by Pinelopi Zaka (email@example.com, @paz11uc)
It is widely accepted that self-directed learning is one of the most important skills that students need to develop in today’s Knowledge Society. Online teaching and learning approaches (either with fully online or with blended courses) provide plenty of opportunities to the students to develop independent learning skills.
However, in their research on New Zealand students’ experiences learning through virtual conferencing, Bolstad and Lin (2009) argue that independent learning skills are both a requirement but also a result of online education. This means that on one hand online teaching and learning encourages students to become more self-directed, but on the other hand the students need these skills at some level before they begin learning online, in order to succeed. This is something that most of the teachers in New Zealand I’ve talked to also identify as a being a very important pre-requisite for the students, as well as a useful outcome of online learning.
What most research tells us is that although students often enjoy the flexibility and independence that online approaches offer to them, their ability to self-direct their learning is not always enough to enable them to learn autonomously, without support. The students are often struggling to remain engaged in fully online/blended courses and this has further implications for schools and teacher training in supporting the students effectively. For example, by researching students’ flexible learning experiences in New Zealand, Pratt and Trewern (2011) found that although most students identified that they became more independent after learning through video conferencing (or other forms of flexible learning), it was clear that some of the students still needed more support from their schools. In cases where more support was needed but not provided, the students were more likely to drop out their course.
When we talk about student independence we may need to think about learning how to ride a bike. One way is to give a child the bike, let them see how it is like to fall and hope that they will not give up trying. Another way is to hold them while riding, making sure they don’t ever fall, never letting them do it themselves. What is the right balance between these two extremes? The best way depends on the kid. How confident and how persistent they are is maybe one of the things we need to know from the beginning. In any case, the teacher needs to be on the kids’ side, guiding them accordingly, based on their needs and gradually giving them more independence. Trying to find the right balance is not easy, but I think it is important to remember that each child is different and that what worked on us as students, on our children as parents, or on our other students as teachers does not always work for everybody else.
Shifting from ‘a sage on the stage’ to ‘a guide on the side’... Are we ready to give our students more control? Are our students ready to take it? Finding the right balance...
Photo by Greg Robbins.
Bolstad, R., & Lin, M. (2009). Students' experiences of learning in virtual classrooms. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER.
Pratt, K., & Trewern, A. (2011). Students experiences of flexible learning options: What can they tell us about what they need for success? Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, leading, technology, 23 (2).