There is no doubt that our lives are vastly different. You may live in suburbia with three toddlers under five. Or, you may live in a small, single-parent unit with two teenagers. Perhaps, you live in a remote or rural community and have the responsibility of caring for many children who are at different developmental stages. Despite these differences, every parent is largely concerned about ensuring the educational progress of their children, and this is even more so heightened with the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19). This article is written specifically for parents who are interested in understanding effective principles of transitioning their children to an online mode of delivery learning using different aspects of the psychosocial lens.
What do we mean by psychosocial?
Psychosocial indicates an interaction between environmental, cultural, and social influences upon psychological (thinking, feeling, and behaving) outcomes. In the context of transitioning to online learning (e-learning), it is fundamental to highlight some of the key factors that you, as parents, need to consider during this period. However, it is intended for the advice presented in this article to still be useful even after the passing of the COVID-19 period, so that you are able to ensure that you children continue to thrive during their learning journey.
Considering psychological factors: The mind and behaviour in learning
The primary concern within the field of psychology is to study, explain, and change human behaviour. Decades of scientific research in this field has offered useful explanations of how children think, feel, and behave in a variety of conditions. The current condition on the lips of everyone these days is the uncertainty arising from the spread of the COVID-19. This uncertainty is found to be strongly related to anxiety, such that higher levels of uncertainty contribute to higher levels of anxiety.
One of the most noticeable emotions that your child will likely exhibit during this time is anxiety. This is likely to arise for a number of reasons, with a noticeable factor being the transition from a face-to-face to an online classroom experience. Note, carefully, that this does not mean that they will develop an anxiety disorder. In fact, feeling some level of anxiety is quite normal and often arises when we face new situations.
Anxiety, and the fears that often accompany the emotion of anxiousness, allows us to survive, and at times, thrive. But, according to the Yerkes-Dodson law, there is a point where too much or too little anxiety is harmful. So, what can you do to not let your child’s anxiousness with online learning go from helpful to harmful?
Modelling, also known as observational learning, is a technique in psychology that we use to change or modify current behaviours. Indeed, your children will look to you in deciding how to view the world and what behaviours to perform. For example, we know that modelling is important for promoting proper hand washing behaviours, which is something children need to see you doing for at least 20 seconds. This can be done as a shared activity throughout the day.
In other instances, children will look to you to determine how to feel about online learning, including whether or not to be anxious. An excellent way to reduce anxiety related to online learning is to firstly have an open, age-appropriate discussion about successful models of online learning. By speaking positively about online learning, you are modelling the acceptance, and potential benefits associated with this new mode of education delivery.
We know from previous research that children, through observing, will feel more anxious if you are continuously showing signs of anxiety. Remember, it is quite understandable if you do feel anxious about teaching your children. In fact, it is highly likely that you will have many priorities at this time, including working from home, teaching your children at home, and perhaps taking care of elderly family members.
But, in addition to self-care resources, also remember that your levels of anxiety can be reduced by accessing helpful educational materials from Khan Academy (for both yourself and your child) and other learning materials set by your local government. For example, many education departments have provided parents with access to learning materials for each year level. In other cases, experienced teachers and educational technology organisations have also shared useful resources, and groups such as the Learning Scientists. They have provided free materials that you can download to guide the learning and revision process.
Remember to also keep the learning exploration open and fun, and, taking breaks as well as encouraging unstructured play can be advantageous for improving learning. In this way, you are aiming to ensure that your child continues their learning throughout this period.
Children need to connect online to access their learning materials. But there exist risks that you can help to reduce, including the management of screen time. Given the requirement to be online to participate in their education, your children will be likely exposed to a wide range of new sources about the COVID-19. In fact, it is good for children to know what is happening in the world; this ensures that they remain informed. You can also talk to children about COVID-19 and its impact using developmentally suitable language.
