Learning is Social and Emotional (Especially in a Pandemic)

It could have been said that the more articles or studies written these days about surviving the Pandemic have also been tied to surviving the emotional thresholds in whatever types of living situations people have been suspended in time with. Separate from the natural response to the Covid-19 viral infection and symptomatology, there is the socio-emotional toll that trickles down from early days of science catching up to the vulnerabilities of the mRNA deterioration, the ones who were not lucky (and the ones who were) to survive and tell the tale, and to even the ones who have economically been wiped out. It is safe to say that the speed of energy and technological transfer between people is toe to toe with the infection’s travels. And the only initial clear state of progress toward increasing the chances of staying healthy was to STOP and be STILL.

In effect, the world of people became hermits while the rest of the natural world wandered where people used to. In the October 2020 issue of Frontiers in Psychology, Ana Luisa Pedrosa et al. studied the Emotional, Behavioral, and Psychological Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic Measures to contain disease transmission, including quarantine, social isolation and social distancing may affect the population’s behavior and may lead to psychological disorders. Several emotional and psychological conditions including fear, anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation are triggered by the pandemic itself as well as by the adopted preventive measures. As essential workers carried on a semblance of the social structure of necessities and medical staff continued to fight for the lives of those who had the infection, a majority of the population turned inwards to their houses with relatives, roommates, pets, significant others and, well, yes, children.

The business of rearing children under normal circumstances is layered and complex. In a pandemic, it is more urgent and mind bending: children initially completing school work from any available space in the home as parents struggled to do the same as they work from home as well. Now that of course is the median, as the living situations were random and could range from either parents who could not be around their children if they were essential or medical frontline personnel to the opposite end where the parents were always home with their children that the school-work lines blurred and relationships became testy. In a paper by Priscilla de Medeiros et al, in PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND SOCIAL PAIN DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC-RELATED SOCIAL ISOLATION say that the social isolation caused by COVID-19 pandemic threatening also caused a forced poor affective behaviour during absences in traditional social events, such as funeral, weddings, and anniversaries, in addition to isolation from parents infected by COVID-19 pathogen (Danzmann et al. 2020).

Similar to many school situations across the globe, online instructional delivery was the only option for educating children in the United States. During traumatic circumstances, such as a pandemic, the need to make online educational opportunities easy to access takes on new importance because many learners might not be in an emotional state to focus on learning. (Carter Jr., Rice et al. 2020) To offset the emotional shock that came with the changes in learning, there was a push to focus on specific Goal Orientations, that are a collective of how, why and under what environmental conditions people learn (Anderman and Maehr, 1994; Pintrich and Schunk, 2002). Learning environments that consider affective aspects of learning such as learner motivation must be developed and supported (Ryan and Deci, 2000).

Goal Orientations however under the current circumstances are artificial and in a vacuum. For those learners who already had challenges pre-pandemic have not remained at the marker of where they were. The marginalization of options shrank even further for them with options that were determined by the availability of tech and Wi-Fi, the frequency of teacher follow up, and the ever increasing reliance on platforms of assignments that didn’t always meet the learners where they were at foundationally. However, the one underlying factor that Goal Orientations tested or made available is on of Self-Determination Theory by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who first introduced their ideas in their 1985 book Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior. In their book, they regard choice as a major factor to learner success, placing equitable responsibility on both the environment AND the Learner.

To support the learner, parents and teachers alike needed to catch up technologically to where their children were at if they were past the 3rd grade for software integration, while for those younger than 3rd grade, parents and teachers had to push limits of creativity to balance between the need for work to be shown and the online digital presence requirement. Simply being present behind the screen via a virtual environment or learning platform of choice did not necessarily mean that there was the connection between schoolmates, teachers, and caregivers. The socio-emotional condition, especially at the time of outbreak subsidizes the (re)modulation of interactive neural circuits underlying the risk assessment behavior at physical, emotional, and social levels. Experiences of social isolation, exclusion or affective loss are generally considered to be some of the most painful things that people face. In spite of the artificial components that are meant to connect the school experience, the threats of social disconnection are processed by some of the same neural structures that process basic threats to survival. (de Medeiros et al., 2020 plaudit.) The lack of social connection mimics the pain due to an overlap in the neural circuitry responsible for both physical and emotional pain related to feelings of social rejection.

So do we then say that the LEARNER, the student, is mainly the source of their own center, calm and achievement in the face of unprecedented times in tech-school enclosures?

Possibly so if paired with Positive Neuroplasticity and a Positive Emotional State. To continue with the promotion of determining one’s internal motivation, Self-regulated learning (SRL) is at the forefront for home-school relationships. It refers to how students become masters of their own learning processes, wherein self-regulation is the self-directive process through which learners transform their mental abilities into task-related skills in diverse areas of functioning, such as academia, sports, music, and health. (Zimmerman, 2015.)

Self-regulated learning (SRL) is a self-determined learner effort towards academic performance (Boekaerts, 1995; Winne and Hadwin, 2010; Zimmerman and Moylan, 2009). Within the SRL framework, learners use metacognitive skills in learning to proactively think, perform and self-reflect (Dignath and Büttner, 2008; Ergen and Kanadli, 2017). Most models of SRL have major components: forethought; performance; and self-reflection. Typically, learning must not only focus on cognitive aspects but also other aspects, such as attitudes and feelings. Emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intelligence must be balanced in the learning process so that students have qualified self-qualities useful in the future. The success of students in the learning process is not only determined by intellectual intelligence but also the existence of motivation, work ethic, commitment, integrity, and communication. (Wijoyo et al., 2020) Addressing the complex relationship between the affective need for control and the cognitive need for structure seems vital to strong course design that leads to learner success in fully online learning under typical circumstances, but especially during the trauma of a global pandemic. (Carter Jr. et al, 2020.)

