E-Learning Days Pave the Way to More Flexible Educational Models

With winter starting to dig in its heels, I’m thinking again of the concept of e-learning days, as many schools and school districts have labeled them, days when kids do their work from home rather than attend school. E-learning days were first devised as a means of providing instruction on “snow days,” when students could not make it to school. Now some schools have added e-learning days to their school calendars in order to regularize virtual learning days as part of their regular curriculum.

As more schools implement e-learning days, or “cyber learning days” as some refer to it, the concept is evolving in terms of the range of tools being used to implement it and the degree to which it gets integrated into the culture of the schools and the means of instruction. Is the growth of e-learning days any indication that schools may be headed toward a more flexible model of instruction? Will students be spending more time out of the buildings learning on their own, or in the company of peers, and under the tutelage of community-based “mentors?”

As I’ve written before, most students would benefit from less time in the classroom participating in more practical pursuits of learning, especially as they get older and closer to participating in the workplace. The growing acceptance of e-learning days is a step in the right direction.

For the short term, incorporating e-learning days into the curriculum has a number of benefits both administrative and pedagogical.

Administrative Benefits

  • When e-learning days are used to provide instruction that would be lost due to inclement weather, e.g. snow days, they can minimize or eliminate the need to add extra days at the end of the year.
  • Eliminating extra days at the end of the year saves money as well in terms of getting kids to school, keeping the buildings open, etc.
  • Opportunities for professional development. Some schools are incorporating professional development activities into planned e-learning days, when teachers may work part of the day responding to student questions and part of the day working together (virtually) on professional development.

Pedagogical Benefits

  1. Building students’ (and teachers’) digital literacy.
  2. Increased opportunity for teamwork and problem-solving activities. Working at home, students can practice those skills which they will later on be applying in the workplace while at the same time receiving the support of fellow students and their teachers and perhaps parents as well.
  3. More consistent instruction than may occur on days when schools remain open on inclement days but attendance is irregular. By planning for a number of such days per year, we may avoid these gaps that occur when some students can make it to school but others can’t.
  4. More personalized learning and increased participation. For students for whom the classroom experience is overwhelming, there may be an opportunity to shine in online discussions assigned for e-learning days. Students can also focus more or less on specific areas of an assignment when working from home.

Addressing Concerns

Even as more schools begin to adopt this approach, there remain some consistent concerns around e-learning days:

What about kids with no access to computers?

While most schools who have implemented e-learning days are also able to ensure that students have access to computers at home, they do have a number of contingencies should internet access be a problem:

  • In some schools, the e-learning day material is downloaded onto student computers or iPads in advance.
  • Other schools permit work assigned for e-learning days may be handed in 2 days to two weeks later to account for technical or scheduling issues that arise.
  • Schools also recommend students with no internet access use available community resources such as libraries and local businesses with free Wi-Fi.

What if students have trouble with the material?

Each school or district is adopting its own policy, but in general, teachers can support students on these e-learning days by:

  • Holding “electronic office hours”, that is being available during certain hours of the day via text, skype, or other means.
  • Responding to student email questions.
  • Providing videotaped lectures or notes to accompany their lessons for the day.

At the end of the day, as schools begin to adopt more technology to support learning, building e-learning days into the curriculum becomes increasingly easier. For schools already using content or learning management systems, students can upload their assignments for instructor or peer review that same day. Teachers can easily access the material for grading. Communications via cell phone or personal computer make feedback and team work an extension of social interaction students are already familiar with. Having students watch a teacher’s lecture at home as part of an e-learning day rather than in class is just another example of the flipped classroom we see gaining in acceptance as more teachers use class time to address more specific questions.

E-learning days are not meant to replace classroom instruction but can be part of a fantastic movement toward a more blended, more flexible curriculum model that uses technology to its best advantage.

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