Online learning has grown more popular in the last few months. People looking to up-skill in their current jobs or gain new skills to change jobs, the UK lockdown has provided the perfect opportunity for personal development.
Or so we would think. Online learners today are facing a unique set of rewards and challenges. In a situation which they have already had to significantly adapt to, the need to home school children has been added to the mix.
We carried out a survey to assess what the impact of this has been on our students, 22% of whom are now homeschooling.
What has homeschooling changed for our learners?
Teaching is a demanding job on its own, so it comes as no surprise that this new responsibility has carved a significant amount of our learner’s time and energy and increased their stress levels. The survey results highlight several issues.
Learning times and motivation
It may have surprised some that 47% of all respondents stated that working from home during the lockdown had not provided additional time to focus on studies. Whilst on the surface this may seem like a counter-intuitive finding, by delving deeper we start to understand the reasons why this is the case.
24.8% of respondents prefer to study in the evenings with 54.6% indicating this is also the best time for live classes. This may simply be down to the fact that we all have internal rhythms and there are times in the day when we process and retain information better.
However, the fact that adult students who are homeschooling favour evenings may also be related to the various demands in their lives. Homeschooling and work are by necessity carried out during the day while children are active causing a clash in timetables and priorities.
In addition, the 28.5% who have changed careers during lockdown indicate they are more likely to study over weekends rather than evenings. New and unfamiliar work, environments, and people inevitably dominate weekdays leaving evenings the only time to homeschool or devote to other caring and domestic responsibilities.
These findings, therefore, are connected to both individual preferences and the new ways of life lockdown has brought on.
While the survey results in terms of favoured hours to work may not be all that surprising or even markedly different for many, the impact of Covid-19 has significantly altered motivation levels.
40% of those working and learning from home report reduced overall motivation levels. As those at home struggle with work, online study, increased child care (a change for 13.4% surveyed) while day-care and schools are closed, homeschooling, and adjusting to new ways of behaving and interacting, it is unsurprising that many are losing motivation and suffering from “Coronavirus-fatigue”.
Emotional and environmental factors inevitably play a role. The ongoing pandemic has generated anxiety about the present and the future for many. Fear of the disease itself, a sense of isolation driven by the inability to see family and friends, or even tensions within households due to increased and sustained contact.
Many have also lost the corner in their homes which they could retreat to have a quiet and uncluttered time to focus, study, and think. Being at home presents distractions for adults and children alike: TV, the garden, games, etc, all of which can look more appealing than studying.
Considering all these demands and stressors, we can understand why those who are homeschooling are also less keen for course units to open sooner. This would add to an already overwhelming load of demands and responsibilities.
Read our blog post on keeping motivation levels high.
Another significant and more recent complication is that workplaces are beginning to re-open with employees returning full- or part-time. However, as announced by the BBC and others, primary schools will not recommence before the summer holidays. There may even be issues with schools reopening generally due to difficulty in meeting requirements that limit class sizes.
This results in a return to work that is more complex and stressful than usual as many children will still be at home and requiring homeschooling and care, while parents will need to be out for part or all of the week. This constitutes a further reduction of available time for both homeschooling and continuing one’s own learning.
Parents will have the responsibility of returning to work, maintaining their own education, and ensuring their children do not fall behind. There is the danger that, unless homeschooling is conducted effectively and is continued, the child could develop a gap between where their current education stage is and where they will need to be on their return to school.
Adult online students will inevitably struggle to accommodate work, homeschooling, care giving, and their own studying in a day without one or more area suffering or falling behind with their own course of study. This would account for the fact that 47% of survey respondents indicate that they have less time for studying now than before lockdown.
Homeschooling pros and cons
There is no doubt homeschooling brings a major change in lifestyle for the child and online learner come teacher, attended by both advantages and disadvantages. The question then becomes whether the educational needs of adults and home-schooled children can be dovetailed.
✓ Flexibility: Homeschooling allows the child and the adult’s learning and studying time and schedule to be accommodated with both able to work at optimal times. 60% of students surveyed confirmed there is enough flexibility to accommodate other activities.
✓ Control lesson content: The teacher is not bound by the national curriculum, and may be able to align some learning content with their own studies.
✓ Time with the child: The teacher come learner can do their work and studying while the child does theirs, allowing time together and the meeting of learning goals.
