September marks back-to-school season and many children across the country are starting in-person learning for the first time in months. While the future of in-person versus online education may still look uncertain, many are left wondering what the long-term effects are for the mixed styles of learning that children have adapted to over the last two years.

Language learning app, Babbel is sharing their expert linguistic insight to answer some of the questions on Canadian parents’ minds.

Some of Babbel’s insights include:

  • The benefits to children learning digitally versus in traditional classroom settings
  • Ways that teachers can effectively read children’s body language over video calls
  • The impact of digital-only and blended learning experiences in relation to children developing their communication skills
  • How experiencing “video fatigue” with virtual learning may be impacting children’s language and communication
  • The ways in which children and adults are differently equipped to learn language/communication skills
  • Tips for parents to help their children develop and strengthen their communication skills when restricted to online learning

Babbel Linguistic Insights: What communication and learning looks like for children post-pandemic

The pandemic has changed children’s learning environments and the way they communicate with teachers. Are there any benefits to children learning digitally versus the traditional classroom?

  • While the conversation surrounding children’s learning and social development during the pandemic has been largely dominated by downsides and negative outcomes of remote learning for children, there are also some benefits to this style of learning
  • For children who tend to be more reserved or shy, a boisterous classroom setting can be overwhelming, often making it difficult for them to take an active role in learning activities. These children may find that remote learning affords them a greater opportunity to participate and have their voice heard
  • Children who struggle with attention and overstimulation in classrooms full of peers may find that the remote environment helps them to focus more on learning by restricting some of that social distraction
  • Children who find it challenging to express their thoughts or feelings in person may feel more comfortable sharing that information with their teacher through digital platforms

Younger children are often unable to communicate their wants and needs. Can teachers effectively read their body language over video calls?

  • Teachers of younger grades can face initial struggles with figuring out what students would like or need, often having to rely on children’s body language even in traditional classroom environments. This is an obvious limitation in online learning, since teachers are primarily interacting with a virtual gallery of children’s faces, as opposed to in-person, during which children might be more inclined to open up
  • One way to overcome this barrier could be to introduce some sort of visual cues to children, perhaps even leveraging the “emoji reaction” option available in many video interfaces or asking for thumbs-up/thumbs-down feedback from students
  • Teachers can also institute methods to gather regular input and feedback from the children’s caregivers

Will digital-only and blended learning experiences impact how children develop their communication skills?

  • Much of children’s early cognitive development and language acquisition emerges through face-to-face social interaction, in school, on the playground, or at home. This crucial social interaction has been limited during many stages of the pandemic, resulting in children experiencing much less time forming social connections with peers and adults in the learning environment
  • Even though children might be spending less face-to-face time with peers, they are still developing social connections via digital platforms. But those platforms force children to strengthen different social and communication skills than what they may have typically developed through learning and play in person
  • We could predict that children who have experienced sustained remote learning and social isolation during the pandemic might develop into more agile communicators in both digital and face-to-face environments, since they will have been exposed to significantly more situations of digital communication and will have had to adapt to such changes from an early age

Many children already have shorter attention spans and are now also experiencing “video fatigue” with virtual learning. What are some ways this be impacting their language and communication?

  • On video calls, we are more prone to be affected by ‘zooming out’ syndrome, which describes the feeling of fatigue from spending too much time in front of the laptop or screens. This is because more extra attention is required to focus on what’s happening digitally, given that we’re not picking up on natural cues such as body language and eye contact
  • Children can experience the same kind of fatigue as adults and, because they already have a shorter attention span, this means that it’s even more important for virtual learning experiences to be broken up into chunks of activities that vary the type of interaction and thinking required by the students
  • It’s important that younger children take part in hands-on activities, even when those activities are being guided by a teacher via Zoom
  • Variety and shorter chunks of sustained intensity can help to stimulate memory formation and retrieval, which is just as much part of the learning process as listening and speaking

How are children and adults differently equipped to learn language/communication skills?

  • Since we’re now living in the digital age, it really depends on the generation we’re focusing on[RK1] [RK2]
  • The millennial generation (people born between 1980-1996), grew up slowly adapting to technology, from early flip phones and dial up internet, to iPhones and sleek laptops. Technology has continued to accelerate during this period, with this generation eased into adapting
  • Gen Z (1997-2012) have used more improved technology throughout their education and grew up with modern communication devices around them
  • During the pandemic, Generation A (2012-2025), have experienced using technology to learn every day, likely making them “better at technology” than the generations before them, which will serve them well in the future adapting to digital changes
  • The development of digital skills will likely be part of everyday modern life as Generation A become adults, just as phones and the internet are “normal” to us now. For example, coding is now taught in many schools, however coding is considered fairly specialised among millennials, which will vastly change the technology job market in future years

What are some ways parents can help their children develop and strengthen their communication skills when restricted to online learning?

  • With remote online learning likely to continue in some capacity, as children grow up, they will need to adjust their communication styles both online and in person
  • To ensure that children aren’t experiencing video fatigue or burn out, putting in place ‘zoning out’ measures in homes can help children adapt. This could include having a designated area of the living space where no working is permitted, so that children can create psychological distance from school and home, along with taking regular breaks and exercising
  • Since the development of communication skills requires significant social interaction, caregivers can encourage their children to verbalize their feelings, encourage discussion on what they’re learning, asking questions and eliciting as much detail as possible
  • When and where it is safe to do so, children should be allowed to interact with their peers in non-learning contexts, with unstructured and creative play as one of the most effective ways to encourage communication

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