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3 Tips for E-learning in the Digital Classroom by Rishma Hansil

Bio:  Rishma Hansil – Language Instructor and UX Designer 

Rishma has been living and working in Tokyo since 2017 as an Assistant Language Teacher and Tokyo Prefectural Advisor to the JET community. She holds an M.A in Future Media from Birmingham City University. She is the author of “Animal Adventure” an activity book for children; set in her home country, Trinidad & Tobago. Rishma has worked with mobile design agencies in the U.K and across the Caribbean developing digital platforms, mobile apps and e-learning tools. When she’s not working you can find her traveling across Japan enjoying the local cuisine.



Children’s Book:

For many ALTs in major cities across Japan, it might have been surprising to learn education is still based on traditional learning methods and the teacher-centered classroom. However, with nationwide school closures teachers were left with no choice but to look to e-learning for solutions. The pandemic has had some transformative effects on the adoption of e-learning but has brought its fair share of challenges with it.

Here are 3 tips for e-learning in the digital classroom.

Don’t fall into the content trap

It’s easy to upload page after page of textbook materials to an online platform, dish out activities, and call it a day. Real learning starts when teachers engage with both the students and materials in a meaningful way. Designing lesson plans for a digital space comes with its own set of challenges. While physical classrooms provide a collaborative learning space, online chat rooms seem distracting and impersonal. But this is far from true. Group work and pair work seem impractical in an online lesson but collaboration and innovation are certainly alive and well in the digital space.

The first step is setting the parameters of interaction for your students and having them build on it.

Allowing students time to interact with each other, introducing themselves with ice-breakers, and participating in online games at the start of a lesson helps to showcase their personality and build an online community.

In addition to this, teachers can help students build their online community by giving students space to interact outside of the lesson, using virtual messaging boards, social networking sites like LINE, or monitored online groups to track progress. 

E-learning can also alleviate the social anxieties of classroom learning. Zoom’s private chat features and breakout rooms give students one-on-one access to their teachers throughout the lesson without having to disrupt the class or call attention to themselves when they don’t understand part of the lesson. As we navigate the digital space it’s important to note that the needs of our students have not changed. How can we find alternative ways of meeting those needs? How do we stimulate, engage, and connect with them in a virtual space?

Use gamification for e-learning

It’s impossible to talk about e-learning without mentioning gamification. Much of education already uses game strategies to keep students engaged while guiding them through the system as they “level up” with each passing grade. There’s no shortage of learning platforms in 2020 – many schools are turning to Google Classroom, Classi, Zoom, and others to get the job done. These platforms make it easy for students and teachers to collaborate, document work, record lessons, and much more.

E-learning tools cannot only recreate a physical classroom in digital spaces but also provide suitable outlets for a more engaging and interactive experience.

Gamification helps teachers facilitate learning by giving students opportunities to play within the parameters of the learning goals. Apps like Duolingo, Kahoot, and Quizlet can be used in tandem with your course work to supplement learning. Level systems, badges, and points keep users engaged and motivated while the app allows students to track their progress and review the material in manageable ways.

Another win for gamification is the aspect of self-discovery: there is a gradual release of new information as students progress, knowledge can be unlocked and synthesis occurs when students are able to use a range of skills previously acquired to complete new tasks.

The relationship between the information and their skill level is intuitive, making each student’s learning unique to them.

More often than not, the problem presents us with the solution. Instead of fighting for our students’ attention, gamification methods can be used to strike a balance between a desire for constant digital stimulation and focused learning.

Embrace the classroom of the future 

Throughout the lockdown, we’ve seen just how innovative students can be with online learning. Students in Tokyo started using “Animal Crossing” (a social simulation video game released by Nintendo) to learn English and collaborate with members of their class by playing as characters in the game together in real-time. The dialogue in the game provides just the right amount of “silly” to keep students engaged while learning.

However, it’s important to note that not all students have access to personal computers at home so it was important to provide multiple ways to engage with the content. ALTs assisted teachers in uploading pre-recorded content to Youtube or on the school’s website so students can review the material at their leisure. For students who couldn’t attend the online calls or lessons, these videos were stored on Google classroom or Youtube so they could be reviewed later on.

Some ALTs even assisted in creating short weekly videos about life around the world to keep students engaged and connected. These solutions helped to bridge the gap between students and teachers while working from home. 

Thinking about tomorrow’s educational environment

It’s hard to imagine going back to a traditional classroom after the much-needed progress and development of the digital classroom in 2020. We’ve defined our virtual space, faced growing pains, and emerged with an array of tools to bolster our online lessons. What will classrooms of the future look like? Will we see gamification tactics built into lessons and software for schools? Could virtual reality provide accessibility for students across the globe? Only time will tell.

What would your future classroom look like?

– A note from ALT Training Online’s David Logan Hayter

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