E-learning around the world: creating, not simply following, best practice

I very much enjoyed leading two virtual professional development sessions at the Lasswade High School Learning Festival for staff on Monday of this week – I wish I could have stayed longer! I spent the time sharing – as swiftly as I could – some of the experiences I have gained from working internationally with school leaders over the past 4 months especially, as teachers and school leaders everywhere have navigated the shift to online learning, and managed the continued, ongoing, demands of responding to student needs virtually, through the digital medium. Teachers all over the world have proved themselves incredibly adept at making this shift; the teachers I met on Monday were no exception.

I referred in my presentation at Lasswade High School to John Hattie’s latest article on the effects of the Christchurch earthquake on student attainment, and highlighted that – contrary to expectations – the grades of students who missed considerable time in school because of the disaster were, in fact, by the following year actually higher than anticipated. The students appeared not to have suffered at all academically, and the reason for this became clear to the researchers when they delved deeper into how teachers had responded to their students’ needs. The teachers had, it was revealed, worked out exactly what their students really needed, and had provided the interventions that matched these needs; rather than concentrating on teaching them what it previously generally thought that they needed (ie the scheduled curriculum), the teachers identified gaps in their students’ skills and knowledge, and helped them fill these. Motivated by the first principles of teaching – ie enabling young people to develop and thrive – they broke free of prior expectations and did what really worked.

Quite apart from reassuring teachers who are worried about the future of their students, this research should also embolden them. In this week’s TES, John Morgan writes in an excellent and thoughtful article about studies into the risks of re-opening schools, that “there is no ‘the science’ – no single point of scientific consensus”, and exactly the same applies, I would argue, to the ‘science’ of e-learning. There is no single method of e-learning that can be described as a magic bullet – although there are plenty of examples of interesting practice; what is emerging more and more clearly, however, is an understanding that when teachers identify the specific needs of individual students, and work with these, then progress happens.

Sound familiar? Well, this is exactly what teachers are superb at doing – understanding their students and then working out what they need in order to fly. These aren’t always conventional, off-the-shelf methods, and they certainly aren’t applicable to all. All that holds teachers back is a lack of resource and trust.

So let’s give this resource and trust to teachers, let school leaders make decisions which work for their own students in their particular communities, and let educators – quite simply – all just do their jobs.

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