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Socialization & online learning: how to make it work

by Raya Bidshahri • January 24, 2023 • 1 minute to read

If you ask most children what they look forward to at school, it’s seeing their friends.

And that’s not a bad thing at all. Schools play a crucial role in the socio-emotional development of learners. And after all, we humans are social creatures, and the community we are a part of plays a significant role in our sense of identity.

When we look back at our schooling, most of us remember the friendships, the heartbreaks, and the dramatic moments more than the actual lessons. It’s something that most of us cherish about our memories from school.

With the rise of online schooling, home-schooling, and other alternatives to traditional education, many people have valid concerns about the risks these models can pose to socialization. In fact, it was not too long ago that COVID disrupted the social lives of an entire generation as the world scrambled toward online learning.

So, is it possible to make online learning socially enriching?


COVID: an inadequate experience of online schools

For many, online learning during COVID left a bad taste, and that’s understandable.

While many parents and learners appreciated the greater flexibility that well-constructed online learning could provide, they raised concerns about the lack of socialization.

However, when it comes to online learning during our more recent pandemic, two important caveats that we must keep in mind:

    • Most schools were dramatically unprepared for fully remote learning (with a few exceptions). Understandably, many educators and school leaders had no idea how to reimagine curriculum and pedagogy in order to make it more engaging in a digital context. In a short time, most were forced to simply replicate the same industrial models of learning on zoom.
    • Most of us experienced online learning for the first time during a pandemic. This made the experience of learning online even more excruciating, with little to no opportunities to have in-person experiences after online school hours during lockdowns.


So, how could we make online learning inspiring?

To make online learning engaging, you can’t just put up some slides in a zoom session. You have to reimagine the very design of the learning model to optimize it for online.

Having learners on zoom calls in front of a screen all day isn’t healthy, and neither is putting them through fully self-paced learning. This is why it’s crucial to have a balance of synchronous (live) and asynchronous (self-paced) learning.

On the synchronous side, the most engaging live sessions are designed to be workshops rather than lectures. The same principles of engaging lessons come into play: start with an interactive energizer or icebreaker to get learners warmed up, and incorporate activities like discussions, games, or collaborative exercises. End with a reflective plenary and an opportunity for hands-on activities post-session. Luckily we now have access to hundreds of tools such as Miro (online whiteboard) and Genially (virtual escape tools) to create engaging online workshops.

The experience of such online workshops is exactly what we do at School of Humanity, and it’s designed to be intentionally social, with lots of interaction and collaboration amongst learners. This goes hand in hand with making self-paced learning engaging by combining inspiring content with activities.

If we zoom out further, we bring in even more socialization by enabling learners across the world to collaborate on term-wide projects and participate in weekly Flourishing workshops where they form meaningful relationships.

We even tap into “metaverse” style platforms such as Cosmos to catalyze more playful and organic socialization.


Intentionally curating in-person experiences

This is all with the recognition that online socialization can never truly replace in-person connections – nor should it attempt to.

At School of Humanity, many of our families put a lot of thought and planning into augmenting this socially rich online experience with an equally fulfilling in-person one. Many learners are a part of sports groups, in-person clubs, and communities. They participate in volunteering experiences and attend in-person conferences. They have a friend group in their city and healthy social life whether they live. This in-person element is non-negotiable for any learners participating in an online school.

As a school, we also organize annual in-person gatherings for our families & learners, as well as annual in-person retreats for our team. This coming together of the community is a crucial part of the experience and one that we hope for even more of.

A global community and support system 

School of Humanity understands the dynamism of learning systems and the fluidity of knowledge, skills, and values in a rapidly changing world. We believe our worldview moves education beyond the competencies and mastery continuum by advocating that a broader range of knowledge processes be used. In other words, more powerful learning arises from ‘weaving between different knowledge processes in an explicit and purposeful way’ (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). Ultimately, our Human Literacies Framework represents one of the most authentic educational routes to a more humane society and sustainable future in education today.

Online schooling, when done well, could open up the opportunity to build meaningful relationships and collaborations with friends from around the world.

At School of Humanity, we have learners joining our founding High School cohort from 10 countries across 5 continents and a range of socio-economic backgrounds. We are also joined by a global community of partner organizations, industry mentors, and educators from all around the world. Even our core team spans 7 countries across 3 continents.

If it weren’t for the power of online learning, we wouldn’t have this magical global experience, one that provides valuable learning experiences to everyone in our community.


Finding the right balance with hybrid learning

Whether it’s the workforce or our education system, we truly believe that the ideal future is a hybrid one.

Imagine a global education system where learners have access to affordable and flexible online learning combined with learning hubs around the world. They can take advantage of the flexibility of online while tapping into the richness of in-person. In such a model, the world is your classroom.

While finding the right balance between online and in-person, and synchronous and asynchronous can take some fine-tuning, it can help us create an engaging education system for all.


Raya Bidshahri

Raya Bidshahri

Founder & CEO, School of Humanity. Award-winning educator, serial entrepreneur and futurist.


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