At Home Learning During COVID-19

Student watching teacher on computer

The modern information environment presents a host of problems to executive functions, and this is made worse in the new of learning at home. Parents of today’s students may have grown up around computers, but we still had a set of common built-in practices at school that made learning easier:

  • We knew our curriculum would be in a textbook, handouts, and class notes. Teachers wrote assignments on the board.
  • We had a classroom ritual for turning papers in.
  • A pencil and paper worked as base supplies for almost every class.

Today’s teens have to track down curriculum in textbooks, yes, but also in online textbooks, on curriculum websites, in class websites, and in school portals. Assignments may be written on the board, sent by email, explained in sites or portals, or assigned during online meetings. Turning papers in could mean submitting assignments (in the correct file type) to school portals or websites, or both, and could also include hardcopy produced by a printer. Instead of paper and pencil, a student has to navigate battery life, chargers, internet connections, printer toner and paper, site addresses, passwords, and multiple lines of digital communication. So do teachers, so they are likely to make mistakes and offer different guidelines in different places. Today’s teens are so overwhelmed figuring out their work that by the time they get to learning content, their brains are tired.

Even with all that, going to school in a physical building made things easier. Just showing up started a behavior chain of default behaviors that helped learning happen: attending class, changing rooms, working on projects with others in teams, and taking tests. The changing rooms, the people, the bell, and the teachers provided the brain with cues to switch activities and change topics. Without this structure, online learners now have to put brain power into actively managing log-in times, doing work alone, turning in work and taking tests with technical difficulties, and completing work with little in-person or real-time feedback.

Though the situation presents challenges, it is also a time of tremendous opportunity to develop executive functions to manage the now, which will also empower students to manage the future. It is a perfect time to learn how to learn by applying strategic study practices – a set of skills that enable students to adapt to uncertainty in school and later in their careers. It is the perfect time to empower students to adeptly handle information as they read, write, and navigate an online education. In short, it’s the perfect time for Academic Coaching!

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