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What Can We Learn About eLearning and Distance Learning from the Kids?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled “Bad eLearning - The Kids are Not Okay”. With our Education Minister announcing last week that September could look like a blended learning solution, I asked my son (who is a grade 7 student in the Toronto District School Board), his opinion on online learning/eLearning and any suggestions he had from improvement given his experiences. I was also curious to see what recommendations he had, because novel ideas often come from children, who see things through a different lens then adults.

Take the Marshmallow Tower activity, as an example. This activity involves building the largest structure you can in 18 minutes using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and one marshmallow, which has to be placed at the top of the structure (Pathways Training and eLearning has been facilitating leadership training for BMW across Canada for over 10 years, and we like to use the Marshmallow Tower activity as a way to teach teambuilding and leadership skills in small groups). Numerous studies have shown, that children of kindergarten age actually outperform adults consistently on this activity. Why you may ask? Kids are more open to feedback and suggestions. Also, unfortunately, as we get older, we lose the inquisitiveness that young kids have of asking “why” because we begin to rely more on our assumptions to inform us of the realities of any particular situation.

Which is why in part, I asked my son to write a blog about his experience with eLearning and what could be done to improve the experience of online schooling in September (on a selfish note, this also killed two birds with one stone, as it got him off Netflix and doing something that engaged his brain and it helped to write my weekly blog. It also allowed me to see if he had any novel ideas, that I could leverage for eLearning courses we we are currently developing for clients). Here is what he wrote:

“Right now in this time of crisis, we need a strong education for the youth to learn. With the pandemic it has been very hard for the teachers to teach the lessons they are used to. This makes it hard for the kids to learn and absorb all the information they are being given. This is why we need to find alternate ways for the teachers to really connect and bond with their students. Some ways the teachers might be able to connect with their kids would be to make the lessons more fun and new. As a student myself, I find “online school” very boring compared to normal school because I don’t get to see my friends and talk to my classmates. I am also not engaged with the lessons my teachers are trying to teach me and the messages they are trying to send. I think some ways my teachers might be able to connect with me and my classmates would to maybe incorporate some fun games in our lessons. For example,e maybe a game where you have to compete to see who gets the most math answers. Just little things the teachers could do to really engage with their kids. Coming from a student, I think if the teachers tried a little harder to make online school more fun the students would learn more and be engaged with the lessons.”

Upon reflecting on what my son wrote about having fun, it took me back to what I have written about gamification for adults (not only kids).  Statistics supporting the efficacy of gamification include the fact that  learning games can produce a 9% higher overall retention of information, 11% higher knowledge of facts and 14% higher knowledge of procedures than a non-gamified approach.

Gamification has become an increasingly popular learning tool for learning due to engagement level also.  When you are engaged in a learning game, you can’t just drift off when you are trying to gain points which means learners are usually 100% engaged in the learning process. The other thing that makes games so effective is the dopamine rush that comes from the rewards and praise of obtaining points or winning the game which make it a very engaging and addictive learning tool, in a world which is often pressed for time.

These games are very effective for adults to learn and both kids and adults want to have fun when learning (as my son pointed out). Gamification has had slow adoption rates in corporate Canada but maybe with this pandemic and everyone working from home, it may be time for both adult learning professionals and teachers, to consider how to modify the online learning experience to make it fun and engaging for kids, heading into September.

Alvin Toffler once stated, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Now more then ever before, this statement is true. It is not only important for kids around the world who continue their experience thorugh online/eLearning, but it is equally important for both teachers and for us in in the eLearning industry to rememeber, as we continue to increasingly use this medium as a learning tool!


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