Is Online Learning Effective for Kids?

With everyone staying home and schools conducting their teaching via the internet, you’re probably wondering if online learning is effective? Furthermore, is online learning effective for kids?

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Kids in the Preoperational Stage

First, let’s define “kids”. From this point on, I will be referencing Piaget’s Theory on Cognitive development and refer to children in their preoperational stages, around the ages 2-7, because these learners have yet to develop their ability to think logically (McLeod). We’re choosing to focus on this age group because a lot of the time, when we talk about online learning or online education, the students are fairly mature and independent; either they’re in their teens or they’re adults.

But with the Pandemic, everyone is now staying at home and opting for online education as an alternative to traditional in-person classes. More than ever, it’s important to determine if this alternative form of education will work, not only for the general population but also for younger learners who have less independence and initiative.

 

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To answer that question, let’s first identify some characteristics of young learners (ages 2-7).   

  1. Kids aged 2-7 are beginning to learn language (Gans).
  2. They start using symbols and during this time pretend play and role playing become important to their learning (Gans).
  3. Although they are learning symbolism, they still maintain Egocentrism which is the inability to see things from others’ perspective; in other words, self-centered (Gans).
  4. Kids' attention span is usually 3 to 5 times their age; this means they can pay attention to one thing anywhere from 6-10 minutes for a 2 year old and 21-35 minutes for a 7 year old (Schmitt).

Based on these characteristics, we will look at current research conducted on the effectiveness of online education then evaluate whether online learning can be effective to kids or young learners aged 2 to 7.

 

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WHY PEOPLE PREFER ONLINE LEARNING

Today a lot of people are choosing online learning over traditional (in-person) learning for the following reasons:

  1. Online learning is safer during the pandemic.
  2. Online learning is more cost-effective.
  3. Online learning is a good option for people stripped of time.
  4. Online is great for people who can’t travel or have special needs.

 

WHAT STUDIES TELL US

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Formal Online Education Has Negative Effects On Academic Achievement

Just because more and more people are preferring online learning doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect option. For one, studies on the effectiveness of online learning are largely conducted in the USA because internet is more accessible there and online learning is more widely practiced there than in the Philippines. Another reason is existing literature points towards online learning resulting in poorer academic achievement (Fitzpatrick, Berends, Ferrare, & Waddington). Studies also find that students who undergo online learning also perform worse on standardized tests (Ahn & McEachin). 

However, these findings should be taken with a grain of salt. Like anything, online learning has its pros and cons; and there are many factors to consider when discussing whether it’s effective or not.

HERE ARE SOME REASONS WHY ONLINE LEARNING MAY RESULT IN POORER ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE:

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1. The student to teacher ratio is higher with online education.

For instance, a factor which might contribute to these findings is the increased student to teacher ratio in online learning setups. A study conducted on the effectiveness of virtual schools in the USA found that schools that incorporated online learning observed a 2.7 times higher student-teacher ratio than regular schooling (Molnar, et. al 9). This figure tells us that for every teacher, there are more students to teach in an online setting compared to that held in a physical classroom. This is important to consider because the number of students an educator teaches can influence how well an educator focuses on a learner’s progress, thereby affecting how well the learner performs. 

 

 

2. Student motivation is an important factor in the effectiveness of online education.

Another factor to consider is the student’s motivation. Research shows that “[f]or first-time course takers, virtual course taking is associated with decreases in the likelihood of taking and passing follow-on courses and in graduation readiness (based on a proxy measure). For credit recovery students, virtual course taking is associated with an increased likelihood of taking and passing follow-on courses and being in line for graduation” (Hart, et. al.). This tells us that for students who are new to online learning, they are not likely to continue or even finish what they started perhaps due to lower commitment or loss of motivation.

 

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3. Parent involvement influences the effectiveness of online learning.

Because students will be learning from home, it is important that they have a home environment conducive to online learning. Particularly, how involved their parents are in their education matters a lot. A case study conducted in the USA on teachers’ perception of parent involvement found that parents who supported the students’ learning in various ways might complement online learning; however, parents who are overly involved could also hinder the effectiveness of online learning (Borup).

 

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4. The existence of learning communities is an important factor in the effectiveness of online learning.

Studies emphasize the need to build a community for learning. Aside from home environment, the virtual environment is also important for online learning to be effective.  There’s a great need for educators and schools to create learning communities by fostering relationship-building and interaction between the educator and the learners and among the learners (Sun & Chen 169). Unfortunately, despite these studies, there is little research that tells how to do this effectively to make learning more effective. 

 

 

IS ONLINE LEARNING EFFECTIVE FOR KIDS (2-7 YEARS OLD)?

The short answer is IT DEPENDS. Learning is not as clear cut for everyone because many factors influence one’s learning. Although online education is a great alternative to traditional education because it is safer, more cost-effective, and time-efficient, it is new. Thus, it takes time to develop it into a tool as effective, if not more effective, than old tools used in educating learners.  

