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  • Rachel Chan Mazariegos

5 Reasons Online Learning is Hard For Some Children

Updated: Jan 6

With the suspensions of campus based learning, many schools have turned to online learning to teach their students. Whether it’s Zoom or Google Hangouts, learning has now turned virtual. The use of computers and technology have been integrated into daily school learning for years, so why is online learning now so difficult? To understand why, we need to first understand the key differences between virtual and campus based learning.


1. Space

The first obvious difference is location; students have gone from campus-based learning to learning from home. We cannot deny that the two are very different. For most children, home is where they can relax, play and be themselves. Home is flexible, unstructured and has minimal time constraints. School, on the other hand, is a place to learn. School is highly structured, inflexible and carries clear time constraints. So what happens when these two concepts blur? Suddenly, children are expected to transfer their school skills to home. This is undoubtedly difficult, particularly for younger children who rarely need to take schoolwork back home. For older children who have established a routine of studying and doing homework at home, making this transition is not so difficult. But could you imagine being told to go on holiday and, instead of relaxing, expected to engage in your daily work? Many of us would struggle. Children are no exception. Children are finding the change in space and demands conflicting. This makes attending to online lessons as one would in class difficult and we can't blame them! It is also important to remember that with this change in space also comes differences in distractions.


2. Distractions

Whether at school or at home, all children are prone to distractions. Just because your child is getting distracted by Facebook at home does not mean they were never getting distracted at school. The issue is not just that the use of computers provides distractions, it is the increase in the number of distractions available paired with the lack of monitoring at home that is the bigger issue. Opening that cheeky tab to read about Minecraft, logon to Roblox or scroll through social media would have been interrupted at school. Usually, teachers can spot this distraction following the wandering eye of their students or change in facial expression. However, at home, teachers can not check what’s on the screen. Keeping an eye on 25+ kids with one scan and teaching online is nearly impossible, hence the opportunity to be distracted for prolonged periods is higher. And even worse, distractions aren’t just on computers, many kids have access to their phones, tablets and game consoles. Lots of options means multiple distractions on the go. On top of that, students are missing their classmates and can become distracted by their desire to socialise online with their peers. Chatting to your friend next to you in class is not seen the same as texting your friend during your online lesson. But what's the real difference? Both actions are conducted with the sole purpose to socialise with peers.


3. Loss of Social interactions

It is obvious that through online learning there is a huge loss of social contact. But we are not just talking about chatting with peers. There is also a loss of teacher to student social interactions. This can be particularly difficult for students who have become accustomed to their teachers’ presence. Whether they look to their teacher for reassurance, encouragement or redirection, this contact is lost. For children who are naturally more reserved students, the presence of a teacher can encourage the child to take risks and take part in class discussions. This of course boosts self-confidence, a sense of belonging and encourages learning. Without this, some children may disengage and become unmotivated. The change in the social dynamics of online learning means some children may struggle to adapt whilst others thrive. It all comes down to the sudden change in behavioural patterns, social expectations and routine. One such change is the change in teacher.


4. Parental Role

Parents have now suddenly found themselves taking on the role of teacher, teaching assistance and school principal all at once. Roles that many parents are not accustomed to taking on. Particularly for those with children in primary years, the parental role in online learning weighs heavily. Parents are often required to monitor their kids, guide them through their work and assist in the teaching. This is an incredibly difficult task and parents are finding themselves burning out from juggling all these roles. But, it is not only the parents who are struggling to adjust to this change, the children struggle too. It is difficult for a child to suddenly find their parents roaming the halls of school and acting as a teacher. The parent-to-child relationship differs greatly when compared to the teacher-to-child relationship. This difference lays in expectations, communication styles, discipline and behavioural patterns. Children have set expectation of their parental relationships. Suddenly having your mum sit next to you, helping you write your report is not easy. Children are more likely to rebel, be noncompliant and test their parent's new role as it is so unfamiliar. On top of this, some children may struggle to keep up with parental expectations and can be come shy and self-conscious. This often leads to frustrated parents which can build tension in the relationship. So don’t be surprised when your child suddenly becomes extra defiant or is slower to complete work you ask of them. Be sure to give your child positive support, space to make mistakes and opportunities to problem solve.


5. Skill Demand

The skills required for online learning are different, though some may overlap with school-based learning, many children have not fully acquired the skills to succeed with online learning. This is particularly true for younger children who struggle with the independence of online learning. The demands require children to be able to be self-sufficient, log onto to their email, follow video links and attend virtually. However, it is not just IT skills that children have to use but also the organisational and academic skills. Many of the online classes have been condensed to allow enough time during the day so that children can attend all lessons without extended exposure to screen time. This condensing of classes may mean that by the time some children have fully attended and prepared themselves, the class is already over. Hence, online learning places a huge demand on our executive function skills. This includes aspects such as time management, organisational skills, impulse control, attention, focus and flexibility. Many students develop these skills through real life experiences in the classroom and through trial and error. However, for some children, online learning may feel like being thrown into the deep end of the executive functioning pool.


For some children, online learning is a struggle because they are juggling all 5 difficulties or it may just be one. Regardless of why your child may be struggling with online learning it is crucial to figure out how we can best support them through this unusual experience. Though schools are set to resume in 2021, there is no doubt that the online learning experience has been a rollercoaster for all those involved. Parents, teachers, and students have been tested, and although it is a test we hope never to have to take again, we cannot deny that skills learnt on the way.


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