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What makes a successful online learning environment?

Ask any teacher. When you finish a lesson that went exactly as planned it feels like you have delivered a work of art. There is no feeling quite like surfing the wave of enthusiasm from your students and knowing that you have made a difference to the way they see the topic being covered.

Such a lesson, like any great work of art, sees all of the pieces fitting together in harmony, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But these lessons don’t just happen. They require careful thought and planning with each aspect carefully designed to work alongside the others.

This idea of careful design needs to carry over into the technological environment that we are all now working in. The plethora of edtech solutions available to schools can mean that all too often teachers are overwhelmed by the number of tools they have to use. Many of these tools do not work together resulting in too much cognitive energy being wasted switching between platforms. If technology is to properly support teachers, liberating them to be innovative and inspire their students, then it needs to fit into the jigsaw of great teaching.

Teaching is built around the use of high-quality resources to support the learning conversation, alongside effective classroom management so that students have the best learning environment. So what is it that teachers need to make this happen?

  • Teachers need to be able to manage their learning materials quickly and easily and provide a structure for their students which they can access as part of their day-to-day learning. 
  • They need their classroom management tools and student information at their fingertips so that they can manage and organise their students.
  • Crucially, they need these to be easily available in the place where they spend the bulk of their teaching time.

All of this requires a carefully designed and joined-up online environment for both teachers and students. Such an environment should have three main characteristics:

  1. It must be easy to use. There is no point in adopting tools that are complex and time-consuming. This is more important than an impressive feature list, because if it requires too much effort to use, then those features will never see the light of day in the classroom.
  2. It must be flexible. Every school is different, every class has its own particular character. The tools you are using must be able to adapt to the particular needs of the subject, the teacher and the students they are working with.
  3. It must be integrated. There is no single tool that will meet all of the needs of teaching and learning, so the platforms you choose have to be able to work together seamlessly to leverage their different strengths. 

The key characteristic here is integrated. Firstly, a well-designed and integrated infrastructure reduces complexity and makes it easier for teachers to use different tools as part of the day to day process of teaching. With their classroom management tools always to hand, and the ability to find and use their favourite materials year on year with different groups, they have more time to focus on the business of teaching. 

Secondly, the more integrated the systems are, the greater the flexibility the school has to construct an environment that suits their structure and teaching strategies. Ensuring continuity in the way resources are structured makes it simpler for teachers and students to find the materials they need, reducing frustration and again, giving time back to teaching.

Finally, a fully integrated infrastructure means that schools can provide their teachers and students with a complete solution so that they have the tools they need when and wherever they need them. Whether this is the worksheets and video for a lesson, their class seating plan, or simply a countdown timer, bringing these into the space where the teacher is already working means that they are able to support their students more effectively.

Teaching and learning have experienced a dramatic transformation over the last twelve months. Schools have embraced the possibilities that online learning offers and the use of technology is now a core part of the day to day education experience. With more and more teachers increasingly confident in the use of edtech to support effective learning, both in the classroom and beyond, they need an online environment that does not add to the burden of teaching. It is only by ensuring that the technology they use works together, that we will be able to help schools design a learning experience that meets the needs of today’s teachers and students.

 

A new generation of tools designed for teachers using Microsoft Teams

We recently ran a webinar looking at how technology can simplify the process of resource management. Watch the recording here.

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