Online learning technology’s time to shine

Online teaching platforms can provide insights that will help to improve pupil attainment

The pandemic pushed online learning technology into the foreground, with schools across the country using various forms to support pupils as they stayed home during lockdown.

Live online platforms, which were used by thousands of students to support their learning during this time, experienced unprecedented levels of growth. Bramble, for example, saw usage levels throughout the spring that were 22 times greater than the same period in 2019.

With the long-awaited launch of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) this autumn, technology is again set to step up and play a huge role in children’s learning, with many organisations involved in the initiative delivering at least some catch-up tutoring using live platforms.

Connecting teacher and student

The technology will do a fine job connecting tutor and student, whether it’s for catch up sessions as part of the NTP or when students have to access learning from home because of burst school ‘bubbles’ or family self-isolation.

But ultimately, it has the potential to become so much more than a simple replacement for face-to-face teaching and tutoring; there’s an opportunity right now for technology to add a level of insight to teaching approaches and pupil attainment that hasn’t been possible before. Used in the right way, this capability could have enormous, positive implications for teaching and learning for years to come.

Data-informed insights

The key is to draw out enlightening, actionable insights from data that can then be used to enhance teaching. The technology that can provide those insights is fast developing and is already helping make online learning platforms much more than a stopgap tool.

The basis for this level of insight is search-based learning. Recorded lessons are a great start, but few students will actually sit there and watch an hour long recording. They need a way of homing in on the content that’s most relevant to the concept they want to revisit. Searchability lets students quickly find exactly what they need across everything they’ve covered in their tutoring – from spoken words to shared resources. It means that that the full value of each tuition session doesn’t go to waste because students will have all that knowledge at their fingertips whenever they need it.

Tutors and teachers can look at engagement data like words spoken to assess the balance of activity between student and educator during a lesson. They can review the transcript as a word cloud that will highlight particular words or ‘verbal tics’, helping them refine and enhance their delivery in future sessions.

One tutor, Mark Robins, told me that the lesson recording and transcription function has made him change the way he interacted with students. “I have been tutoring for a while but had never seen a breakdown of how often I talk compared to the student and was surprised to see that I said many more words than they did,” he said. “This made me reflect on my approach to tutoring and how I could change my lessons to allow my students to speak more freely and practice articulating their ideas.”

The power of online learning

This is just the beginning, with deeper insights possible as the technology develops. At a national level, the insights provided by analysing thousands of hours could influence conversations around curriculum content, while on a personal level, students, teachers, tutors and schools will gain unprecedented insights into the gaps in a student’s learning and how tutoring can fill them.

It’s well established that tutoring programmes in which tutors and teachers work together deliver better results, and it’s these instant insights which will support and enhance that collaboration.

It took a crisis to realise the power of online learning. Now, as we work to support students to catch up and get ahead, the technology is getting ready to move us onwards into a whole new chapter.

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