In Part 1 of this article, we talked about the merits of classroom education and online education and the fact that both have their unique merits. The word ‘unique’ is important here because it naturally leads to the rationale that, ideally, we should look to get the ‘best of both worlds’. This is popularly termed as Blended Learning. How can technology complement and amplify the benefits of classroom education? How can we do this? What has already been tried and tested? Can we think of some innovative ideas?
Well, here are a few methods in which blended learning can be adopted…
We already talked about the benefits of online courses. Students are benefited by their ability to follow along at their own pace and watch the videos multiple times if they need to. If a school or a tuition teacher could create videos of key concepts and solved problems, then they can share them with students. Students can view those videos outside classes while they are doing self-study. Online learning can thus be instrumental to bridging the ‘academic divide’, the difference in performance of the students who are quick to grasp concepts versus students who are not. It is difficult for students to hold their attention for an entire class, leave alone the series of classes for the entire day. Having those videos in hand from the same teacher allows them to fill in the gaps in their understanding, thus meaning that they have a far better chance of understanding what the teachers meant to teach.
For kids, learning is continuous. They are learning from their experience throughout the day. Therefore, learning should continue after students leave the classroom. A benefit of incorporating digital learning is that it enables learning to be a continuum. It allows students to access information, activities, and games anywhere, anytime. Digital learning provides flexibility that supports student success while amplifying their experience of education. Plus, the Gen-Z is more comfortable with technology than their predecessors.
Speaking of activities, technology can facilitate more in this space than what is immediately obvious. Imagine a biology class, where each student is given a butterfly larva in a glass greenhouse casing and explained what to feed it, how to care for it and what will it become. Students have to take that home, follow the instructions and watch it grow into a butterfly. At each stage, they take a photo and later collate it into a video which becomes their final submission. At the end, they have to narrate their experience to the class. So many things would have happened by this time. None of their students will ever forget metamorphosis post that exercise. The journey of caring for animals would have been facilitated at an early stage in their lives. The video they created will always be with them as a cherished memory, an achievement they will treasure. When they are narrating their experience to their class, in front of their teacher, they are articulating what they saw and felt, a skill which will become increasingly important as they grow. Last, but not the least, there is no way to cheat in this exercise!
Such activities can be in groups as well. Students love to chat online. They collaborate for all sorts of purposes. Collaborating with friends is exciting. Can we not have collaborative exercises in education? Divide a class into groups of 3-4 and give each group a task and an online space where they can collaborate with each other and submit their outputs. Let the teacher be in all the groups as moderator. The final submission can be a combination of documents, presentation, and videos. Working with others when the results matter teaches you to collaborate with people with different opinions. It brings out leadership qualities in those who have them. It highlights the importance of listening to others. All very vital aspects which should be learnt sooner than later.
Leveraging technology for such things frees up the class time since the students can do these outside classes. Technology also allows such activities and more (including homework, tests and assessments) to be gamified. Complete a set of videos / topics / courses to get points. Teachers can create video sets on advanced topics which have higher points associated with them. Homework can be assigned to students on vacation to ensure continuous learning. Such optional homework earns you extra points. You can have personalised learning pathways for every student. Completing a pathway earns you additional points.
When we are reminded of our achievements, when we can see our own progress, our brain releases serotonin, a chemical which causes the feeling of safety calmness, happiness, and self-confidence. When we overcome difficult challenges and achieve new goals, our brain releases endorphins, which cause really good mood and provide energy to “go an extra mile”, decreasing the feeling of being tired.
When we collaborate successfully with others, belong to a group, our brain releases oxytocin, which helps to create social bonds and maintain them, causes the feeling of belonging and connection (also love). Nature created oxytocin because people would not survive alone, without other people. The nature created it so we gather in groups, we create communities. It was also created for our survival; it is evolutionary chemical. Then there is dopamine, which makes us want to do things. It is released before receiving a reward or achieving a goal. That is why, the closer to receiving a reward we are, the more we want it, the more we are willing to make the extra effort to get it.
All these ideas (and there can be more), do something incredible – it makes the learning experience unique for every student, unique their specific need. It not only complements the personal attention which they get in schools and tuitions, but also amplifies it.
What we are really saying here is that ‘technology-led’ education is not and cannot be a competition to classroom education. The best use of technology is to complement classroom education in ways that makes it more effective, make the experience more engaging, fulfilling, and delightful to the students. That to me, is the next step in the evolution of education.
Individual teachers, institutions, and students will take time to figure out and perfect what works best for them. As a wise man once said, ‘If you have to prepare for the future, the best time to start is now’.