 

Why Online Education Might Not Work For Young Learners

Online education is still a new form of teaching, especially in the Philippines. From what we’ve seen in studies conducted in the USA online education system, we can observe that not only do we need further research and policy, we also need collaboration between these two to come up with an effective and systematic method of conducting effective online education. With the pandemic forcing educational institutions in the Philippines to undergo a rapid transition, we can safely assume that online education will likely be less effective than traditional education if only because educators have yet to come up with strategies that utilize the tools available with online education that would make it an advantage.

But with current research identifying factors that determine the effectiveness of online learning, we can take measures to help ensure the effectiveness of online learning for young learners. Without taking individual preferences and learning styles into account, one can take the following steps to help young learners make the most of online learning!

 

HOW TO MAKE ONLINE LEARNING EFFECTIVE FOR KIDS: 

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1) Minimize Teacher to Student Ratio

The teacher can pay more attention to the student’s or students’ learning if there are fewer students to teach. If you’re enrolling your kid in a school, you can do well to ask how many students each teacher will be handling. From my experience teaching, the number of students one teacher handles is a really big factor that influences how well one can oversee and guide the learners. 

Based on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the top 5 universities in the world have a student to teacher ratio ranging from 0.9 to 1.1 (Minsky). This means that as much as possible, each teacher focuses on only one student. If possible, there are even more teachers than students. 

However, this might be impossible for some settings especially in less specialized education like primary or secondary education where students take classes in groups. What this does suggest is the value of one-on-one teaching and the emphasis on quality over quantity in learning. 

A great solution to this will be availing online tutoring or private tutoring for students who struggle with online classroom settings because they do not receive enough attention from their teachers. 

 

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2) Make Play-like Online Learning Activities

The students can be more motivated to learn if online learning was supplemented with play. Given the characteristics identified earlier about kids aged 2-7, it is important for teachers to incorporate symbolic play into learning activities instead of holding lectures. This is because kids will not have enough attention span to focus on the lectures; and unlike before where classes are held in a classroom and there are less distractions around, teachers have no control over the home environment of the child in online learning settings. They can only control their method of teaching. And because young learners, on principle, learn better with activities that feel like play, incorporating symbolism in their play can be a great way to educate young learners while still making learning fun and engaging.

 

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3) Prepare Good Learning Environment At Home

Parents should make the learners’ environment conducive to learning. This means that there should be a designated space where the learner takes his/her online lessons. This helps to minimize distractions and it also helps condition the learner to learn whenever in that environment. 

But aside from the space, parents should also be involved and encouraging of the learners’ study while at home. While overly involved parents who cannot let the teachers take control of the student’s lessons are counterproductive, a parent who is encouraging and present during a kid’s online learning can significantly increase the kid’s motivation to study and improve the kid’s likelihood of succeeding in terms of academic performance.

 

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4) Find Schools That Build Good Learning Communities

Kids don’t only gain knowledge when they learn, they also interact with their peers and make friends. Hence, selecting any good online learning school should involve finding an institution that values good learning communities. Having chat groups or video conferences where all learners can meet and communicate on a regular basis is a great way of fostering this. This can help make sure that the kid still makes friends and can interact with peers who are going through the same learning process as them. It also helps maintain easy access to teachers so that whenever a kid has a question or a need, he/ she can approach the teacher about his/her concerns, thereby making the learning process more interactive and thus, effective.



Works Cited:

Ahn, June, and Andrew Mceachin. “Student Enrollment Patterns and Achievement in Ohio’s Online Charter Schools.” Educational Researcher, vol. 46, no. 1, 2017, pp. 44–57., doi:10.3102/0013189x17692999.

Borup, Jered. “Teacher Perceptions of Parent Engagement at a Cyber High School.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15391523.2016.1146560?scroll=top.

Cherry, Kendra. “Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development in Young Children.” Verywell Mind, 26 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/preoperational-stage-of-cognitive-development-2795461#major-characteristics.

Hart, Cassandra M. D., et al. “Online Learning, Offline Outcomes: Online Course Taking and High School Student Performance.” AERA Open, vol. 5, no. 1, 2019, p. 233285841983285., doi:10.1177/2332858419832852.

Fitzpatrick, Brian R., et al. “Virtual Illusion: Comparing Student Achievement and Teacher and Classroom Characteristics in Online and Brick-and-Mortar Charter Schools.” Educational Researcher, vol. 49, no. 3, 2020, pp. 161–175., doi:10.3102/0013189x20909814.

Minsky, Carly. “Top Universities with the Best Student-to-Staff Ratio 2020.” Times Higher Education (THE), 11 Feb. 2020, www.timeshighereducation.com/student/best-universities/top-universities-best-student-staff-ratio.

Mcleod, Saul. “Jean Piaget's Theory and Stages of Cognitive Development.” Jean Piaget's Theory and Stages of Cognitive Development | Simply Psychology, www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html#stages.

Schmitt, Barton D. “Summit Medical Group Web Site.” Summit Medical Group, www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/pediatric_health/pa-hhgbeh_attention/.

 Sun, A., & Chen, X. (2016). Online education and its effective practice: A research review. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 15, 157-190. Retrieved from http://www.informingscience.org/Publications/3502



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  • Another very insightful piece. I feel I have so much to learn about learning. Thumbs up!

    Josie Tang

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