Five lessons

Online education highlights a lot of that is wrong in our current educational system. Lorenzo Benussi states: “When all this talk about digital learning began back in March, I was very, very worried, because it’s not about technology. Technology is just a means. Its effectiveness depends entirely on your didactic approach.”

In the offline classroom flaws in didactics stay largely hidden. Far away from the scrutiny by parents, teachers decide how to transfer knowledge according to the principles of utilitarianism: bringing the greatest happiness for the largest number of people – understood as bringing the best exam results for the largest number of students. Online communication highlights the need for an alternative frame, as proposed by Aristotle: we should judge actions on whether they contribute to individuals fulfilling their potential individually and within a group.

First, during online educational sessions, it is easier for students to hide. For instance, they can pretend to experience technical problems and take some time off. This means that teachers cannot rely on top-down didactics but need to actively involve each student all of the time.

Second, it is easier for students to cheat with exams online. For instance, it is hard to verify whether they get external help. Not being able to take the results of the exams seriously blows a hole in the utilitarian logic: the most important stick that teachers have at their disposition to motivate students does not work anymore. What does work in this case is constant individual reassurance by teachers and constant individual attention.

Third, there is less peer pressure online. This means that there is more space for students who normally are less visible. Now it is their time to shine.

Fourth, parents’ presence during the students’ online communication causes quite a few students to be far less noisy and provocative in class. As a rule, online classrooms are far quieter they were offline, thus providing a more pleasant frame for students to concentrate.

Fifth, parents get a different perspective on their children and on the value of the school. Since they are present at home during the online lessons they observe different behavior from their children than they normally see at home. While the reason for this seems obvious – we all play different roles in different settings – for most parents this is not. It is a shock. At the same time, many parents find out how little they were involved in the schoolwork of their children and how little skills they have to support their children with it. Quite a few parents also find out how much of the upbringing of their children they have outsourced to school, which might make some sense if the schools were ruled by Aristotelian logic – but they are not.

The five lessons highlighted by online communication in an educational setting – involve each student all the time, provide constant individual attention, pause group pressure, be an authority and involve parents – should be pillars in our educational system, online or offline, and not emergency strategies only.