While many schools have been tossing up the possibility of online learning for years, that process has been dramatically accelerated in the wake of COVID-19.

Many Australian primary and secondary schools are looking to upgrade traditional pedagogical approaches to ensure they stay on top of modern trends. According to a 2021 Monash University study into perceptions on Australian schooling, 76.6% of schools are thinking about creating a more flexible, hybrid school delivery model that integrates online learning into the curriculum. However, only 35.9% believe fully online learning models are the future, with the majority of schools preferring hybrid options.

So what does online learning look like in the future for Australian schools?

The effectiveness of online learning during lockdowns

While remote learning was clearly a frightening prospect at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, general research shows that students were reasonably well-adjusted and satisfied with their experience. Some of the findings include:

  • Secondary students adjusted better than primary students.
  • Students in urban areas fared better than their rural counterparts.
  • Most teachers worried about their students’ emotional development and wellbeing.

According to a national survey led by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), 65% of secondary teachers claimed their students were performing up to expected standards, but only 47% of primary teachers said the same. Overall, more than half of all primary and secondary teachers believed their students were well-prepared for remote learning at home, but there was a significant difference between urban and rural schools. 64% of secondary teachers at state and territory capital cities believed their students were well-prepared, while only 39% of teachers from rural areas agreed. An Independent Schools Victoria report on remote learning during COVID-19 reported that students rated their experience a 6.6 out of 10 and were especially satisfied with school resources and support.

One of the biggest concerns raised by the MGSE report was student emotional wellbeing. 75% of teachers believing online learning negatively impacted student wellbeing. It’s essential to ensure online learning remains a classroom discussion with opportunities for student input and collaboration. Unfortunately, students usually keep their cameras turned off, sometimes by necessity, which can become a significant barrier to the non-verbal communication that is often paramount to effective teaching and learning.

If implemented effectively, online learning can actually enhance the student learning experience. Students must show more initiative and take greater charge of their own learning, developing more confidence with not just technology but in life skills. Online learning also offers greater opportunities for integrating technology to modernise the curriculum beyond the traditional whiteboard. The options are potentially limitless, but popular initiatives include online quizzes, video modules, and online platforms such as eLurn.

Online learning presents additional challenges

Unfortunately, while there were some positive results from the online learning period during COVID-19, there were also some worrying trends:

  • Year 12 students were the cohort least satisfied with their experience.
  • Student punctuality was a major issue at all year levels.
  • Teacher stress levels and working hours increased dramatically.
  • Some subjects such as PE are difficult to deliver online.

To start with, while there were positive trends across most student cohorts, that doesn’t hold true at the highest senior level. According to the ISV report, Year 12 students were the least satisfied year level. While overall satisfaction for Years 5-11 ranked 6.6 out of 10, Year 12 students only rated their experience of remote learning a 5.4. Online learning offers little social development and wellbeing support for students, and Year 12 students preparing for their final exams found their needs were not met.

The MGSE report data also shows some worrying trends. Students were consistently returning their assignments late; a minuscule 2.4% of primary and secondary teachers reported their students always completed assigned work on time. Online class punctuality was also an issue, with only 15% of teachers claimed their students always attended online lessons on time.

Online learning also brings additional stress for staff members, with 68% of primary teachers and 75% of secondary teachers stating they worked more hours per week during the remote teaching period in 2020. Most Australian teachers have learned about pedagogy that can be used face-to-face during their teaching degrees, and they needed to personally upskill last year to deliver online classes. The last year has demanded enormous discipline, self-learning, autonomy, and accountability from teachers.

While online learning can modernise the learning experience, it also puts more demands on the student to direct their own learning. A student needs to be on time for classes, complete their homework before the deadline, prepare for classes, and proactively eliminate distractions in their home learning environment. This can be an enormous challenge to students in difficult home environments or who usually require additional assistance, with less forthcoming teacher support compared to the traditional classroom.

