Online learning platforms: striding forwards

With schools likely to continue using elements of online learning even after the pandemic, Hugh Viney, founder of Minerva’s Virtual Academy, looks at how online learning platforms need to evolve in the future

Robust digital learning platforms have become instrumental to schooling over the past year. Of course, the best platforms are those that provide an easy, intuitive way for students to access and use course material dynamically via the internet, while keeping it simple for teachers and staff to manage the flow of learning.

Both learning management systems (LMS) and virtual learning environments (VLE) are becoming increasingly commonplace in education today. This is not to say that traditional education is fading out – face-to-face schooling absolutely still has its place – but there is no doubt that having access to learning and the curriculum digitally is not only reassuring for continuity of education, it is also more cost-effective for educators.

Online learning is also widening the net for international students wanting a British education. Having access to the same course materials, regardless of where you are in the world, can be useful for those wanting an alternative option to boarding.

Despite requiring a shift in mindset, learning digitally is second nature to most young people. Most students have a smartphone or access to another internet-connected device. Our young people are familiar with using apps and accessing content immediately. Learning online is a natural progression for them and is perhaps less of a shock to the system than it might be to the education sector itself.

The truth is, many VLE’s don’t actually require a teacher and this can be a daunting prospect for traditional schools. In-person teaching is of course still vital, and face-to-face instruction and inspiration is important, but the potential of online platforms means that many teachers could free up additional time and resource to focus on other areas of development to support their students in new, more dynamic ways.

The potential of online platforms means that many teachers could free up additional time and resource to focus on other areas of development to support their students in new, more dynamic ways

Accessing learning online means children are able to learn at their own pace. Those that naturally work faster can accelerate at their own speed, while those who tend to work more slowly can take time moving carefully from topic to topic. This can be hard to replicate in a traditional classroom setting where children tend to work to the same pace and deadlines.

The best learning platforms are becoming more sophisticated too; artificial intelligence (AI) will play a big part in the future of VLEs and in delivering more standard educational content. Some will allow schools to track a child’s progress in depth over both long and short periods of time.

Having intricate visibility of which topics a child is struggling with (and why) and what they are excelling at can be hugely beneficial when setting assignments remotely and in nurturing a child to be the best they can be – something that all independent schools strive for.

As learning platforms continue to evolve, educators are also going to want their technology to provide greater insight into pupil effort, attainment, attendance and to monitor what stage they are at in their educational journey.

Traditionally, lessons have operated day to day, as a ‘whole class approach’ because the restrictions of a traditional classroom setting makes bespoke, individualised learning more difficult. Digital learning is attempting to move away from that traditional approach to allow for more tailored learning journeys for children which, when balanced with traditional classroom learning, may offer a new dimension.

Technology is of course, not without its barriers. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed before virtual learning can truly come into its own.

Quite rightly, one of the key concerns around online learning is children feeling isolated. Learning independently outside of a traditional classroom full of other children is a huge change. Lots of schools are also finding that the increase in on screen learning is also highlighting a number of confidence issues amongst children, especially in older children who are less keen to be on camera all of the time. This is hindering participation in lessons in some cases, so this is all about balance and about using digital learning in a variety of ways to support individual needs.

Social interaction is also another barrier for technology. It is vital to include a blend of face-to-face teaching and digital learning to nurture all-important social skills. Most would agree that too much alone time is not a good thing and virtual learning must develop in a way that makes children feel included and part of a wider community, just as they would in school. Technology will always instil fear in some and even though many schools want to embrace newer, more advanced technologies, they may be bound by other restrictions or may not have the resources to train staff.

That said, there is certainly more acceptance and understanding within education today around the need to have robust virtual learning platforms in place. The world has had to become Zoom-literate and those families that were perhaps against online learning have been fast tracked into it as a consequence of the pandemic. This has allowed many to see the fantastic potential for this new dimension of learning.

Our attitudes around the capabilities of digital education have advanced by 10 years in the space of a few months. There is still much to do and more change to come, but the opportunity is vast.

Related news: Minerva’s Virtual Academy sees rise in admissions

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