In light of the Chinese government’s call for “stopping school without stopping learning; delaying school without delaying teaching,” schools across the country have been coordinating online lessons and e-learning activities for pupils. Wellington College China’s schools were no exception, as our management, information technology, teaching, and non-teaching staff have all been working to provide inspiring and engaging E-learning classes to our pupils.
The phrase ‘E-learning’ is sometimes lauded as a gimmicky ‘buzzword’ or passing trend, rather than a legitimate method of learning. Academics have long been advocating for the use of E-learning in everyday teaching, but only recently have numerous schools’ experiences of taking the classroom ‘online’ made us realise that E-learning is no longer a buzzword or trend, but a necessity. This mass move to teaching classes online has posed new challenges to the education sector in China.
In this article, we take a deep dive into E-learning and how this method of learning is being utilised by Wellington College China. To begin, we ask ourselves two key questions:
What are the pros and cons of E-learning?
What does good E-learning look like?
One of the major advantages of E-learning is that it allows learners to study at any time, anywhere; a device in hand is all it takes for a pupil to attend a class. With E-learning, classes are no longer subject to time and/or regional restrictions.
Since online learning first arrived in the education sector, its technology, philosophy, and pedagogy have undergone very big changes. Online learning has transformed from ‘E-learning 1.0’ to ‘E-learning 2.0’ and ‘E-learning 3.0’ in the last 10 years, from basic knowledge transmission through static webpages to inspiring learning through mutual interaction - sometimes with the additional help of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies - change has been swift and significant.
By using these AI-based E-learning technologies pupils can refine their language skills by chatting with an AI bot, or receive personalised maths guidance from a digital ‘tutor’ - the possibilities are endless.
E-learning is gradually shaping the way the world perceives education and educational opportunities. However, educators should be mindful that, as wonderful as it sounds, there is a darker side to E-learning that we need to be aware of:
- E-learning increases pupils’ screen time and can cause eye strain or other eyesight-related problems.
- E-learning depends on a steady Internet or network connection. Without one, learning progress would be hindered.
- The more data – audio, visual, or even biometric – an AI programme collects, the more accurate its analysis is. This poses an important question: How do programme developers ensure data is collected and stored securely? Between result accuracy and data security, where do we draw a line?
- A former employee from AltSchool attributed the closing down of its online school to a failure in helping pupils understand themselves better and stressed that the human touch, not computers, is ultimately what forms the basis of education.
E-learning advocates often suggest that E-learning allows for more personalised learning programmes, but sometimes, a computer-based mode of learning just doesn’t work for everyone.
Three ‘must-dos’ of E-learning
Now that we have a better understanding of the pros and cons of E-learning, we can start to think about how we can best utilise E-learning resources and technologies to improve teaching and learning experiences for all. To implement a successful E-learning programme, there are three 'must-dos' that schools, teachers, and pupils should stick to:
The school must have strong IT support
Schools under Wellington College China are supported by a strong technical support team who help ensure a smooth online learning experience for all pupils. Within the Central Office of the College there is an additional team of professional IT technicians in place to provide further system and infrastructure support for schools as required.
In an interview with Matt Lind, the Director of Information Technology for Wellington College China, he noted that Wellington College China has been using Microsoft’s education solution to aid teaching for some time. When an entire school's learning programme is moved online, technology is pushed to the forefront of education and plays a more important role in supporting teaching and learning than ever before. The solution provides teachers with a comprehensive toolset to deliver an effective online learning experience, which allowed for a rather smooth transition to online learning to take place within the College.
The quality of an E-learning platform or tool determines its effectiveness in helping pupils to learn. Therefore, the first step for a school to use E-learning is to equip itself with strong IT infrastructure and support.
Matt's team described the E-learning resources at Wellington College China as a “comprehensive toolset,” that is fully equipped to deliver an effective online learning experience. This toolset includes the following:
(1) A unified learning platform that helps pupils and parents. This platform allows for convenient access to all learning materials and resources from a single location.
(2) Clear online learning plans to guide pupils' learning at home. Pupils can review all their learning objectives and track their learning over time.
(3) Online classroom that allows for direct, personal interaction between the teacher and their pupils. This helps to facilitate learning and promote social interaction and exchange among pupils.