But, we know that exposure to a lot of media coverage about the pandemic increases anxiety. Thus, while the COVID-19 is a great window of opportunity to teach your children about world affairs and health, the more you can create eSafety habits and boundaries around their (as well as your) exposure to the media, the better. There are a wealth of guidelines on how to monitor your children’s safety online, including how to talk with them, setting parental controls, and identifying issues such as cyberbullying and indecent communication.
Despite these eSafety guidelines, children still need to have some level of ownership over their learning, otherwise known as autonomy or self-determination. In fact, the research tells us that children who are provided with autonomy develop a greater sense of self and exhibit better learning behaviours. As children gain independence, they start to initiate the process of navigating and discovering the environment on their own. They start to grasp a better understanding of cause and effect, including how their choices lead to different outcomes.
So, to foster this autonomy, collaborate with your child to set learning goals and expectations from the start. Then, decisions can be made in collaboration with your child about rules of being online, with which learning material they would like to engage, and different ways that they can assess their learning progress in relation to the goals and expectations that you have devised together. In this way, you allow your children to gain skills in how to develop good boundaries, as well as good metacognition skills, which is a process where they reflect upon their own thoughts and problem-solving strategies. In this context, this would mean your children would get the opportunity to really think about their own learning process and how they can improve their own learning. Experts in this field tell us that students who feel autonomous and develop their metacognitive skills very early on during their learning are highly motivated to engage with their educational journey, and this has been found in both traditional and online learning contexts.
Motivation comes in two forms: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation describes behaviours that are led by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior, like learning, comes from within the individual because it is personally rewarding. In contrast, external motivation describes behaviours that are led by external rewards, including getting a gold star, compliments and money, or to avoid punishment, such as getting detention or being put in time out.
There is a place for both types of motivations during the learning process in facilitating higher levels of engagement. While there are many factors that foster motivation, the research on self-determination theories of motivation emphasise the role of autonomy and competence, as discussed above. In addition to these, theories of motivation also speak about the importance of relatedness and connection in fostering motivation.
Considering social and cultural factors
Relatedness and connection
Abraham Maslow, a prominent psychologist who spent many years studying motivation, explained that there are 5 different hierarchies or levels that humans need to experience to feel fulfilled. In his third level, he explains that, to thrive in both learning and life, we need to obtain love and belonging, which are gained from social relationships. Previous research has shown a strong relationship between relatedness (social connection) and learning outcomes, with higher social connection leading to better learning outcomes.
Although the government mandates us to practice social distancing, you can help your child to still be social, but just in different, more creative ways. This includes using current tools such as FaceTime or Skype to keep in touch with friends and extended family members. Finally, you might also like to organise a social movie night, social cooking or social exercise sessions with your child’s friends using online methods.
You can also encourage your child to engage in a virtual community outreach project such as the Kindness Pandemic, a project that seeks to celebrate and bring respect towards elderly populations. The idea behind this is that young people are invited to write a letter about an older person that they admire and this older person is then invited to provide a response. The overall aim is to lower anxiety as well as feelings of isolation in older people, and to ensure that we foster good citizenship and social skills among young people.
It is also likely that you might find yourself in a situation where you are not digitally ready to offer both a consistent online learning experience and a sense of relatedness online during this period. This could be because you might live in more remote or rural areas where there is poor internet connectivity. In other instances, it could be that you do not have access to the appropriate devices to connect with online opportunities.
If these are current concerns for your family, you can explore opportunities with your child’s school to obtain services that provide you with basic telecommunications equipment and low-bandwidth, low-tech connectivity options. In addition, you might also benefit from resources on improving your digital literacy skills.
Above all, always remember that your child is appreciative of the time that they spend with you. Talk with them, find out how they are doing and try, as best as possible, to ease any fear that they may have. Remember that teachers have undergone numerous years of training. So, there is no pressure to replicate the classroom experience. In fact, and as you know, the way that you will be helping to facilitate your child’s learning journey is far different to the traditional classroom design. It can be a great time of uncertainty, and by ensuring that your child’s well-being is considered at all times, you will be helping them to become better adjusted throughout this period and beyond.