A prime example of how learners utilized principles of self-regulated learning however have not explicitly named it as such was highlighted in the results from a 2020 study by R. Radha et.al in the International Journal of Control and Automation, wherein they sought to find out the student’s attitude towards e-learning, via stratified sampling method. They had a total 175 samples from across the world from national and international wise through Google forms which include the student community from various schools, colleges, and universities.

Among 175 respondents, around 82.86 percent of students have reported their self-study skills to improve because of e-learning, while 12.57 percent of them were opined in somewhat they are learning from e-sources because there are no other alternatives. Since the classes and education institutions where physically unavailable due to the pandemic, the students only depended on e-learning, and the majority of the institutions where the students participated from in this survey were mostly encouraged to learn through e-sources. Only 4.57 percent of them were not supposed that the e-source alone can improve their self-study skills.

What is striking however is in the same study, 80 percent of students are supportive of conventional teaching for learning practical, hands on knowledge as opposed to if they were simply learning basic pedagogical concepts. Around 12.57 percent of them said conventional teaching is important for the practical, hands on learning, and only 7.43 percent felt that e-learning for the practical, hands on skills were not effective.

Conventional teaching, for all its imperfections, allow affect to take effect. Body language, eye contact, even the energy transfer of the student-teacher call and responses are vital to certain emotional needs that make learning stick. The bridge that teachers (and yes parents too) have created from behind the online platforms to alleviate isolation involves having a cheerful disposition when on class camera. Students tend to prefer lessons and demonstrations through videos, which can be created using mobile phone cameras or screen capturing software. Although videos by others may be beneficial, students enjoy those made by their teachers (Anderson 2020). When teachers create their own videos, they can also customize the content to ensure the appropriate rigor (Morgan 2014).

As a matter of fact, the organization International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) offers standards for educators and identifies 14 critical elements for using technology for learning. In The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, Hani Morgan wrote that the ISTE also created seven standards for students and for teachers respectively using technology for learning and teaching. See the standards below as they appear from the article Best Practices for Implementing Remote Learning during a Pandemic:

The ISTE Standards for Students

The ISTE Standards for Students (2016) were developed to help students succeed in today’s high-tech society. ISTE created seven standards for students:

 Empowered Learner – This standard is beneficial because it was designed to encourage students to take an active role and to demonstrate their competency to use and choose technologies to achieve their learning goals. Students acquire feedback to enhance their skills, customize their learning environments, and build networks.

• Digital Citizen – The second standard focuses on increasing student awareness of the responsibilities and rights of participating in a digital world. Students use technology in safe and legal ways. They also demonstrate a respect for the rights of sharing intellectual property.

• Knowledge Constructor – The standards for students are also designed to build knowledge. Students enhance their understanding of the world by applying effective research methods to find information for their creative and intellectual pursuits. This process encourages the development of theories and ideas.

 Innovative Designer – The fourth standard promotes creativity. Students design new solutions for real-world problems using different types of technologies. They use their critical thinking skills as they work on open-ended problems. Students also engage in activities that deal with design constraints and calculated risks.

 Computational ThinkerThis standard emphasizes exploring and finding solutions to problems by using a variety of technologies. Students collect data and analyze them to make decisions and problem solve. They enhance their understanding of complex systems and automation. Automated solutions are created and tested through a series of steps.

• Creative Communicator -The sixth standard allows students to create original works. One of the ways they can achieve this goal is by remixing digital resources into new ones. Students produce new content by customizing it for their intended audiences.

 Global Collaborator -This standard focuses on broadening students’ perspectives. Learners use digital tools to connect with students from different cultures and backgrounds. They use collaborative technologies to explore global and local issues and think about possible solutions from multiple viewpoints.

The ISTE Standards for Educators

The ISTE Standards for Educators (2017) were designed to help in transforming pupils into empowered learners. Like the standards for students, ISTE created seven standards for teachers:

• Learner -This standard emphasizes the continued growth in technology skills educators need to make. They achieve this goal by working with other professionals and exploring promising practices that enhance student learning. They participate in professional networks and stay updated on research that improves student learning.

 Leader -Educators look for leadership opportunities that shape and advance teaching and learning. They urge for equal access to technology to meet the needs of all students. They also serve as models for their colleagues, exploring and identifying new technological tools for learning.

 Citizen -This standard involves creating opportunities for learners that will lead them to make socially responsible contributions. Educators mentor students on using technology safely and ethically. They teach them the importance of protecting data privacy and managing personal data.

 Collaborator – Educators also need to spend time collaborating with students and colleagues. With colleagues, they work to create learning experiences using digital tools. And with students, they use new digital tools to diagnose and troubleshoot technology problems.

 Designer – This standard encourages educators to design activities that are learner driven and that reflect learner variability. Educators use technology to personalize learning experiences that promote independent learning and accommodate students’ needs.

 Facilitator -Educators create an environment in which students take ownership of their learning. They establish learning opportunities encouraging students to problem solve and innovate. They model creative expression and manage learning strategies in digital platforms and virtual environments.

 Analyst -This standard focuses on using data to support learners. Educators use technology by designing formative and summative assessments to provide feedback for pupils. This process guides progress as educators communicate assessment data with students and parents to promote student self-direction.

As the global community will emerge slowly into a post-pandemic recovery, there will be significant changes up ahead in planning and delivering the learning experience. And based on the survey of studies that showcase how the educational and therapeutic communities have created the best of human nature in the face of devastation rivaling the period of the Spanish Flu, necessity and the human spirit continue to be the partners of all invention.

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