✓ One-on-one teaching: This is ideal for many and a key feature of homeschooling. It allows for more targeted content and feedback which saves time for the adult’s learning.
✓ Joint education: The homeschooler will have to master information before being able to teach them which is good brain and memory exercise.
✓ There is a great deal of online support available
Demands on the teacher’s time: Although homeschooled pupils spend less time in lessons and have no homework, planning, researching, and teaching lessons will make serious inroads into the parent’s own study time.
Socialisation differences: Homeschooled children do not have the same opportunities for face-to-face time with groups of peers. There are also more limited chances to participate in group activities such as sport. These can be accommodated to a degree outside the home but also demands more time from the parent which again means less study time.
Blurred boundaries: The distinction between parent and teacher can be muddled which can give rise to problems with discipline when it comes to doing schoolwork. An increase in conflict results in an erosion of time and energy which is a further barrier to successful learning.
Taking on an additional responsibility in the form of being a teacher in addition to being an online learner, parent, and perhaps an employee too is a very tough ask. While it does allow a parent to spend more time and have additional shared activities with their child, the price in terms of the homeschooler’s physical, emotional, and learning well-being can be high.
To relieve some of the pressure of having homeschooling thrust upon us by lockdown, we have compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions.
Can I homeschool my child in the UK?
Yes, children can be homeschooled in the UK although the laws governing homeschooling differ in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. One therefore needs to find out what the legal and parental responsibilities are and what steps need to be taken.
Before Covid-19, only 0.5% of the school age population of England and Wales was homeschooled but, according to one report, 2016 – 2017 saw 48,000 children being homeeducated against the approximately 34,000 in 2014 – 2015 which shows an overall increase in the decision to homeschool before the pandemic.
While numbers are not yet available, that figure must now look vastly different given all children are receiving some form of homeschooling with the exception of the children of key workers, those who have special needs, and – most recently – those attending reception and years 1 and 6.
Do you need a tutor for homeschooling?
No, a tutor is not needed for homeschooling if one can manage to teach and still meet one’s own studying and other responsibilities and needs. If not, and finances permit, then a tutor is recommended.
Using a tutor allows a parent to remain involved in what and how a child is taught but frees time for their own studies and other responsibilities.
There are a host of online tutoring options available from both public bodies such as the BBC, private entities such as Tutor House or Primary Leap, or educational institutions like Oxford Home Schooling and Harrow School Online.
How much does homeschooling cost in the UK?
In the UK, the cost of homeschooling is variable as it depends on a range of choices made. The costs include:
• Stationary and, while most activities will be online, books
• An electronic device that connects to the internet for a child to use
• Exam fees which range from £30 to £100 or more per subject
• Sports lessons and equipment
• Tutoring fees ranging from £10 to £50 per hour depending of subject and level.
The amount spent per hour is not insignificant but is balanced against savings such as transport, uniforms, etc that are not required
Tips for online learners
Most of these tips can be used for both adult and child online students.
➢ Spend some time mapping out your week: Draw up a schedule for how each day will look for yourself and your little ones. It will allow you to keep track of deadlines, dedicate your time effectively to your own and your child’s studies and will build in some much required down-time.
➢ Create the best environment for you: Find an area at home where you can learn comfortably either alone or together with you child, can access resources, and where distractions will be at a minimum.
➢ Manage resources: Ensure that resources are easily and quickly to hand. This includes stationery, books, electronics such as headphones, etc.
➢ Self-care: To perform well one needs to take care of one’s physical and mental wellbeing. Eating properly, getting regular exercise, taking breaks, and getting enough sleep are all important. The parent and child and can eat and probably exercise together.
➢ Get support if necessary: Do not be afraid to ask for assistance or enlist the help of a tutor. Make use of online forums, blogs, Twitter feeds, online learning resources and social media groups too as they are helpful in terms of academic and emotional support.
➢ Rewards: When a milestone, deadline, or goal is reached, mark it with a reward. It could be a cup of tea, a chocolate, a gold star, or a fun activity. What the rewards are depends on what is enjoyed, valued, and age appropriate.
These tips will help both the adult online learner and the homeschooled child get the best from learning with the least possible stress and problems during these unprecedented times.