The Challenges of Online Learning

May 21 2023

Remote Learning

Looking through the lens of first and second barriers, this study aims to explore the implementations of K-12 online learning.

Considerable Changes Needed To Be Made for the Switch to Online Learning

Most studies on online learning prior to the pandemic focused more on the population of middle to upper-class students than public schools, who were also required to move to online learning during the pandemic. Shifting from onsite to virtual learning during the pandemic required teachers to make considerable changes to how they delivered instruction.

Lack of Resources Created a Barrier to Successful Online Learning

Six different subject teachers from a K-8 public school participated in the study. The qualitative study focused on the external and internal barriers teachers faced during the shift. Data was taken from semi-structured interviews that were based on Ertmer’s (2013) protocols on first and second-order barriers. 

When it came to first-order barriers (external), three different themes emerged. 

First, the participants mentioned the lack of policies and communication from the district. However, participants noted that from the administrative level, there was autonomy for teachers to help with problem-solving. Despite the support from the administrative level, participants noted that training for such best practices in online learning was not available either, especially when previously used teaching tools were banned. 

Secondly, there was a lack of access to technological resources such as reliable internet connections, standardized platforms, and effective communication with students and their caregivers. Though teachers were given some technology tools to use, i.e. IXL, teachers were unsure of their effectiveness. Before the move to online learning, teachers communicated about student progress within the school or via email; however, the lack of an LMS during the online learning transition impacted how teachers interacted with parents to support learning.

Thirdly, there was not enough time for teachers to plan for instruction. Teachers were feeling rushed to design an adapted learning environment for their students. In addition to that, they needed time to analyze the trial-and-error process of online learning. The participants noted the integral aspect of collaboration with fellow teachers during this time. In this case, teachers expressed how the lack of time was exacerbated by the perceived lack of guidance, which impacted their alignment of tools and instructional strategies. 

Second barriers (internal) to online learning were as follows. The different beliefs about digital tools, online learning, and classroom practices. The participants found themselves trying to balance the appropriate amount of screen time with the students’ workload, as well as monitor the students’ socio-emotional health. They mentioned positive effects such as students become more self-directed with their learning as well as teachers not having strict district guidelines, as a participant mentioned that there weren’t any rules as to how “virtual” was to be done. 

Negative effects included the amount of screen time students were getting. One teacher felt that she was more a facilitator of learning as opposed to a teacher. Another challenge mentioned was sustaining the interaction of students online, something that was done with more ease in a face-to-face setting. The teacher’s immediacy to give feedback and analyze student work was also impacted, which during online learning, took a considerable amount of time. Managing off-task behavior of younger students also proved to be more challenging. Established classroom practices had to be altered to support students who were falling behind.

Teacher Resilience Helped Smooth the Hurdles of Online Learning

There were some crucial adaptations to face-to-face strategies, in order to develop a purposeful learning environment. Time management and constraints both posed big factors in teachers learning how to use the technology meaningfully, as well as adapting lessons designed for face-to-face for the online environment. The reliability of technology also proposed some first-order barriers for teachers. 

The author’s findings also emphasized the need for administrative and district support as well as common agreements when using technological tools. However, despite all the mentioned barriers, the teachers demonstrated admirable resilience, willingness to problem solve, and resourcefulness when it came to establishing online environments. The presence of home-school support during online learning also proved to be a benefit for both teacher and student.

Notable Quotes: 

“While research has previously focused on the changing roles of teachers and caregivers in online settings (e.g., Hasler-Waters et al., 2014; Linton, 2016; Oviatt et al., 2016), our findings suggest a need for additional administrative inclusion and changed administrative roles in terms of communication and establishing policies.”

“With minimal training, limited time, and little prior experience, teachers were able to establish online learning environments.”

“This ‘teacher-as-designer’ and learning resources approach seemed to structure the classroom as well as set the stage for self-directed learning.”

“They specifically discussed how critical collaboration was for sharing materials, refining instructional approaches, and impacting learning outcomes.”

Personal Takeaway: 

As more schools offer virtual learning after the pandemic, it is crucial for educational institutions to support their teachers. Supervisors and administrators should consider the growing research in online learning, as they either move to offer virtual learning environments or to supplement in-person instruction.—Nika Espinosa

Tawfik, A. A., Shepherd, C. E., Gatewood, J., & Gish-Lieberman, J. J. (2021). First and Second Order Barriers to Teaching in K-12 Online Learning. TechTrends.

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