Schools should look at splitting the day into two so blended learning can be incorporated on an ongoing basis, according to expert analysis that envisages the end of the traditional classroom.

Keith Topping, professor of educational and social research at Dundee University, said the shift would mean radical change for pupils, staff and parents, but insisted it was worth considering after major research indicated it could help secure better learning outcomes.

He also stressed it would be a loss to allow online and digital teaching skills developed during the pandemic to wither through simple reversion to conventional methods following the reopening of schools.

Collaborating with a team of fellow researchers, Prof Topping carried out in-depth analysis of hundreds of international studies and established the vast majority (85 per cent) had found digital technology to be better than traditional classroom instruction in boosting pupil attainment.

The data also indicates blended learning is “considerably” more effective than approaches that deliver entire programmes of work and study online.

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“We were pretty surprised by it because we went into it expecting that the research literature would show somewhat higher effectiveness than schools and teachers were reporting to us on an everyday basis as they desperately scrambled to implement blended and online learning at very short notice – but we were indeed very surprised by the size of that difference,” Prof Topping told The Herald.

“What’s interesting is that blended learning comes out as more effective than online learning. And the question then is, what aspects of blended learning work better in a digital environment than they do in a face-to-face classroom, and what aspects of teaching and learning need to be in a face-to-face classroom?

“That’s the question that teachers should be asking themselves: how much of what I’m doing would be as effective in a digital environment and how much of what I’m doing could not really be done effectively in a digital environment and needs to be done on a face-to-face basis?”

Prof Topping said education bosses and teachers might wish to experiment with a system of having pupils learn at home or in the public library during the morning, with consolidation activities and discussion held at school in the afternoon. He also argued that regular autonomous study offered important a advantages, particularly when providing new information and content.

HeraldScotland: Prof Topping feels the skills developed in delivering online learning should, now schools have reopened, not be lost through simple reversion to “what we always did before”. Prof Topping feels the skills developed in delivering online learning should, now schools have reopened, not be lost through simple reversion to “what we always did before”.

“[In a digital/remote set-up] what you’ve got is kids who, by and large, are on their own,” he said.

“They’re not distracted by the presence of other kids. They don’t need to be distracted by the presence of other kids because their focus needs to be entirely on the information that’s being presented through the teacher, directly to them.”

However, Prof Topping acknowledged blended learning would create challenges for pupils who are disadvantaged in terms of access to digital devices and the internet, or who have a tendency to procrastinate.

“If they’re not getting a degree of parental support or supervision or, perhaps, supervision from an elder sibling, and they’re just sitting at home and not bothering to turn the computer on, then you’ve got an issue there,” he said.

“One of the things [schools] would need to do if they’re going to implement blended learning in the longer term is to take into account those kids who don’t have access to devices or the internet and make some alternative provision in school, which is not class teaching but which is simply access to computers. And [they would also] need to look at these kids who are more prone to procrastination and essentially say, well, digital learning at home is a privilege... So if you can’t use it successfully, I’m afraid you’re going to have to come into school.”

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Prof Topping said a similar but flipped arrangement could work at nurseries and early years settings.

“If I was running a nursery, I might be inclined to say, let’s get the kids in for face to face learning in the morning [when they function better and] so they can get the peer interaction and teacher interaction, and [then] let’s give them activities they can pursue at home with or without their parents... but certainly with the aid of computers,” he said.

Prof Topping added that any longer term shift towards blended learning would have huge implications for teacher training providers and parents.

“Is it possible for local communities to develop arrangements for one parent to look after several sets of children one day and another parent to look after several sets another day?” he said.

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“Does it need to be thought about in a different way than just individual parents looking after their own children?

“What we have here is the issue of the childcare function of schools. And many parents, if pressed to it, would have to agree that they’re quite happy for schools to be looking after their kids for a large part of each day, irrespective of whether they’re learning anything or not. Now blended learning, of course, to some extent takes that away. So there may be a need to look for some kind of alternative in a fairly creative way.”