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Online Learning Vs Modified Semesters: What works?

When the pandemic hit, you could have been easily forgiven for thinking that everything was about to change forever. While this isn’t necessarily true (we have yet to see, at least), there have certainly been some changes that have lasted longer than any of us initially predicted. 

These changes don’t start or end with the schooling system, but it’s undeniable. The changes to the way our students receive their classes, take their exams, interact with their peers, and so on, has defined the school experience for current students- for better or for worse. 

As the pandemic began, teachers were quickly forced to adapt to online learning, which (already a challenge in itself), when coupled with parents having to figure out how to navigate the newly complex system, was a problem waiting to happen. Students’ motivation and drive (understandably) dwindled, and it all looked a little bleak as we stepped into the new world of social isolation and distancing.

As the pandemic blinds began to lift, schools cautiously reopened their doors and students came flooding back. But not for normal classes. With the all new ‘Modified Semesters’, teachers and students are more burned out than ever. 

As we take a deeper look into the new ways of learning that have cropped up out of necessity of distance, we will consider whether they are working, whether they are more effective than older (and potentially outdated?) teaching and learning styles, and if any are here to stay. 

Online Learning 

It’s no secret that in recent years online learning has gained traction. Predominantly for adults who want to get back into education and fit it around their current lifestyles. Places like Coursera, the Open University, and more are great examples of this and how effective online learning can be

Learning platforms like these allow all kinds of people to fit their learning around their life. The benefits are bountiful: it’s cheaper, more convenient, and typically, students actually end up learning more than they do with traditional in-house classes. 

If we consider online learning tools such as the Litguide App, an informative user friendly application designed to help Ontario students study for the OSSLT. The app is built around the OSSLT curriculum and designed to be easy to use and convenient. 

Apps like Litguide allow students to test themselves and be tested more regularly than they would in the classroom. The automation of shorter and multiple choice answer questions also provide an elegant efficiency in studying that just wouldn’t be possible in a normal class. 

However, in a school setting, online learning misses things. Things like impromptu conversations, meeting with friends in the halls and the crucial social development that happens in the corridors of secondary school.

There is a growing mound of evidence that says students, particularly those in high school age, struggle with just online learning. Problems arise, most notably, detrimental effects on a student’s mental health. This can lead to lowered motivation, social isolation, increased anxiety and depression, and an increased likelihood of a child who is already falling behind to fall even further behind. In short, there is a grocery list of reasons to get the kids back into school as soon as possible. 

Modified Semesters 

While it’s hard to argue against both the positives and the negatives of online learning, were modified semesters the right choice for Ontario teens? An overwhelming number of people do not think so. With students taking two and a half hour long classes, concentration is waning quickly and regularly.

Not only that, but teachers are exhausted trying to keep students’ attention for the entirety of the class, and retention of information is not what it should, or needs, to be. Teachers, students, and officials everywhere are crying out for the modified semesters to end

In fact, even parents are feeling the pressure, with almost 75% of parents saying their kids hate the new format and that they struggle to remember things from week to week. In contrast to this, 11% of parents say that while they’re not a huge fan of the new set up, they greatly prefer it to virtual learning and classes. 

Both are reasonable preferences. As we mentioned, online learning is something that many teens struggle to adjust to, and if the mental health of the teen is affected, it is likely to affect that of the parent as well. 

But we must ask ourselves, does this preference away from online learning stem from a child that is thriving in an educational setting, or one where the child is just happy to be back in contact with those of their own age?

Which is Best, Online Learning or Modified Semesters? 

I think it’s fair to say that the modified semesters do not work on an educational level. They are causing teachers to feel burned out, and meaning that more time is lost on lack of concentration and wandering minds. 

However, for many, online school was emotionally challenging. Both for keeping up with the work and for simply needing the motivation to turn up to class. There are certainly aspects of online learning that really do work extremely well- study tools like the Litguide App, online university platforms, and so on, are all designed to be online and so work well when they are. 

Unfortunately, our secondary school education system was not designed to be online. So, putting it online forced many teens, teachers, and parents to struggle with the breakneck changes to the ‘normal’ system. 

Closing thoughts… 

Online learning is creeping into our lives more and more- and for good reason. When used appropriately, in moderate amounts, it is an extremely beneficial tool. From being better for the environment to allowing flexibility, it works. In some situations at least. 

However, in our secondary schools, online learning barely worked, and modified semesters are not working. Let’s wait for the safe return of the regular school day, and make use of online learning to support the in-person learning that we’ve known all these years.

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