Distance Learning Isn't New

Students collaborate on a science experiment
around the kitchen table.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, large numbers of schools have suspended onsite services. Many of these schools are implementing a system called e-learning: where students use digital networking tools and electronic devices to remain connected with educational content. While this appears to be a novel use of modern electronic communication tools, the ability to learn at varying distances from the classroom is not new.

At first glance, it may seem that several weeks of e-learning will create a significant gap in every students' academic performance. But if gaps develop, they will only highlight the determination of students, teachers and parents. Good teachers and diligent students will take this opportunity to dig deeper into their understanding as they are no longer constrained by a timetable or slower students. E-learning is more than digital worksheets, it's the chance to explore connections between content and to develop a rich understanding.

In 1858, the University of London was the first higher education institution to offer students the ability to study courses away from campus, extending across the globe. (History of the University of London, 2020) This gave service men, prisoners of war and those working abroad the opportunity to pursue a degree despite their inability to come to London. More than just a packet of reading materials, these students could also complete assignments and take exams privately.

Christian organizations have offered Bible correspondence courses for decades. These are typically study packets where the student reads and researches a particular text or passage and responds by answering complex questions or writing an essay. These services often target prisoners, or those in developing country who cannot afford to travel.

Today's e-learning opportunities are the same. While our electronic communication tools drastically reduce the exchange time between messages, the nature of the exchange is the same. Teachers must present students with resources and guidance on researching the information. Students must unpack the material and demonstrate their understanding beyond rote memory.

Reference
University of London. 2020. History Of The University Of London. [online] Available at: <https://london.ac.uk/about-us/our-history> [Accessed 16 March 2020].

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