Remote learning: Not just uploading lectures

Remote learning has become the new norm in the education sector as the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic rages. This would become more important in the coming months after the Department of Education (DepEd) announced that face-to-face classes would be postponed until a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available.

But having online classes is not a completely effective device for learning despite it being a good alternative to physical classes. While it offers convenience and safety in a way, remote learning still presents challenges that hinders students from obtaining high-quality education.

In some parts of the world, students feel dismayed when they’re given more homework than usual. With extracurricular physical activities and clubs in school suspended because of the pandemic, some educators have somehow found this an opportune time to give students more workload.

Sophie Dai, a student at WLSA Shanghai Academy, told the New York Times that her teachers give her and her classmates a rather overwhelming amount of work to do at home. Besides homework, they’re also required to perform educational indoor activities and accomplish required standardized tests for their level, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs).

Another student, this one from Cass High School in Georgia who goes by the name “Emma
B,” shared that only one of her classes has actual online meetings where they could talk, while the others only keep posting work. She said she wasn’t able to retain information from lectures and materials just posted online.

Sophie and Emma’s cases aren’t any different from Mary Joy and Joseph’s in the Philippines. Aside from the aforementioned issues, Filipino students also struggle with having limited resources to attend classes and submit projects. In a study, the Asia Foundation discovered that 45 percent of Filipinos and 74 percent of public schools still do not have access to the internet despite growing investments in telecommunications infrastructure in the Philippines. Weak or no internet connection at all means students in underserved communities are and would be left behind. The limited access expands the educational gap between them and those with a stable internet connection over time.

Perhaps, one would remember the civil engineering student in Masbate province who had to hike a small mountain for almost an hour to get a stable internet connection to pass class requirements. While the student explained that she wasn’t required to go through such great lengths to do that, it highlighted how educators should be lenient with their requirements, as students are hindered by many factors from resuming their education during this difficult time.

This is where individualized learning comes into play.

Essentially, individualized learning is an approach where the curriculum and learning materials are arranged depending on the student’s needs. This allows students to study at their own pace while following the same learning experience that other students are getting.

Some educational institutions have applied individualized learning in their systems to help students keep up without putting much burden on them.

At the FEU (Far Eastern University) Institute of Technology, FEU Alabang and FEU Diliman, for example, we have a new digitalized educational system called Mastery-based Individualized Learning Enhancement System (Miles). We tailored it to be inclusive by offering three modes of learning delivery that could suit the time and resources of any of our students.

We designed Miles to help students study anywhere at their own pace and secure learning materials either online or by requesting soft or hard copies for a minimal fee. The system benefits students from all walks of life, including those with limited internet connection. In their case, they are not required to constantly stay online. They could only use the internet to seek feedback from their teachers and take formative and summative assessments, which are conducted at the end of each module of their course.

The system also allows teachers to monitor the performance of students as a way to address possible learning gaps and better curate the learning experience according to the needs of learners.

Miles is also unique because of its utilization of the “Mastery Network,” which is basically a technological strategy in education that enables students to achieve a level of mastery in prerequisite topics before proceeding to learn subsequent ones. In other words, students would stay in one module until they learned the skills and knowledge necessary to move on to the next module. FEU is proud to be a pioneer in this advanced educational system, the first of its kind in the Philippines.

In this way, we are able to promote higher learning, as well as encourage students to produce higher knowledge output. It also reimagines the formula of the country’s traditional education system, which typically allows students to move on to the next subject just by getting a passing grade, which doesn’t necessarily mean they mastered that subject.

In the United Kingdom, several educational institutions similarly employ an individualized learning system called Century Tech. It is an artificial intelligence-powered teaching and learning platform that provides students micro-lessons to help address any gap in knowledge. It also customizes content, assessments and pathways for every learner.

Several universities in the US, such as the University of Arizona and California State University, Long Beach, use Desire2Learn or D2L. It is designed for personal learning, giving students legroom to learn on their own terms and notifying educators of learners that need extra help.

Through tailored individualized learning systems like these, students could study at their own pace and access educational materials according to their own time and resources on hand.

As we continue to fight the pandemic, comprehensive learning systems that could substitute traditional classroom settings could become a great foundation for education in the “new normal.” By making learning opportunities more accessible to all, these systems could prove that education is truly a right, rather than a privilege. As the late South African leader Nelson Mandela once said, education is the most powerful weapon that you could use to change the world.

Dr. Benson Tan is the senior executive director of the FEU Institute of Technology.

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