(4) Pre-recorded video lessons so that pupils in different time zones can catch up on classes, and any other children who may have missed a lesson can easily access the recording and view the content later.
(5) Interactive instruction allows teachers to share their desktop and use a variety of learning applications to deliver the lesson content. Collaboration options also allow pupils to work together in groups as if they were sitting in the same classroom.
(6) Online timetable provides pupils and parents with an overview of the week’s lesson plan, helping them prepare for classes in advance as needed.
(7) Online assignments to help track pupils’ progress and monitor timely submission before the specified due date.
(8) Individual feedback allows teachers to review each of their pupils’ work and send it back with hand-written, personal comments directly and digitally to each pupil.
Wellington College China is glad that its schools have been able to respond to calls to move classes online quickly and effectively.
Teachers must be informed and able to adapt
Despite the latest E-learning technologies allowing for online classes to resemble their real-life counterparts as much as they can, E-learning and classroom learning environments are ultimately very different. When all teaching is carried out through a screen, teachers must have a good understanding of how they can use E-learning resources to maximise learning for pupils.
The current situation in China presents an opportunity for educators to better understand the fundamentals of online education. As online education takes place in separate locations, it is foreseeable that one of the challenges educators may face when moving classes online is monitoring their pupils’ progress.
Pupils must be self-motivating
When working from home, pupils are likely to miss the daily personal interactions they had with their friends at school. Working alone from home requires so much more self-discipline than working together with peers in school. In this regard, parental support for children is crucial to help them focus at home.
Self-motivation and the ability to learn independently is developed over time. It may take a while for children to fully master these skills, but at Wellington College China we are glad that our pupils have shown a willingness and ability to overcome this challenge to learn independently from home. This eagerness to learn and explore new things is representative of the values we hope to cultivate in our pupils.
Recommended free E-learning resources from around the world
The phrase, “stopping school without stopping learning,” is not restricted to curriculum-based learning only. Useful and important learning can occur in many different ways, through many different activities. Particularly when learning online, any activity that facilitates useful knowledge acquisition should be encouraged.
Before we end this article, we would like to recommend six free E-learning resources for our readers. Some of these resources are game-based, some stimulate curiosity, and some promote mindfulness. The message we would like to send is that in the era of ‘E-learning 3.0’ learning can be a lot more fun than you ever thought possible.
Cosmic Kids offers yoga, mindfulness, and relaxation exercises designed for children aged 3 to 9. Teachers can access further resources and training through their website, but all of Cosmic Kids’ videos are available for free on their thriving YouTube channel. With more than 400 videos that are used in schools and homes all over the world, Cosmic Kids provides healthy screen time that kids simply love.
Funbrain was created for children in grades Pre-K through to Grade 8, offering hundreds of games, books, comics, and videos that develop skills in reading, literacy, mathematics, and problem-solving. This website has been a world leader in free educational games for children since 1997. Fun fact: Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first published on this website in 2004 before being turned into a successful book series and movie franchise.
The Kid Should See This is a collection of more than 4000 child-friendly videos, curated for teachers and parents who want to share smarter, more meaningful media in the classroom and at home. This website specialises in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) but features a number of videos relating to other topics such as history, music, food, culture, creativity, and so much more.
National Geographic Kids is a treasure trove of educational information. The website features educational games, videos, and other activities to teach kids about animals, geography, culture, science, and more. Some content is only available with a paid subscription, but for general learning purposes there are plenty of free resources that will keep children entertained for hours.
Oxford Owl for Home is an award-winning online learning platform developed by Oxford University Press. This website offers fantastic free online teaching, learning, and assessment resources. Designed to keep parents as well-informed as possible during a child’s time at primary school, Oxford Owl for Home has easily accessible resources for reading, English, mathematics, and general primary school guides for Years 1-6.
Wonderopolis is a website that helps children ask and answer interesting questions about the world. Every day, they pose an intriguing “Wonder of the Day” question that is designed to get children thinking, talking, and exploring learning moments in everyday life. Teachers can use the daily Wonder to jumpstart their pupils’ critical thinking, or they can search through the ever-growing collection of Wonders for content that relates to specific themes and pupils' interests.