By Hugh Viney, Headmaster at Minerva’s Virtual Academy
Education over the last year has been a mixed journey for many. The closure of schools, the rise of digital learning and the unpredictability of a global pandemic. What the last year has done though, is to accelerate the growth of digital learning, bringing with it more widespread acceptance across pupil and teacher communities. The impact of traditional learning versus blended learning continues to dominate the headlines as we veer more towards online platforms. While our dependence on the use of technologies both inside and outside of the classroom progresses too. The possibilities for virtual classrooms are vast and many top independent schools are already introducing virtual offerings to their portfolios.
The rise of digital learning is also influencing attitudes around how we learn as individuals, highlighting the potential for a more personalised education. Parents who might never have contemplated online schooling before, are jumping in with both feet as this new, upcoming educational experience gains more and more traction. On the teaching side, virtul classrooms are also freeing up resource, giving teachers more time in the day to focus on mentoring and coaching rather than the reams of paperwork that traditionally goes hand in hand with education. Virtual classrooms give schools the opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce the paper chain, while being part of a generation of broad-minded, self-driven, resilient learners. With the capacity and the freedom to take responsibility for their learning and to progress at their own pace, pupils are also being equipped with vital life skills.
Online learning platforms
New enhancements to technology and sophisticated online learning platforms mean the debate as to whether or not a virtual school has a place in future society, is fast becoming a thing of the past. Virtual schools are very much a reality today but how do virtual classrooms operate? The curriculum is delivered daily via live, timetabled lessons within a virtual classroom environment. Lessons take place with a real subject-specialist teacher present. Students are given the flexibility and the encouragement to complete assignments in their own time. They are able to obtain feedback and support just as they would in a traditional classroom, by speaking with their teachers and working alongside peers while using a state-of-the-art online learning platform. Students also participate in interactive group lessons just as they would in a traditional school setting.
There are of course many questions around the physical impact of attending a virtual school in relation to building friendships and social interaction. Fortunatley, unlike home schooling of the past, working in a virtual classroom doesn’t mean working alone or feeling isolated from others. For virtual schools to work effectively, community culture, friendship, educational traditions and team spirit will always underpin the ethos of a happy, thriving and holistic learning environment. This has always been important for student progression and achievement, a happy child learns more effectively and online schooling must incorporate these pillars. Whether that means running entire school assemblies each week, or providing an array of dynamic, extra-curricular activity, sessions to promote wellbeing and mental health, to physical meetings, school trips, sports days, performances and other events.
The popularity of virtual classrooms has also had a significant impact on how schools and teachers can track and manage pupil performance and attainment online. By monitoring student work closely online, teachers are able to spot bottlenecks where students might be struggling and will be able to prescribe the right support and guidance at exactly the right moment. In-the-moment feedback is a real benefit to learning online and students are able to receive comments dynamically as they learn. Some more sophisticated learning platforms can also manage pupil attainment by ensuring they cannot progress onto the next task or topic, until they have properly understood the content sufficiently and have completed the tasks in line with the teacher’s direction.
Personalised bespoke learning
Virtual classrooms have also brought to light the reality that all children develop and learn at a different speed. Some pupils will simply need more time to complete a task, while others will need far less time. Interestingly, both children will have the ability to flourish in this instance and achieve the best outcomes working in a way that reflects their own learning style. Essentially, virtual learning allows for a more bespoke approach to schooling, one which mirrors the child’s strengths, capability and personality.
The changes to exmainations over the last year or so has also brought into question the validity of exams and how we study for them. The GCSE syllabus can be learned without a physical need for a face to face teacher across 11 subjects. This works on the basis that there is an option to obtain support as appropriate. The role of the teacher will certainly adapt in the future, in line with this to allow greater scope for mentoring. Despite assumptions around the future of digital learning, good teachers are perhaps more important than they have ever been? With virtual classrooms taking us further towards personalised learning, we have to be open to change and to embracing new teaching methods that will form part of our future education system. As a sector we should expect change in the name of creating more positive learning outcomes for pupils. Change is exciting and with the help of online learning we can look towards an innovative, progressive future for education.