Be realistic about the online learning you assign (Part Two)

So here we are in crisis. Schools are closed for an indefinite but likely long time. The key is to move your instruction online. College students will sit at home, complete courses, and get their degree.  Younger students will access the materials we put online and learn effectively. They will watch the instruction videos we send them to, and they will watch over and over until they understand the tricky part. They will complete the assignments we post. But will they?

I was listening to an all-comedy radio channel. I missed the name of the comic, but one talked about digging through his closet looking at all the junk he had discarded in there. One of the items was his Rosetta Stone CD set. I spent a couple of minutes researching “what percentage complete Rosetta Stone” but couldn’t find the answer right away so I quit looking. I bet it is a very small number. Then I started thinking about my health club. Every year it gets crowded during January and part of February, but it gets back to normal after that. Seems many people have the idea that this will be the year they start exercising but almost none of them follow through. Then I saw a New York Times article that said that 90% of people who lose weight gain it all back. Seems like most folks have the intention to change shapes but don’t follow through. I had 300 people sign up for the webinar I offered, but there weren’t 300 in the virtual room when the webinar happened. Seems lots of folks didn’t follow through.

You can see where I am going with this. One of the outstanding traits of human beings seems to be that we don’t follow through. This truth applies in the world of education, too. You may have seen studies about the completion percentage of online courses. Only ten percent of people who start actually finish. (Rosetta Stone coulda told you that but they won’t, of course). MOOCs have not transformed education. Now add to all of this that very few educators know how to create effective online instruction. Fewer have access to all the tools needed to really make engaging lessons.

But this biggest failing of online instruction is that it almost always lacks connection. Any classroom teacher could tell you that most students need the personal touch, the human contact, the in-person support in order to stay on task. Not only do large numbers of students not complete homework, large numbers have a hard time completing work right there in class. The successful teacher is one who can inspire, prod, and personally connect, and for that, you must be present to win. Part of human nature is that we are curious. We do get excited about new things. But another part of human nature is that we don’t follow through. Your lessons all compete with all the other distractions at home (See Part One in this thread). If there is one outstanding feature of adult Americans it is that they lack discipline. Do you expect youngsters to be better?

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe we all need to update instruction. I am a strong proponent of using today’s tools. I encourage all of us to provide whatever we can for students using whatever tools we have and they have. This disruption will not end soon. But be realistic about what students can and will do.

About Erik Palmer

The #1 language art is speaking. By far. I'm committed to promoting the teaching of oral communication in all of its forms.
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