It’s officially mid-September. For students across the country, this means that online learning is in full swing.
The first few weeks were probably easy enough for even the brand-new online learner to manage: teachers didn’t require students to do much more than review class syllabi, participate in virtual icebreakers with the class, and get familiar with class platforms and softwares. Now, however, things are starting to get more serious. With deadlines rolling in and big assignments piling up, even advanced students may consider completing all their online work on time to be an almost insurmountable challenge.
In an in-person class where you get more face-to-face time not only with your teachers, but also with your peers, staying up-to-date on assignments and understanding course material can be as easy as simply showing up to the classroom and approaching a teacher or classmate when you need extra help. The online environment, on the other hand, makes collaboration with teachers and peers much more labor-intensive. Have a question? Send an email and wait for a response. Need in-depth help? Schedule a Zoom call and hope the Internet connection is good enough on both sides for quality audio and video. Even then, discussing complex topics and assignments often just isn’t as effective online as it is face-to-face. Unfortunately, most students don’t have any other option right now.
Or do they? Enter: the learning pod.
What is a learning pod?
A learning pod is a recent educational innovation created in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Concerned that online learning would deprive their children of crucial social interaction and in-person instruction, parents decided to establish small groups of students around the same age and/or studying the same subjects. Each group would then be led by an accredited teacher or tutor, who would be ready to lead the pod in in-person instruction and provide individualized help when necessary. Though it’s unclear exactly where this practice got started, families all over the country are now turning to learning pods to maximize student success.
It can be difficult for families to find learning pods that are both geographically accessible and affordable. That’s where ThinquePrep’s learning pods come in. ThinquePrep, located in Lake Forest, is now conducting in-person small groups of 4-6 students, led by one of our full-time specialty tutors.
Is a learning pod safe?
During this time, parents, students, and educators all share one common concern: maintaining good health. Learning pods were devised largely as a compromise between large class sizes at school (good for social interaction and learning but unsafe in a time of pandemic) and the isolation of learning at home alone (safe in regards to hygiene but bad for personal motivation and understanding course material). In a learning pod, a student can minimize contact with others while taking advantage of opportunities for group work and professional help.
Though practices vary depending on the provider, here at ThinquePrep, we take safety very seriously. All students and tutors are required to wear masks in order to enter the tutoring center, and all spaces are carefully sanitized. Families are also encouraged to organize groups so that the student members are all friends or classmates already, so students don’t have to worry about being around a bunch of strangers.
What are the benefits of a learning pod?
A learning pod has many benefits for both students and their parents. First, a pod provides an environment for students to get some of the peer-to-peer interaction they miss when learning is conducted exclusively at home. In a season of lockdown-induced cabin fever, time in the pod is time students can enjoy away from home and in the company of people their own age. What’s even better is that the togetherness of the learning pod environment also promotes productivity and motivation. If you’ve ever gotten a job done faster when you do it in good company, you know how this works. Being with a group all completing similar tasks can motivate a student much more effectively than just sitting in front of their computer at their desk, feeling stressed and alone.
Aside from providing students with the benefits of a group dynamic, a learning pod also gives students an excuse to get out of the house, as well as an event to look forward to. Over the last six months, both students and working professionals have experienced a breakdown in how they usually manage their schedules. Instead of relying on consistent events at set times, many people are left in a sort of Twilight Zone in which night and day, productivity and relaxation, and home and work are all blended into one. A learning pod gives a student somewhere to go and something to do at a set time and location, thus lending them some normalcy and predictability in their schedules. This comes with the added bonus of giving parents a set amount of child-free time, during which they enjoy the opportunity to get more work done or simply relax as they please.
Additionally, a learning pod provides students with valuable in-person, small group instruction. As I described earlier, byzantine online processes and often impacted Internet performance have a huge hand in hindering learning. In a learning pod, asking a question or getting one-on-one help is as simple as raising your hand. Similarly to a normal classroom, the educator is available, in real-time, to give students a helping hand. Learning pods might even be more effective in this regard, because the educator doesn’t have to split their attention between 20-30 students; smaller groups are able to get more attention and individualized time, increasing educational effectiveness.
Finally, a learning pod encourages one crucial element that online learning struggles to provide: accountability. Most parents simply have too much on their plates right now to ensure that each of their children completes every assignment on time and with a high level of effort. In an in-person environment, teachers can usually do some heavy lifting in this regard. If a student is simply slacking off, sometimes a teacher’s stern look or serious comment about the state of the student’s grade is enough to prompt them to get back on track. However, this unique sort of teacherly influence is next to impossible to dole out via the Web. On top of that, teachers - many of them new to online teaching - have so much to manage and facilitate that finding the time to track down students with missing assignments and coax a reply email from them can be a real challenge. The fact is that, within current online learning structures, it’s become easy for even the most dedicated student to neglect an assignment here or there or let a requirement slip through the cracks. The peer learners and educators present in a learning pod are there, in-person, to ask a student if they got an assignment done - and if not, why? In this way, a learning pod can mean the difference between a pass or fail. Online learning grades are still grades, and a slip-up this semester can have a legitimate impact on a student’s future.
This is all to say that whether or not a student is struggling a lot with online learning, a learning pod can only make the situation easier to handle, so I encourage you to consider it. So get some friends and classmates together and reach out to our team here at ThinquePrep. We look forward to taking this on together (and maybe even having some fun along the way).