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Seven myths of online education

10 DEC 2021

There is a certain idea that people associate with online school. And in the last two years, many have not had a good experience with learning online.

AJ Tills, Chief Marketing Officer at Crimson Global Academy, talks about the seven myths of online learning and how we are addressing these issues.

1. In-class engagement online isn’t as good as ‘real’ school.

It’s relatively undisputed that student engagement positively predicts academic performance. Engagement often equals achievement. But engagement shouldn’t be constrained to face-to-face interactions.

In person interactivity is a necessary part of developing foundational social skills, but schooling shouldn’t be limited to playing this role either. As our world becomes more globalised and technology-based, we need to think more globally about schooling.

At Crimson Global Academy (CGA) the pedagogy is synchronous.

Synchronous online learning enables groups of students to participate in a learning activity together at the same time, from any place in the world. Real-time synchronous online learning often involves online chats and video conferencing, as these tools allow training participants and teachers to ask and answer questions instantly while being able to communicate with the other participants. This pedagogy has proven to be the most successful in terms of student outcomes.

92% of students scored at least one A or B in their International GCSEs. The average score in our A Level exams was 82% - this puts CGA up there with the world's top high schools.

We can all tell when a colleague is multi-tasking on a Zoom meeting at work. The same goes for online schooling. Technology can be our friend and help identify things like how often your child speaks and contributes to class, and whether they are focusing on the teacher/screen or distracted by their phone.

In fact, at CGA we champion discussion and debate to ensure students generate the ability to critically think, structure arguments, and empathise with others’ opinions. On average, CGA students talk 3x as much as in their traditional school classroom. If there are issues, the teacher can then adapt their approach to class, or have a private conversation with the student outside of class to check in on them – just like they might in ‘real’ school.

2. My kid will be isolated at home.

Structure and routine can be effective guardrails for the development of students. It is true that kids need an ecosystem and a community in which to flourish. In-person meetings are important, and so are online social groups that allow students to interact as people outside the ‘class’ environment. Students of today are already digital-natives - they learn and interact more effectively online. We can and should leverage this and do more to make sure the next generation learn what they will need to succeed in life and the future of work.

The world is increasingly smaller. Today’s students will need to compete on the global stage - for access to top universities and jobs. This means that while current high school education only benchmarks them against their immediate neighbours, students need to have a global mindset. It’s a particularly relevant challenge for us in Australia.

This requires a technological shift for schools, as well as a focal shift towards educating students for the digital world. In normal times most online learning, no matter how well structured, is not the only game in town; at the online high school CGA, 70 percent of students are complementing traditional schooling with part-time online classes.

3. There is no socialising or learning of soft skills.

In a typical CGA virtual classroom there are students from 5 or 6 different nationalities on the live call. This means our students are developing a large network of global, diverse and ambitious peers whilst developing a global mindset at a critical age. In addition to this; running the student paper, taking part in e-sport tournaments, or discussing cryptocurrency in an extracurricular course – engaging with one another and forming meaningful connections at school comes in many forms. It doesn’t matter if this is in person or online.

4. My child’s mental wellbeing won’t be supported.

People far too often view mental health as a necessary trade-off in return for impressive student achievement. The truth is, excellent achievements - particularly in the long run - require sound mental health. Mental health, and wellbeing, is a huge issue for New Zealanders, and we can only guess at the long-tail impact the pandemic and lockdowns will have on us. While social media has been pinpointed as exacerbating risks to mental health, technology can offer tools and solutions for young people who are struggling. Being online gives us the opportunity to support the ‘full student’. We can track in-class engagement and share regular updates to parents, providing a rare insight into their ongoing mindset at school.

5. Online schooling doesn’t help with physical exercise.

Again, technology is an ally, as is tapping into the natural competitive streak of many students who want to push themselves via different modes of learning – online and in the classroom. Apps such as MapMyRun or Strava can be used to organise competitions that suit what students want to do, whether it’s workout-based or tracking the number of kilometres walked or run in a given period. Then prizes can be handed out each week, fortnight or month, and new competition terms set.

6. My child must be gifted to be able to succeed with online learning.

Whether a child succeeds or struggles in any type of school environment often depends not on how smart they are but on how they learn best – and our general approach to education doesn’t accommodate different learning styles or allow much personalisation or modification, so typically it is the children who have a natural aptitude for exams who do better.

Instead, CGA personalises the curriculum according to how students learn, and by competency rather than age (45 percent of classes are accelerated – meaning students in learning subjects above their age group). In the most recent international A-level exams, the results speak for themselves:

  • 84 percent of CGA students scored 3+ vs 60 percent global average
  • 3.9 CGA average score vs 3.03 global average score
  • 44 percent of students scored 5 vs 12 percent global average

It’s worth noting that, as Jamie Beaton explains in his book ACCEPTED!, students who have come through the Crimson Education system are 2-5 times more likely to get into Ivy League colleges in the U.S.A. (21%) and Oxford and Cambridge (48%).

7. You can’t learn life skills online.

A recent McKinsey & Company survey defined the skills that will matter in the workforce of the future. These include things like adaptability, work-plan development, logical reasoning, asking the right questions, grit and persistence, digital ethics, data analysis and statistics, cybersecurity literacy and smart systems.

The technological baseline requirement for employment is shifting for many industries as the pace of innovation continues to grow. This means jobs in the future will look remarkably different to what they do now, and trends in higher education need to catch up.

The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of children today will end up in careers that don't even exist yet.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that schools are playing catchup in recent years to integrate technology that better serves their students. Think about it, how many jobs today still require the bulk of their work to be done in pen and paper? Virtually none! Yet, most traditional schools still do the bulk of their work writing in exercise books and sitting pen and paper exams.

This is the exact problem online schools like CGA are seeking to address. By providing students with a digitally native high school experience, CGA familiarizes them with tools of the 21st century workplace like Google Calendar, email management and Slack.

We found the most effective way to prepare the students to be successful in a changing world is to prepare them to be able to adapt successfully, and apply their skills and knowledge in a variety of contexts, to equip them with transferable skills.

Students of today are already digital natives who learn and interact more effectively online. Rather than seeing online as somehow less-than, we should leverage young people’s comfort and aptitude with it and do more to build their skills to succeed in life and work. This requires a technological shift for schools, as well as a mindset and structural shift towards educating students for the digital world. Kids are already there, but education systems haven’t completely caught up. Now is our chance.

This article originally appeared in the Modern Australian on February 24.

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