Leaping into online learning with haste

Leaping into online learning with haste

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Mina Atia
Halifax Chamber of Commerce
Intern, Communications Coordinator
Alliance Française Halifax offers high-quality French instruction to promote French culture. The centre has been teaching French remotely for a few years now.

With our reliance on technology and increased flexibility for both work and schooling over the last decade, online learning has been at the forefront of many institutions. It provides endless options for students of all ages the opportunity to learn.

Whether it be new skills, languages, diplomas or even degrees, they are all made possible remotely and from the comfort of one’s own home. Flexibility and accessibility have become pillars of online learning.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a monumental uptake of language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools and online learning software. According to Forbes magazine, interest in learning new languages has seen a threefold increase and the number of new customers has doubled week over week.

And that wasn’t the only noticeable change. Formal education has taken a drastic and rapid leap towards e-learning. Instructors are working remotely and on digital platforms, which was only made possible with the exponential development and growth of technology over the last decade.

But will this quick, additional adoption of online learning and complete reliance on technology continue to persist post-pandemic?

Based on extensive scientific research, online learning has shown a significant increase in retention of information. Students are retaining 25 to 60 per cent more information online compared to only eight to 10 per cent in classrooms.

Furthermore, online learning requires 40 to 60 per cent less time to learn than in traditional classrooms. This is made possible with students’ ability to learn at their own pace, go back to re-read, skip or accelerate through chapters as they choose.

Many university students were already used to a blended form of online and in-person learning before the pandemic. They go to lectures in classrooms in the morning and head home to attend evening classes online.

And part-time students mostly take online classes while working fulltime or staying home with their children.

“Online learning allows for flexibility and accessibility,” says Peter Mombourquette, Professor and Chair of the Department of Business and Tourism and Hospitality Management at Mount Saint Vincent University.

“We run all our courses both online and in the classroom,” he says. “So students have that choice. This accessibility and flexibility is phenomenal.”

Executive Director, Isabelle Pédot, of Alliance Française Halifax also shared a similar insight regarding online learning.

“This crisis has also been an opportunity for us and our clients: online teaching allows more flexibility and a wider course offering,” she says.

A Canadian not-for-profit association located in the Hydrostone, Alliance Française Halifax offers high-quality French instruction to promote French culture. The centre has been teaching French remotely for a few years now. All its logistics and technology platforms were already set up and available for their instructors as well as clients.

“We were able to adjust our programs and create new ones to fit everyone’s learning style: shorter and more frequent lessons with less participants, access to online material to give each student the freedom to study at their own pace and promote self-learning,” says Pédot.

Pédot further explained how clients realized the possibility of continuing their progress and learning online. Digital textbooks, smartboards and instructional videos amongst many other technological tools were at their disposal.

She reaffirms technology to be an inherent part of the modern pedagogical tool box for language teachers. It facilitates online learning on either ends of the learning spectrum.

Based on these pervious findings and insights, online learning may be here to stay. However, a concerted effort needs to be made in improving online learning.

This cultural change in learning, however, requires discipline. Just like classroom education needs discipline, online learning needs it even more due to the lack of handholding.

It’s hard for some students to find their bearings on their own and on their own timeline, that is if they even set one.

“Since COVID-19, we switched to online and telephone advising meetings, and we have faculty that are basically available 24/7, who love to e-meet and work with students to help them select their courses,” says Mombourquette.

To get the full benefits of online learning, a range of collaborative tools and engagement methods need to be used. By doing so, it will promote inclusion, personalization and intelligence by adding to the advantages of e-learning.

“We created videos for parents of our younger learners to allow repetition and memorization during the week,” says Pédot. “Our e-learning platform has allowed easy access to material, virtual classrooms and has increased communication among participants.”

“We run a very robust educational learning passport program comprising of what we do in the classroom, and we've worked exceptionally hard to transition all that online in the fall,” says Mombourquette.

“Students can have a great experience, not just in the classroom, but in a virtual experience enhancing their education,” he says.

On the upside, instructors and educators have reported more efficient and effective reach out to students since the pandemic through chat groups, video meetings, polls voting and document sharing.

By contrast, others have been met with some online learning challenges. Students without reliable internet access and/or technology have been struggling with digital learning. It’s representing a gap evident across countries and between income brackets.

Lack of training, insufficient bandwidth and little preparation, all have resulted in poor experience for some teachers as well.

“Vocational training must be an ongoing priority, regardless of unforeseen situations and events,” says Pédot.

“By making sure that teachers are always aware of the most recent technological tools, knowledge and research, we give our team and our clients the best chance to adapt to an ever-changing environment,” she says.

Teachers are now pressured more than ever to become life-long learners. With the constant evolution of technology, teaching methods and different learning platforms, instructors must be both as accommodating and as digitally up to date as possible.

But with a significant digital divide between different socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s not always easy ‘getting with the times’.

For example, there’s a drastic divide between teachers from a well-funded school district and one with way less means. As accommodating and technology savvy as teachers can be, only so much progress can occur with the digital tools and funds available to them.

On the flip side, some students are well prepared: they’re set with Chromebooks and digital lesson plans while others don’t have internet access, structure at home or even helpful supervision.

MSVU ran a survey asking students if they need support when it comes to online learning, whether it be tools or internet access. “Every one of our students responded back that they had access, either to a phone or a computer and have access to WiFi or internet,” says Mombourquette.

“We didn't have any students actually come back and say this is going to be problematic for them. And I think that represents where technology is today.”

A valid concern is this could be representative of a select demographic of students who come from a good socioeconomic background or are offered governmental support and loans. All of which enables them to adapt comfortably to online learning.

However, the divide impacting other less-fortunate demographics will only widen post-pandemic with the current acceleration in digital learning.

“There's a variety of ways that we could help students. We’re more than willing to work with students on an individual basis to help them,” says Mombourquette.

“It's a very different environment. It's a very positive, student-engaging environment,” he says confidently about online learning and the endless possibilities it holds for the future.

Ultimately, it’s time to put the emphasis on bridging existing and emerging digital services. It will allow those falling behind to take advantage and keep up with their peers.

And despite all of the benefits and challenges, some believe a hybrid education model offers the best solution. Some students believe traditional offline and online learning should still go hand in hand.

“There is no contradiction between these two methodologies. They are complementary,” says Pédot. “Blended learning means learners are offered a gamut of tools to achieve their learning goals.”

“We do not have to make a choice between online and in-person learning.”

MSVU ran a survey asking students if they need support for their online learning, whether it be technology tools or internet access.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

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