Embracing Your Role in Remote Learning

remote learningRemote learning may not be the panacea we all hoped for, but we can learn from the new normal if we embrace our role in the experience.

“Can you help me with this?” This question used to be asked of parents when inexplicable homework problems were served up alongside impenetrable instructions. “Wait, you don’t carry the 1 now? You have to add it to the second column on the right? When did basic math change?”

Parents had a few options for responding:

  • Be pleasantly surprised that you know how to solve the problem
  • Ask some delaying questions while trying to work it out
  • Suggest your child asks their teacher to explain it when next in class

Underlying these responses was the assumption that, for better or worse, the educational process had equipped your child with an understanding needed to solve the issue.

As school (and CLE) goes remote, that same assumption of an underlying understanding still holds. However, you may have found that you’ve been a little underwhelmed by remote learning and your child is a little more lost than before.

The reality is that remote learning is often delivered as a digitized version of in-person education. But this misses the whole point of in-person learning, which is the person. Zoom meetings are not in-person meetings and remote learning is not in-person learning.

Over-promising, underdelivering

In one regard, remote learning’s failure to impress can be partly laid at the feet of the learning industry and, in particular, the eLearning industry. When eLearning began to enter the mainstream almost 20 years ago, its mantra was “The Future of Learning.” Prophetic think pieces explained how computer-based learning would change the way we think about education, using the latest in neuroscience to deliver education on the learner’s terms.

Online education continues to expand exponentially. However, in many regards, the quality of online education has not kept pace with the quantity. Back in the early 2000s, online content was often just digitized versions of hardcopy resources, with interactions restricted to multiple-choice knowledge checks or memory checks of what you just read.

Sound familiar? It’s probably because more than one of your recent online learning experiences has reflected the world of the early 2000s as opposed to our current reality of Alexa conversations, artificial intelligence, and integrated social media and online interactions.

Should this change? Yes. Will it change tomorrow? No. But that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with less than optimal learning experiences. You have more control over the outcomes than you think.

Our role in learning

One of my heroes, Sir Ken Robinson, passed away recently. He was a British author, speaker, and international advisor on education — if you haven’t had a chance to view his brilliantly funny TED talk on education and creativity, I strongly recommend it. Ken’s ideas on how our educational experiences impact what we expect from educational institutions are profound.

One outcome of our educational system is that we expect learning experiences to be something that happens to us. We are merely passive participants in the direction and content of the educational experience. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

I’m constantly preaching (to the point of boredom for anyone within earshot) the benefits of metacognition, or getting into character, before starting a learning activity. There is value in the most poorly designed learning experience if you take some time to consider “What do I need from this?” and “How am I going to get it from this experience?”

When you identify some key questions to ask of yourself and the course, it’s possible to reframe the learning from the position of a passive participant to that of an active contributor. The key is that disagreeing with new content because you have explored the topic fully is exponentially more valuable than passively accepting new content as rote.

So, what are some ways you (or your kids) can do this for a course that seems boring or of little value?

Before the course:

Think about the topic.

  • What do you already know about it?
  • What aren’t you sure about?
  • What perspective does the presenter hold based on what you know about them?
  • How might this influence what they are saying?

During the course:

  • How are you reacting to the content?
  • What is it challenging in you and why?
  • What doubts are being raised about your opinions vs. the new ideas being presented?
  • What is missing/being omitted and why?

After the course:

  • How is your understanding different now than it was before?
  • What are the reasons for the change?
  • How can this new state of understanding help you in your job/life?

Not sure I’m making sense? Then you’re on the right track.

If after reading this, the idea of obtaining value from even the most boring lesson seems too good to be true, let’s test it out. I’ve found a very boring video on how to fix a stripped nut for you to watch: click here.

Simply ask yourself the questions above before, during, and after the video, then see if your reaction is more positive than you would have expected prior to watching the video. Whatever the outcome I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Dan Davies
Dan Davies is the Education Manager at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. He manages the Commission’s educational programming aimed at promoting a more professional, civil and inclusive legal profession. Prior to joining the Commission, Dan was a learning manager at the YMCA of the USA, where he designed learning solutions across topics including diversity and inclusion, achievement-gap programming and data-based decisions, and fiscal management. In his free time, Dan can be found spending time with his wife and two teenage sons, coaching travel soccer and riding a motorcycle, when he has the chance.

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Dan Davies
Dan Davies is the Education Manager at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. He manages the Commission’s educational programming aimed at promoting a more professional, civil and inclusive legal profession. Prior to joining the Commission, Dan was a learning manager at the YMCA of the USA, where he designed learning solutions across topics including diversity and inclusion, achievement-gap programming and data-based decisions, and fiscal management. In his free time, Dan can be found spending time with his wife and two teenage sons, coaching travel soccer and riding a motorcycle, when he has the chance.

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