Finally, some subjects are historically difficult to deliver online, including physical education, science, arts, and other hands-on subjects. To ensure online learning is delivered with the same effectiveness and efficiency as traditional learning, staff need further professional development.

Technology can introduce better outcomes and efficiencies

Beyond educational outcomes, schools can work intelligently to leverage technology and integrate technology into the school curriculum for additional benefits:

  • Online learning better prepares students for later life.
  • Online parent-teacher interviews and assemblies are far more efficient.
  • Online learning is far better for the environment.

Beyond the educational outcomes, remote learning can also bring long-term advantages for students because it helps prepare them for a modern world powered by technology. While the question of online learning is still being tossed up in the education sector, the practice is now quite established in the workforce. Most companies now offer work from home policies, hybrid work models, or even fully remote practices. In addition, most higher education providers currently offer dual delivery or fully online learning. If schools follow suit and implement some level of online learning, they’ll better prepare their students at the primary and secondary levels for their future pursuits.

And remote learning can introduce significant operational efficiencies for the day-to-day running of school activities. One highly effective initiative implemented by schools we work with has been the introduction of online parent-teacher interviews and assemblies. Hosting these remotely streamlines the process and removes in-person logistical issues.

To deliver an effective assembly, for example, a school needs to wait for students from all classrooms, arrange all chairs and seating, accommodate guests and school visitors, ensure students are conveyed to their seats in an orderly manner, and solve any additional issues that crop up on the day. Hosting a remote assembly eliminates the time spent on all these concerns, providing significant time benefits.

Online learning can also benefit schools by providing an environmental benefit to the community. Through online modules, schools reduce their consumption of energy, gas, electricity, heating and air conditioning, and printer usage. Students’ parents or school buses also cut down on travel-based emissions. These environmental benefits can be far more significant than generally estimated; research from the Open University in UK found that higher education online courses produced 87% less energy consumption than full-time, campus-based courses. This was based on a per-student, per-10 CAT points basis, with the UK using the Credit Accumulation and Transfer (CAT) system to measure learning credits; one CAT point is equivalent to 10 hours of study.

The online learning possibilities for the future

Several possibilities have emerged for schools looking to implement online learning outcomes into their curriculums:

Home Learning Days

A Home Learning Day occurs when students have a day at home to direct their own learning with teachers not present, while staff members have a student-free day to work on their curriculum. Integrating Home Learning Days is a straightforward way to begin delivering online learning for students in a hybrid model.

Flipped Classrooms

In the flipped classroom, students learn the content in their own time and come to class to practice it. These classes are considered ‘flipped’ because the homework becomes in-class work while in-class work becomes homework, and students are provided with greater teacher support for the more complex skills of using and applying knowledge. Online learning can greatly enhance the flipped learning classroom experience for students. Reading a textbook is usually less engaging than undertaking online videos or modules. Retention is also aided as online learning engages more senses, catering for a wider range of students, such as visual, verbal, and auditory learners.

Online Learning Platforms

Online learning platforms can host online courses, modules, and resources for both students and staff members. An online learning platform removes the logistical challenges of getting large groups of staff or students together to provide training and learning opportunities, which can now all happen online. eLurn in particular contains a wide range of courses and modules designed by professionals with former teaching experience to support staff and students.

How does eLurn enable online learning for schools?

eLurn contains over 150 modules to upskill staff and students, with the ability to customise the platform with additional school-specific courses. All courses are designed by eLurn team members with former secondary teaching experience in conjunction with professional subject matter experts.

Our courses can help students better utilise the technology at their disposal for learning, helping them navigate online resources when researching. We also provide regular reports with data analytics presented in easily digestible summaries.

eLurn incorporates advanced technology, videography, design, and effects to enrich the learning experience. We also have a dedicated eLurn support team to support learning outcomes. If you’re interested in incorporating online and remote teaching to power the future of learning, talk to us to find out how we help.