Does remote learning work? (Part Two)

So here we are in crisis. Schools are closed for an indefinite time. The key is to move your instruction online. Young students will access the materials we put online and will learn effectively. They will watch the instructional videos we send them to, and they will watch over and over until they understand. They will complete the assignments we post. They will watch and listen to their classmates’ little pictures at Zoom. But will they?

I was listening to an all-comedy radio channel. One comic talked about digging through his closet and looking at all the junk discarded in there. One of the items was his Rosetta Stone “Learn Spanish” 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. In a normal 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 but don’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. And in times of crisis? Minds are even less able to focus.

This truth applies in the world of education, too. Studies of online courses reveal that only ten percent of people who start actually finish. Rosetta Stone could have told you that but they won’t, of course. Disciplined behavior is rare, and especially rare when we are all freaked out. Now add that your lessons all compete with all the other distractions at home: other siblings, working parents, poor connectivity, other screens to click on, and so on. And add to that lack of maturity: a seven year old kid sitting still in front of thirty thumbnail pictures of classmates? Absurd. There is no theoretically possible world where remote learning can come close to duplicating what happens in class. We can kid ourselves for a while, but being out of school does enormous damage to learning. As they say in the world of contests, must be present to win.

Don’t get me wrong. 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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