Op-Ed: Driving a Car and Why Online Learning wasn’t as bad as it seemed

Do you remember when you were learning to drive a car? You probably weren’t too good at it at first.

You struggled to find the right buttons to push, the right pedals to press, which mirror to look at. At times it seemed like you would never learn how to drive. (And don’t get me started on parallel parking.) But eventually, you got it, after a lot of practice and a lot of patience from your family and fellow drivers.

Some of you learned quickly, some took longer and judging by drivers at Redd Road and I-10 any day of the week at 5PM, some are still learning. (I’m looking at you Mr. New Mexico plates in the oversized pickup truck and Don’t Tread on Me stickers.)

You probably started your “learn-to-drive journey” with some kind of walker, where your parents plopped you info a plastic circle with wheels and a seat and you happily rolled around the floor. From there, you graduated to something like a Little Tikes all-plastic “car” with a red body and yellow roof, then a tricycle, a small bike with training wheels, a larger bike, maybe a skateboard or roller blades, a scooter and finally, well into your teens, you graduated to a car, a completely different way of moving around.

And even though you had seen cars, had watched your parents and acquaintances drive cars, the actual experience of learning to drive a car took you months to master. You had to learn the mechanics of the car, and at the same time you had to learn the rules of the road, both the informal and formal ones.

Even though you had years of watching others drive cars, it took time for you to master it. And to this day, you are still learning: TxDOT puts up a new sign that has arrows that mean WHAT? And that new broken line on the freeway means WHAT? And do I take the toll road even though they never charge anything, and it randomly ends? What IS the second exit on that new roundabout? Should I just run over it like you, Mr. New Mexico plates in the oversized pickup truck and the Don’t Tread on Me stickers?

You have had years and years of driving, and you are STILL learning to drive. It is not intuitively obvious no matter what your brother told you while he was teaching you how to master that freeway entrance trick while playing the radio too loudly.

I was thinking about driving when I heard some folks recently complain that online learning that our students had to take because Covid was a “waste of time.”

“No one learned anything.” she complained. “The kids just stared at a screen for 8 hours a day. It was a complete failure.”

Hmm. Well, I doubt if the awesome teachers that worked their asses off to make sure little Sally had something to log into each day would agree. There was learning taking place. Perhaps not as the pace of a face-to-face classroom, but learning was indeed taking place.

Why was learning perhaps not at the same pace of a face-to-face environment? Most students were thrust into a learning environment that they were not used to. Indeed, consider a 9th grade student having to jump into online learning for the first time: That student probably had had 0 experience taking an entire course online. Suddenly, she was asked to learn in an environment that was 180 degrees out of synch with the way she had learned in for the past 9 years of her education career. Could you, do it successfully?

Suppose you had been ONLY riding a bike for 9 years and suddenly you were asked to drive a car. Only a car. No more bike. Sorry kid. You had NO experience with driving a car prior to being asked to drive. But ya gotta drive a car for the next 18 months.

You had SEEN cars, but not experienced driving one. Would you be as successful as say, someone that had perhaps driven a car a few times? Of course not. You would spend a good amount of time just figuring out how the car worked. Then you would spend a bit of time learning the laws, how to interact with other cars…It would take quite a bit of time to adjust yourself to driving.

Perhaps other cars scared you (I’m looking at you Mr. New Mexico plates in the oversized pickup truck and the Don’t Tread on Me stickers.) And even if you learned quickly, you might run out of gas because you couldn’t afford to fill your tank as often as other drivers.

Maybe your car isn’t as well kept as the other cars. Maybe your car is shared by all the members of your family, unlike other drivers who have their cars to themselves. And maybe some drivers had other drivers in the family that were better drivers, with better tips and better understanding of the road when helping you.

Eventually, you would be driving, maybe not as far as other drivers. Maybe not as fast as other drivers. But you would be driving. So, it was with our online learners. They were literally thrust into a learning environment that most had little or no experience in. It took many of them several months to adjust to that mode of learning. Some still are struggling.

That isn’t to say that online learning is bad, or is a failure, just as it is it is not correct to say that cars are failures if some drivers take longer to learn how to master the road or get into wrecks. Calling something a failure implies that it was completely unsuccessful. “Online learning was a failure” read several headlines. Of course, that was not true. Online learning had been going on, quite successfully, for years prior to Covid, not only in K12 but also in post-secondary schools as well.

EPCC and UTEP had and have complete degrees that are 100% online. Indeed, the trend for most post-secondary instruction is for MORE online learning to occur, not less. If nothing else, we should get our students ready to experience that environment once they are out of K-12 learning.

Let’s not jump to incorrect conclusion because we threw students into an unfamiliar learning environment and then expected them to be successful as they were in their earlier one.

What we need to do is to incorporate more online learning, complete online classes into our student’s learning experience from kindergarten to 12th grade so that when the next Covid emergency happens, our students will be prepared. 

We know now how to do it.

Online learning wasn’t a failure. We now know how to drive the car. We just need to keep driving it, so we are ready the next time we need to drive. Right Mr. New Mexico plates?

Author: Tim Holt

Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment, over at his site.  Read his previous columns here.


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