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3 Learning to learn online

Described image
Figure 4 Classrooms like this one in Uganda can be happy places, but they can also restrict the ways in which learning and teaching takes place.

We learn from a very young age how to behave in an educational institution or classroom. As soon as they start school, pupils are taught where to go, what is allowed, where to focus their attention, when they can respond, when to take a break, and where resources are located. By the time students reach university, this knowledge about how to learn in a physical classroom is second nature and they rarely think of it as something they were taught.

At the same time, the constraints of a physical classroom become so much a part of life that they are hardly noticed. As a result, when people around the world moved rapidly to online teaching during the pandemic, they often reproduced these constraints. These include assumptions such as:

  • Learning takes place at set times.
  • Learning must be synchronous.
  • The educator must see the learners.
  • The learners must see the educator.
  • Class members should all engage at the same time.
  • Class members should all take a break at the same time.
  • Learners should be suitably dressed.
  • Learners should sit still.
  • Technology is distracting.

Sometimes these constraints remain appropriate when teaching at a distance, but in many cases they can be set aside completely, adding flexibility to online learning.

Activity 2: Making assumptions

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Consider the list of constraints above. For each constraint, note whether you believe it should apply in online learning all the time, some of the time, or never.

In cases you label ‘some of the time’, note the conditions that would make that constraint necessary in an online setting.

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One reason that educators sometimes find online teaching limiting is that their planning takes into account the limitations of being online (such as the need for a good internet connection) and then adds the restrictions associated with a physical location (such as the requirement for everyone to study at the same time because that is when the classroom is available). By reflecting on your assumptions about how and where learning can take place, you may identify restrictions that have been limiting you but that need not apply in an online setting.