Prioritizing social growth during online learning

Students enrolled in online learning don’t have to miss out on social opportunities—in fact, it’s easier to facilitate balanced social growth than previously believed

Key points:

The expansion of online education has been a real boon for busy parents, teachers, and students. Online learning lets children learn from the comfort of their own homes and gives teachers a chance to set their own schedules.

However, some parents and teachers are worried about the social growth of students who are learning remotely. This is understandable, as some kids who learn online do so alone and only meet their peers via video calls.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for students to foster social connections during online schooling. Kids who are enrolled in online learning can still connect with their peers in virtual breakout rooms and should be given every opportunity to meet up informally during the school day. 

Healthy digital friendships

The average student spends 3 – 4 hours online every day. However, few young people are given the tools they need to form healthy digital friendships. This can be detrimental to the social growth of e-learners who spend even more time on the web.

When discussing healthy web use, parents and teachers should address the topic of social media. Social media can undermine teens’ mental health, as young users of social sites like Instagram and Facebook report higher levels of eating disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

However, talking about social media can be tense. No one likes to be told how to spend their free time and some students may tune out uninformed soapboxing. Learn to talk to students about social media by:

  • Reflecting on one’s own experiences
  • Encouraging introspection by your students
  • Being willing to listen
  • Giving students supportive resources and services

It’s important to remember that many digital friendships are authentically healthy. Encourage students to pursue connections that bring them joy and follow up on digital relationships with in-person get-togethers.

Virtual parties and get-togethers

In-person socialization is important for the emotional and cognitive growth of online learners. However, online schooling can still teach students all the skills they need to make friends and become productive members of society.

Consider hosting a fun virtual party to get the school year started. Encourage students to dress up and send parents tips on how to decorate their children’s learning space. This will build enthusiasm and break the ice amongst online learners.

Virtual parties should support socialization by:

  • Focusing on shared interests: Kids will be more likely to interact if there is a clear theme and purpose. Plan digital activities like web-based scavenger hunts or show-and-tell games.
  • Ensuring inclusivity: Provide digital games that everyone can play. For example, online learners with low vision may benefit from increased time and audio-visual descriptions if they plan on hosting a virtual board game.
  • Encourage imagination: Children love to imagine and pretend play is a great way to boost cognitive development. Plan some remote-role-playing games and encourage students to make use of virtual tabletop software when playing games like Literacy Dice or Luna Uni.

Hosting a virtual party is a great way to build social skills during online learning. The students already know one another thanks to their online education and will be keen to play together online. Just be sure to plan some games based on shared interests and ensure that your materials are accessible. 

If you don’t have time to plan an entire party, simple games like “Simon Says,” charades, and Pictionary are perfect for remote learners. These games also give kids a chance to talk to their peers, because everyone gets a “turn” when playing online. Just be sure to reach out to parents before organizing a scavenger hunt, as some folks may not want their kids to roam around the house in search of scotch tape.

Extracurricular activities

Students enrolled in online learning don’t need to spend all day behind a screen. Breaking up the day with extracurricular activities can boost children’s career opportunities, too. Kids who partake in extracurricular activities outperform their peers and have higher academic aspirations.

Extracurricular activities can break up the monotony of online learning and provide an opportunity to practice social skills, too. As a parent or teacher, encourage your students to participate in things like music recitals, sports teams, and debate clubs. These activities foster social interaction and can give students a chance to meet other people their age.

Students can participate in virtual extracurricular activities, too. Social games like Dungeons and Dragons are perfect for those in online learning, because they can find all the resources they need to play online. Alternatively, kids can be encouraged to create their own virtual book clubs or online internships.

Online learning gives students a chance to learn in a way that suits them. However, some fear that full-time online learning may undermine kids’ social development. Parents and teachers can ensure that all children get the social time they need by organizing extracurricular activities, planning parties, and holding timely discussions about social media.

Related: 5 tips to keep online students motivated

eSchool Media Contributors