. All three learners in Nathan’s group were achieving three out of 20 in tests at the start of the year, but are now achieving 20 out of 20 every time. While this may be testament to his tutoring and their hard work, he feels a great deal of it is down to them becoming less self-conscious in the online lesson situation.
A Mckinsey study into the future of work predicts that 20–25% of workforces in advanced economies will soon work from home 3–5 days a week, with executives planning to reduce office space by 30%. Here in the UK, a survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD) showed that 74% or businesses plan on maintaining the increase in home working post-COVID, and more than half planned on reducing their long-term use of workplaces.
“As our young people return to schools and colleges, it’s vital that they get back what they have missed: their friendships, their physical activity, their face-to-face relationships with teachers and a sense of normality”
This means that the skillsets needed for school leavers and graduates may be changing. Already digital natives who were happy at a keyboard, they will now need to use that keyboard to communicate professionally.
As our young people return to schools and colleges, it’s vital that they get back what they have missed: their friendships, their physical activity, their face-to-face relationships with teachers and a sense of normality.
But let’s try and remember that, tough though it has been, this last year may have actually added to their repertoires. It may just have helped them prepare for the next step and the world of work in new ways, making them stronger, more resilient and more employable in the long-term.
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