Right, no messin’ about (wink) - I’m gonna dive right into it - distance/blended learning should be banished with immediate effect. Let’s grab it by the scruff of the neck, throw it into a rocket, and blast that sucker as faraway from the classroom as physically possible.
In the last academic year, I enrolled on to GCSE English and found the course brilliant. It was packed with fun, energy and motivation; It was social, interactive and inspiring! Then came the first lockdown, and Initially, I carried that motivation and inspiration over from the classroom, but as the weeks passed, my motivation diminished. Distance learning was tedious, solitary and uninspiring; It was monotonous, bland and deflating.
It wasn’t just mentally disengaging either, there were also physical distractions: My kids clambering over me like ants on a Mars bar; social media, whispering “come and look at what your friend (who you haven’t seen for 20 years) is having for their tea”; “Ohh, you know what would make this online lesson more exciting? Snacks. Lots of snacks”. Now I’m raiding the kitchen, like I’m frantically searching for the grand prize on supermarket sweep; before I know it, the lesson’s gone.
If the mental and physical challenges weren't bad enough, then there's the software: Lost logins, unknown passwords, hundreds of different apps, dodgy internet connections and forced use of unethical platforms such as Google Classroom that will steal your data faster than quantitative easing will steal your wealth and labour.
Over the past three years, my wife and I have enrolled on to five courses between the two of us. My wife first completed GCSE English and absolutely loved it (consequently recommending it to me), and more recently, she undertook GCSE Math. Unfortunately, she had a very similar negative experience with distance learning - probably more so due to being less tech savvy. After having a positive experience with GCSE English, I decided to follow-it-up with a short creative writing course, which was subsequently ruined thanks to the the introduction of mandatory face masks - listening to a masked Scot and Canadian read aloud their work is like trying to decipher the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirt without subtitles. In the end, I dropped out. My wife and I both concluded that we would be very unlikely to enrol on any further courses which encompasses distant/blended learning.
We didn’t just have a negative experience as students, but also as parents. We have four children (three of which in primary school), and over the lockdown periods, digital/distance learning was a total failure. Eventually, we reverted to traditional methods of learning i.e workbooks, which delivered better results.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a luddite - I believe that we’re on the cusp of a digital revolution: the dawn of the Information Age. I’m actually a big tech advocate - more specifically, educational videos, podcasts, audiobooks, open-source software, and decentralised digital currency (with the latter being a novel and radical concept), therefore, I’m open-minded to the advancement of new tech and the possibilities it entails; and I do believe that distance learning has its place. For some, it offers flexibility to re=educate around a hectic schedule; for others, the opportunity to undertake a course in the luxury of their own homes; and in less fortunate parts of the world, it provides people with opportunities that they otherwise would not have access to. But ultimately, if I pay good money for a “classroom” course, then I’d expect that course to be taught completely in meatspace. It would be very disappointing if time that could be spent in the classroom was substituted for a Google Slide or some kind of pre-recorded cringeworthy video - especially when I can just as easily curate similar content myself, and self-educate in my own time.
To conclude, GCSE English ignited a passion for writing; It would have had an adverse effect if I'd spent a good portion of that time learning in front of a PC. Course delivery should therefore be the choice of the student, with any distance learning being independent - or at most, a complementary optional extra - not a symbiotic relationship that’s woven into the very fabric of the course itself. As the push for blended learning gains momentum, and with corporations such as Google soon to be launching their own certification programs, I believe that traditional educational institutions should look towards the power of the classroom and develop/utilise its advantages in ways that the digital realm just can’t compete.