Engaging Students with Online Learning: What Can be Done?
At this inspirEd event, Julia Black shared her expertise on how to engage your kids
Online learning is by no means a catch-all solution.
As with all types of learning, there will always be challenges. One of the challenges involved in all modes of education, online specifically, is keeping children engaged with learning.
At some point, every parent has witnessed their child become disengaged with something. It could be with a task, activity, or, in this case, learning.
So how can parents and facilitators overcome this hurdle?
Julia founded her own homeschooling support center and platform after her personal experience with her own child’s education. Julia witnessed her daughter become disengaged with what she was learning and knew that change was needed.
Julia founded this organization to empower families wanting to make the same change.
Explorium started as a physical Creative Learning Centre that facilitated personalized education for families who had opted for home education. Today, Explorium has grown into an online learning platform that supports and empowers families around the world.
So, How do you engage students in online learning? Here’s what Julia and Kelly had to share.
Why do children become disengaged?
Learning challenges are often put down to the environment that children are in: too many distractions, boring content, or having to sit behind a desk all day.
While these factors can affect a child’s learning experience, there is much more to it.
To understand where disengagement starts, Julia told us that it’s necessary to look from the inside out rather than from the outside in.
On a neurological level, children will decide very quickly whether they think they can do something or not.
It’s this thought process that forms their approach and relationship to learning.
Julia believes that the structure of our schools often reinforces this negative thinking. She shared her belief for why this happens:
“The first reason I think we disengage is because we have a competitive structure set up in our schools and certain hurdles that are meant to be jumped at certain time points. And what that does to a young child, or what it does to a human brain, is if they are not able to meet that, they go into a fear-based response.”
This is why personalization in education is so important. It helps learners to feel seen, heard, and not judged in any way.
Sustaining engagement in the long run
The real challenge is maintaining this engagement.
How can you ensure that your child stays actively engaged in what they’re learning, especially in an online learning environment?
A personalized education journey allows children to develop their own uniqueness and nurture their own interests and love for learning without the fear of comparison or judgment.
The best way to foster this is by allowing children to become self-directed and take charge of their education. Julia told us that
“As soon as you give the child the ownership, and you make it very clear to them that you are not taking control of this, that you're going to empower them, it's like the lights go on, and they start to rise. Then what our role as educators and parents becomes is facilitating and guiding and coaching.”
According to Kelly, this is very common with students on the topic of math. Math is a controversial subject for many people. We’ve all either struggled or thrived.
When families join Galileo, one of their first fears is always that their children will lose their math skills. Kelly shares that she always hears... ‘How can I get my kids to love math?’
If a child hates math, why would they choose to do it, given the opportunity not to?
Part of being a self-directed student means allowing children to make their own choices. As parents and facilitators, you can encourage and support. However, forcing children to do something they don’t want to do will never work in the long run.
It has to happen organically.
So how has the team successfully ingrained a love of math in Galileo students?
At Galileo, math is learned through the Math Club. When kids hear other kids talking about this club, they naturally inquire about it. Then, they end up joining the math club out of curiosity.
The next thing you know, your child is loving math again.
The students ended up actually requesting more math. Instead of a 15-minute math club, the students were demanding two hours!
This has now turned into a daily math power hour. What’s more, students were also asking to learn how to code so they could expand on their knowledge.
However, this journey of independence won’t look the same for all learners.
The work that Julia does at Explorium is based on the ‘Lights On’ theory that she developed based on her own research and experience. When a child’s lights are ‘switched on’, they’re engaged, eager, and interested in life and what they’re doing and learning.
When the lights are switched off, it’s a completely different situation.
“A 'lights off brain' is absolutely on the lookout for where they might fail and this is why the culture of learning at home, at school, online is so, so crucial. Because we have to get that brain and heart connected so that we can get them into a 'lights on' state of being. And when we're ‘lights on’ we're feeling vibrant, we're feeling awesome, excited, aligned, confident, productive, energized, we're forward-looking and anything feels possible.”
The framework is simple: it helps families to understand why their children don’t like learning, and then how to rediscover that love for learning.
“I learned very early on to find that thing that a child loves doing, naturally. So over the years I've developed that and called that the switch, and what I began to see was that children had this source code in them. And when we could get them learning through that natural-born talent, as you know I like to think of it, learning was easy. Facilitating them was easy and that's when we could step back. ”
However, in all cases, there’s one common factor that’s needed...
Regardless of whether students are learning online or in person, they need support. As Kelly puts it:
“I think when the support is there for that child in that learning environment (on the screen and off the screen), they will find that re-engagement happening in a variety of ways. It doesn't need to be inside of a classroom wall, and it doesn't need to always be inside of a zoom call as well.”
Engaging students in online learning starts with the parents
The journey of re-engaging learners is as much about the parents as it is about the learners.
Julia knows that the best way to invest in a child’s learning journey is by investing in the parents, too.
This involves helping parents to understand where this disengagement is coming from. If your child starts saying they don’t want to do their math homework or no longer want to go to school, this can send parents into panic mode.
Julia, herself, has been there too with her own daughter. She recalls feeling stressed and panicked when realizing that her daughter had her ‘lights switched off’.
So, as a parent, it’s important to remember that you can sometimes be part of the problem. On the reverse, parents can also be part of the solution.
Often, parents are still quite stuck in their own traditional ideas of education. This inevitably puts pressure on the children, especially if they are trying to have a self-directed experience.
”As adults to want to help a child when they're feeling and saying, ‘I'm stupid, I can't do it, I'm a complete failure’. We want to tell them they're not. And again, it’s just the simple shift. We want to empower them to find all the reasons why that's not true. Any great educator will do naturally but as parents, we don't necessarily know this stuff.”
Sometimes, children need more than just their parents to assist them on their learning journey. Kelly shares that:
“Galileo gives [students] a variety of people, mentors, and different ideas to explore and so they're able to find what they want. There is a kind of positive peer pressure and the influence of their peers...they're doing group projects where they take a role and they have a responsibility. They're working with students from different continents and different time zones and, again, it's that spectrum of independence I think where they can see that transformation.”
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is allow your children to find mentors elsewhere. As a parent, you may not necessarily know the areas of interest that your child wants to explore - and that’s fine!
This increased independence will naturally spill over into other areas of your children’s life.
Children often become self-directed outside of their education, too. Children are more confident and clear in their life decisions, and even simple tasks like tidying their room become part of the self-directed journey.
Kelly shares that, at Galileo, one of the most important things is having a parent support system. Through events like the Book Club, coffee chats, and monthly parent meetings, parents can share their experiences and support one another.
Kelly says that this is as valuable for the parents as it is for the kids:
“I think that when parents have the support of others that are going through this at the same time, they are finding a support system just as their students are finding that same support system with their peers.”
Want to know more about the best way to engage your children with online learning?
Galileo is a collective of future-looking families and supportive facilitators who want to make a real difference in the minds and lives of young people. If you’re looking for a way to nurture happy, curious, and passionate children, then you’ve come to the right place.
At Galileo, we allow learners to curate their learning journeys while supporting them every step of the way. We believe that every child is a natural-born leader, and it’s our job to empower them. Join us!
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