Up until three months ago, most children had used a computer or tablet for learning in one form of another, but very few would have done so on a daily basis. This changed nearly overnight when schools shut and all learning moved to being virtual.
Online learning was not invented in the past three months, but it has clearly gone through a very rapid development stage which including a lot of 'testing' over this period. Educators, parents and children have learnt very quickly what works well and what doesn't in virtual learning.
Now let's fast forward to a point in the near future when schools return to normality. Should virtual learning be relegated back to where it was at the start of 2020?
As with many changes that have occurred to society over the lockdown 2020 period, some will definitely remain and have an impact in the future. Clearly most of learning will return to being held in schools, with all students and teachers physically present in the same classroom. But it would be foolish to throw away some of the areas of teaching in which online learning provides clear advantages.
Educators, parents and children have learnt very quickly what works well and what doesn't in virtual learning
Let us rewind to mid-February 2020. Coronavirus had started to become a topic we read about daily. Our first COVID-19 actions at codetoday HQ came before February half term with guidelines sent out to our staff and to customers on our weekly sessions and those who had booked for our February half term courses.
Up until then all courses we ever ran were held in person. Luckily though we had plans to launch an online version of our courses that would include live sessions. In several planning meetings in 2019 and early 2020, one of the main areas of discussion and preparation dealt with how to adapt our teaching methods and curriculum to this new format. The easiest but wrong approach would have been to simply carry on doing the same thing we did in bricks and mortar courses, but simply deliver the sessions online. It was clear to us that the correct approach was to create a brand new format that merges those methods that translate well to remote teaching with the advantages that the online platform offers.
The easiest but wrong approach would have been to simply carry on doing the same thing we did in bricks and mortar courses, but simply deliver the sessions online
Delivering online learning
One of the biggest challenges we, and other educators, faced is to maintain the clarity in communication that is so important in teaching. At codetoday, exceptional communication skills have always been a necessary requirement for our instructors and we have put in a lot of work over the years to find ways of communicating coding concepts, many of which can be quite abstract, in clear ways. The physical presence in a room has always been very important fo us. In online teaching the focus is more on the facial expressions and maintaining eye contact, albeit via the webcam. Being able to see all the students is key even in an online session. This is why we insist that all students have their cameras turned on during online sessions.
Then there are small things that make a big difference. The teaching setup our instructors use is really important in delivering the online sessions effectively. Dual screens for our instructors means that they can keep an eye on all the class while also working on the coding screen they are using for teaching. As any teacher will confirm, being able to get visual cues from the students is important, and it also helps identify if a student is getting distracted.
Interaction between students and the instructor is not the only interaction that matters in a group setting. Students being able to see each other and talk to each other enables methods used in physical classrooms to be also used online. Again, technology comes in to help us here with the use of breakout rooms, for example, for students to discuss in pairs or groups of three, for example.
One of the biggest challenges when teaching coding online is the need for an instructor to be able to see the students' code. When teaching coding, this is a must. Once again, technology in 2020 has a solution for this via screen sharing through platforms such as Zoom (which is what we use) and also the use of on-screen annotations.
Teaching online also brings in an important difference in format. Let's take our holiday courses as an example. Our bricks and mortar courses that we ran until February and which we will bring back as soon as possible come in either half day or full day options. The nature of online sessions means that sessions need to be shorter and structured in a different manner. When designing our Live Online courses we included only one hour of live sessions daily, even during holidays. However we have included as an integral part of the course additional videos and notes that students can consume whenever they want (and how often they want.)
Online learning in the future
Let's get back to the original question: should online learning stay or go once the current situation eases? We believe that online learning, as long as it's done well and in small chunks, has an important role to play. Virtual teaching can be a way of complementing other forms of learning. However for subjects such as coding that are very well-suited for online delivery, it is also a very effective stand-alone form of learning.
Our plans at codetoday were always to introduce live online courses in addition to our bricks and mortar courses. Have the last few months led to us changing our minds? Absolutely not. Moving forward parents can choose to either send their students to one of our courses in person, or to attend online and our entire curriculum will be delivered in both formats.