Greenhow, Koehler examine challenges and opportunities for online learning

August 22, 2022

In March 2020, COVID-19 suddenly forced school administrators, educators, students and caregivers into a new modality of teaching and learning. In a matter of hours, schooling as the world knew it changed—forever.  

School desks appearing on top of a computer chalkboard

Michigan State University scholars Christine Greenhow and Matthew Koehler edited a special issue of the Educational Psychologist examining how the pandemic impacted schooling, what lessons were learned, what things researchers are still trying to understand and the (dis)advantages of learning online

“What you saw in the early weeks and months of the pandemic was an emergency response,” said Koehler, assistant dean of faculty affairs in the College of Education and professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET). “We now call it ‘remote emergency instruction,’ not online learning. You can’t just take in-person teaching practices, put it onto Zoom and have it be effective. We knew from decades of research this wouldn’t work, and we saw contemporary evidence from the pandemic that it didn’t go well. Now, more than two years later, education is collectively moving toward better online learning practices.”  

Matthew Koehler

Koehler and Greenhow have long studied technology, education and the growing connection between the two fields. With Charles Graham (Brigham Young University), the scholars used the special issue—called “Diverse Lenses on Improving Online Learning Theory, Research and Practice”—to illustrate and examine shifts from pre-, during and into an eventual post-pandemic. The Educational Psychologist issue is online now.  

The scholars argue COVID-19 was a catalyst for permanent change, although what changes seem to be a source of debate. Greenhow, an EPET professor, noted how many media outlets and journal articles mention online learning is “here to stay” while others ponder if a “generation has been lost to remote education.” The future of education may be somewhere in between, Greenhow suggested.  

“We’re moving to a more well-designed learning environment in digital spaces,” Greenhow said. “Some students actually prefer online learning. And we also need to think about beyond the classroom: Remote work is becoming more prevalent. This is a huge, societal shift that will continue to move the dial toward even more stable, quality online learning. The students of today will need to be the remote workers of tomorrow; they need to be able to function, and thrive, in those environments.”  

Assistant Professor Chris Greenhow leads a course with in-person and online students.
Professor Christine Greenhow leads a course with in-person and online students.

Greenhow, Koehler and the scholars within the special issue posit learning may shift to be a complex, yet effective, hybrid of face-to-face and remote learning, including asynchronous group work, and formal and informal learning environments. But importantly—regardless of the teaching and learning modality—equity issues remain and need to be addressed.  

“Equity issues intensified and proliferated because of COVID-19,” Greenhow said. “In many cases, the existing issues got worse, and even more came to the foreground. There were concerns about if students have laptops or access to the internet, which are real challenges. But we also need to think if the students have access to caregivers who are internet savvy, or peers who can help them learn.”  

This is perhaps where MSU scholars and the EPET program are best positioned to transform the future of learning to be supportive for all.  

“MSU has one of the only programs that combines the fields of educational psychology and educational technology in this way,” said Koehler. He earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from MSU and was hired in the College of Education to help build the educational technology facets of the program. He also co-developed the TPACK model for integrating technology for effective teaching. “MSU was among the first to do a hybrid Ph.D. program. We’ve been thinking about issues of equity and efficacy for a long time. We’re uniquely positioned to lead this academic work.”  

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