• Dr Sally Hirsch

Learning in the time of Corona

With the dramatic shift to online learning for many schools around the world or “Learning in the time of Corona” as I like to call it, there has been a mass increase in the number of resources and online platforms for creating, communicating and tracking teaching and learning. The collaborative and caring nature of many educators has resulted in a kind of global, self-directed professional development experience. People are sharing challenges, failures and successes which all aid the collective knowledge of online learning.

I’d like to shift focus from the technology available and highlight the pedagogy or epedagogy that we need to also be thinking about. During my doctoral studies, I had the opportunity to carry out research on motivation and the success of online learners. This was partly out of interest as I have taught International Baccalaureate educator courses online for many years. Ellis, Marcus & Taylor (2005) concluded that, “We can spend hours designing and developing online learning environments, but if we do not understand how students think about and approach their learning in these environments, then much effort and opportunity will be wasted.”


Without sending you to sleep by sharing my complete research, I've condensed it down to four main points to take away.


  1. Ability influences student engagement in online environments. This can be divided into technical ability, time management and cognitive ability

  2. Fritz Heider, an Austrian psychologist, focused his research on the connection between what a person can do and what they will ‘try’ to do. He described this as the intersection between ability, difficulty and effort.

  3. Bernard Weiner, an American social psychologist added a fourth factor in motivation: ability, effort, task difficulty and luck

  4. An analysis of a selection of studies in online learning uncovered the influence that these motivational factors have on success. There are 3 key ingredients that support student success in online learning:

  • Time management

  • Communication skills

  • Effort and persistence


The technical ability of the student or the facilitator doesn’t play a significant role in student success in online learning. Rather, it is the ability of the student to manage their time, to communicate and to be persistent that influences student success in online learning.



As a teacher moving to online teaching, what can you do to support your students? 

  • Consider the amount of time you are spending on content and choosing the ‘right’ platform, compared to helping students with their time management

  • What communication channels have you got between you and your students? Can your swap voice messages, texts, videos as well as use different apps? It can be a fine balance between multiple communications channels, overwhelming your students/teachers and ensuring compliance with privacy regulations.

  • Are you recognising and encouraging effort and persistence with your students rather than just checking boxes on completion of work? Do you identify when students will need to ‘persist’ or when there may be extra effort required? Acknowledging and celebrating this skill development is important in student growth.