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Tips to manage the heavy load of lockdown learning

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What started out as a prolonged school holiday in March, has since turned into an education nightmare

In most instances, the extended Covid-19 lockdown has forced teachers to transition from classrooms to online learning overnight, with all the upskilling and reimagining of material that this particular shift entails. Parents have similarly had to adapt and are now trying to support their children in their interactive lessons and digital assignments, often while working from home at the same time. 

Even schools that have e-learning infrastructure in place have been ill-prepared for the cognitive and emotional demands that this approach places on teachers, parents, and, in particular, learners. Schools that have neither the digital infrastructure nor the experience to fall back on have been flailing. Given that some form of lockdown learning will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future, how can we improve on this challenging educational experience?

Teachers, this is not business as usual

The stress of this experience cannot be underestimated, and children are not immune to it. Learners’ sense of anxiety, as well as their attention spans and levels of motivation, are likely to be negatively affected by the shift to online learning, and teachers need to factor this into their teaching plans.

One of the biggest challenges for learners is not having a clear understanding of where a particular piece of work fits into the larger picture. They struggle to make connections between different sections, fail to understand the relevance of core foundational concepts, and are unable to relate new knowledge to what they already know. This experience is exacerbated in the virtual space, especially when the normal scaffolding (such as impromptu examples, formative assessments, et cetera) that teachers intuitively provide during classroom lessons is unavailable. 

In the online environment, teachers can help students manage their cognitive load by providing them with bite-size pieces of information that they can easily digest while linking this new information to previous material.  This will go a long way in helping students navigate and master new work as part of a cohesive learning path. Crucial to this approach is the use of technology platforms that act as a single point of entry and that tie the material together coherently, rather than requiring constant task switching which only adds to the cognitive load of students. 

Parents, a supportive home is critical

Lockdown has afforded parents the unique opportunity of observing how their children are dealing with their adjusted schooling. They are likely to be their children’s first port of call if they struggle to understand material or how their teachers have put courses together. This experience — combined with the many other anxieties that Covid-19 has brought with it  — is likely to be extremely stressful for parents. It is crucial, however, for parents to ensure that this stress doesn’t spill over on to their children.

Of course, it is healthy and necessary to share concerns about the effects of Covid-19 on the future and the economy. But parents shouldn’t allow their own fears, specifically about the lockdown learning environment, to become an additional burden. It’s important to remember that children also have the support of their teachers and that they will eventually figure out the technology and find a way of working with it — especially if they have the proper emotional support at home.

Parents can also help children by assisting them with their time management. During ordinary school days, children’s schedules are often guided by timetables, homework requirements and various deadlines — and even then they battle. In the lockdown environment, parents need to establish a fixed routine that includes time allocations for each subject. Fuelling learners’ flagging motivation by helping them to look beyond the immediate uncertainty caused by Covid-19 is equally important.

The future of lockdown learning

It’s likely that the new normal will include some kind of lockdown learning for a long time to come. It’s also clear that, in order for us to navigate this future, we will have to rely on technology more than ever before.

For our ongoing educational initiatives to provide schooling that is on par with pre-Covid-19 standards, we will require more than the emergency measures that make up our current lockdown learning solutions. Going forward, schools will have to think carefully about implementing technologies that enable and support learning. If sanity prevails, these technologies — together with the support of properly trained teachers and prepared parents — should win the day.

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Lieb Liebenberg
Dr J (Lieb) Liebenberg is an educational consultant, a member of the Optimi Board, and the founder of ITSI Education, part of the Optimi Group, which provides accessible learning solutions for children and adults

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