Live learning versus online learning

Chris Simes1

Chris Simes is Managing Director of Collingwood Learning, a creative educational company that work with young people and adults on social and developmental issues. The Smashed Project ( is an alcohol education project that is live in 25 countries worldwide and has reached 900,000 young people. Real Safeguarding Stories ( is a tool for professionals to deliver safeguarding training across the UK. Collingwood Learning won Education Exporter of the Year at the ERA Awards 2020, and the Best Partnership Category at the LGC Awards 2019.

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As someone who has traditionally used live and creative methods for teaching young people - such as theatre in education - I wondered if I should be the first in the queue to rail against the insidious rise of online learning.

How can online learning possibly replace an interactive learning experience between real people? Maybe to see technology as an enemy is to miss the point and misunderstand the potential uses of online. Actually, it should be a love affair. Live engagement brings all the benefits we are already aware of: flexibility, responsiveness, immediacy, and relationship building, kinaesthetic learning, the list goes on. But online learning brings much more too – sustainability, reach, economies of scale, connecting with the world beyond, and the ability to store, record, and measure.

So why should we consider these things polar opposites? What if they were perfect partners?

I have looked with interest at some of the work being done at the Khan Academy in the US – in a trial with a school, the online videos were used at home by students to gather the knowledge on a particular subject, and then the actual lesson time was spent far more interactively on project work – applying the learning. Here the traditional learning model was turned upside down, with great results. This to me is an example of using live and online well.

Another example is where schools have supplied iPads to every student and the result is that students are using a medium for learning which is attractive for them, but also has superb benefits for staff. No more piles of books and planners, and teachers are able to record and share information far more simply and freely. Results to tests are immediate, resources permanently available, and assessment is quicker. Maybe this vision has got up front costs now, but won’t it save time and money in the medium to long term? Time and money is saved to maximise quality interaction in the classroom.

Theatre in education is another example. I am sure you enjoy having companies coming into the school, delivering live performances and workshops with students, often on PSHE related topics. They work on emotionally engaging students and making a topic memorable. But you will also know that one play doesn’t make a learning experience, and it can be frustrating when opportunities for follow up are lost. Yes, the live experience is great, but why not add to it using social media (where appropriate) for evaluation, debate, games and activities, advice and support? Students can stay actively involved with the project online, and participate in activities which further embed the messages, over time. Web-based teaching resources using performance clips to follow up enable schools to capitalise on the visit and integrate the event into the curriculum in a far more interactive way.

So, in my experience, it’s only really now that we are finding ways of utilising online learning effectively, which actually enhance the live experience. Like my own life, online is great when helping me connect with others more easily, learn, or save time. It helps me get more out of my real ‘live’ life. So, rather than seeing online as being a threat to that valuable face to face time, we need to ask ourselves ‘how can online add value to it?’

Apparently divergent thinking is the big thing we need to be developing in young people. Well, a bit of divergent thinking on using technology seems to be making opposites attract.

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