Is online teaching effective for younger children?

Following the school closures caused by Covid-19, parents and teachers are using a wide range of online tools and resources in an effort to maintain some continuity of education. With all teachers now working online, this begs the question does online learning actually work? And in particular, does it work for younger children who have a naturally shorter attention span? In this article we look at the facts and offer advice for families with younger children to make the most of the challenges and opportunities that they now face.

“Technology is a universal language and I am always amazed at how quickly students engage with online lessons, regardless of age or nationality!” Beth Burrows, Humanities and Entrance Exam Specialist Online Tutor with Simply Learning Tuition

Educational technology is not a new concept. Since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, young children have had access to computerised educational resources such as Fisher-price laptops, games and educational television shows. For those who grew up in the early 2000’s, computer games such as Bear and Penguins First Maths & Literacy Adventure, Math Blaster or the Disney Learning Series will have likely been part of your learning on the family computer.

Over the last five years, children’s engagement in educational technology has increased dramatically and a large part of your child’s education at school is already helped by technology. Interactive whiteboards and tablets are widely used to support the teacher, homework tasks often include online games and quizzes and some schools even require students to have access to their own laptop during lessons. The majority of schools have their own online platform that is used to distribute work give feedback and to interact with parents and students.

Before we ask whether or not online teaching works, we need to understand what the benchmark is. How accurate is our nostalgia of wonderful classroom teaching? A US Education Department study somewhat inconclusively showed that online learning could be more effective in some cases but in others it was less effective. It seems that just like a classroom setting, results depend on the abilities of the teacher. Writing the The Conversation, Eric Fredersen, Professor at the Warner School of Education, University of Rochester suggests that one reason for the improvement is a longer timeframe – with resources delivered online, chat messages and in some cases whole lessons recorded and accurate teaching materials to hand following the lesson, students have a longer time period to analyse the correct material. This can often yield better results than relying on their hastily written notes. Online, all student contributions are measured equally. In contrast, in a classroom setting, the loudest or most confident student tends to win out. As many of us will have recently discovered using software such as Zoom for the first time, there is a short time delay and a lack of spontaneity when talking in a group. However, the upside of this is that is builds in time to listen and to cultivate better responses.

The problem is that all of this data is for older students and there is very little data about the effectiveness of online teaching for younger students.

How to make online teaching work for younger children

Naturally, the amount of time younger students can be occupied for without supervision from a parent or guardian, varies from child to child. For this reason, teachers tend to pass schoolwork directly to parents for them to go though with the child. For parents who are currently working from home and are unable to devote this time with their child to help we recommend you consider hiring a private tutor to work one to one with your child.

Working with a private tutor online is highly effective. It is a more direct and personal method than your child working through online games or resources independently. Experienced online tutors have access to resources that allow them to engage with students directly in a much more personalised and tailored way. At Simply Learning Tuition, the Mathematics tutors we work with even find that students complete more questions using their online whiteboard, than they would face to face. Online tutors interact directly with your child, providing encouragement, challenges, rewards and answering any questions they might have, in real time. There is always the same person on the other side of the screen whom your child is answerable to, just as they would be in a face-to-face lesson. The use of screen sharing allows a tutor to guide and monitor their students on educational sites and ensure they are on task. For example, popular resources include websites with quizzes tailored specifically to your child based on their age and the subject they’re working on. These challenges are fantastic for improving children’s work under timed exam conditions.

Our 10 years of experience have proven that online learning is also not a barrier to younger students. Indeed many of the tutors we work with spend up to 20% of their teaching time with under 7’s.

Can younger children benefit from online home schooling?

Online home schooling, as a replacement for traditional schooling, is continuing to grow in popularity and over the years we have worked closely with the families of actors, dancers and sports stars who need the flexibility and certitude of online tuition in order to continue to be able to train and perform at an athletic and professional level, whilst being firm in the knowledge that their education is in safe hands. We do not provide a rigid programme that students simply muddle through but instead organise a fully bespoke and tailored one-to-one programme that meets their requirements precisely.

Can younger children use online tuition to prepare for entrance exams?

Simply Learning Tuition have also been preparing international students for relocation and entrance exams online for over 6 years, for students age 4 and upward. We currently work with more than 40 families based in Singapore and Hong Kong whose children, of age 5 and upwards, have consistently been receiving online tuition for over three years. In fact, we work with a number of tutors who work exclusively online, supporting families all around the world, as well as in London. These families want to work with one to one tutors who are experienced, vetted, engaging and familiar with the British education system and exam boards.

Free online tuition for Key Workers

During the school closures of 2020 we wanted to do whatever we could to help the families of all the Key Workers who are currently doing so much for all of us, within our communities and our hospitals. We offered a Free tuition for key workers service and facilitated over £15,000 of free tuition for key worker families.

If you have any comments or questions about this Advice Page, we would be delighted to answer them.

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