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Five Assumptions About Distance Learning - Why It's NOT Working for Every Child!

My husband and I have taught together for over 80 years. We continue to do so because we love what we do; however, we are very disturbed by the terms Virtual Learning or Distance Learning or On-Line Learning. Now don't get the idea that because we are "old", we don't or can't use technology. Technology is part of our lives, especially in our teaching, but when we hear Distance Learning, many people make assumptions that simply aren't true.

Assumption  #1 Students Have Access to a Computer and to the Internet

Numerous students do not possess a computer nor do they have access to the Internet. For example, my daughter teaches immigrant children, and out of all her families, only two even own a phone. Even though the school may purchase each student a computer, without Internet access, it is worthless. This is a significant issue in rural and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Or when the computer goes home, it somehow disappears. A computer can buy much needed food or sadly, drugs for an addict.

I HATE learning at home!
Assumption  #2 Parents Create a Learning Environment for Their Children

It is obvious that people who believe this have not been in some of the children's homes that I've had the "privilege" of visiting. It's hard to study when chaos reigns or when parents are fighting or the child is expected to babysit younger siblings. Without set class times, children are often interrupted or distracted while studying. Learners with low motivation or unhealthy study habits often fall "through the cracks."

Assumption  #3 Parents Help Their Children Learn

I believe that most parents want to help their child, but because of work schedules, level of education, not speaking English, etc. many cannot.  And then there are others who simply won't because it takes too much of their time. Participation by the parent is really voluntary. In addition, if students have questions where the parents cannot help, s/he has to wait when the teacher is on-line to assist them.

Assumption  #4 Students Have an Intrinsic Desire to Learn

Maybe I've just taught too long to believe this one. Most students would rather skip the lessons and play whether it be outside or a game on the computer.  Rare is the child that can hardly wait for that video lesson to come on. After all, there really isn't any accountability since the teacher is just "in the computer." A student must be a self directed learner.

Assumption  #5 Computer Lessons are Better Because It's Technology

Unfortunately, there are many teachers uncomfortable with teaching on-line. I know because I teach at a community college, and when all in-person classes went to on-line classes in March, many teachers struggled to deliver valuable and worthwhile content. We lost many students because they disliked the on-line classes. I often sat three hours in the virtual math lab with not one student coming for help even though the in-person math lab was always full.

Presently, our college is struggling with enrollment because instead of taking on-line classes, the students have opted to take the semester off. On-line teaching cannot satisfy ALL educational needs and goals. (i.e. hands-on subjects such as public speaking, surgery, dental hygiene, science, sports, etc.) Just because it may be technologically possible to simulate a physical learning experience does not necessarily mean that it is the best way to teach it.

To summarize, I believe we are doing a disservice to most of our students when just on-line education takes place. Many have not been in school since March and have therefore lost three months of learning, not to mention meals, love, encouragement, etc. For countless students, school is their "safe" place. If face-to-face classes don't resume soon, our poorest children are the ones who will be the BIGGEST losers!.

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