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Supporting young learners to learn in an online environment

The Virtual Learning Network primary (VLNP) started in 2005, and the key was to make sure that students who are in remote, rural schools in New Zealand have access to a wide range of subjects. The teacher comes on for an hour-long session per week, and then the students work in the WeLearn space (which is half-way between Facebook and Moodle).

The VLNP is a charitable trust, with an annually elected governance group and a national coordinator. The eTeachers involved in the programmes and they can work from a school, or home, or wherever there is connectivity - and some are parents because they are experts in a specific area. The school in which the student is located is a key to supporting the young learner and enabling the learning to happen - the support staff are mentors, coaches, and site coordinators.

The problems...

  • synchronous sessions - not coming into sessions
  • asynchronous work - not doing their homework
  • can't find the URL / lost their password

Rick Whalley's research identified that much of the research that has already been done was to support adult learners rather than young learners. He has been working to develop a model that will assist the schools, and complement the existing policies and protocols. 

The support systems support students to develop from dependency to independence. It's not however a linear, progressive way of learning, and students will flip between them as they start to learn new things. The wrap around approaches sit in the background to support the students as they develop as learners. 

This type of support needs to be factored into strategic planning - i.e. there from the get go. Schools need to understand the three domains of influence, as well as being active in developing collaborative networks. There is a need for a significant support person so that the student has everything they need, and removes the barriers to learning.

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