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Learning by doing: How you can make distance learning work

Digital learning is frustrating and new for many of us. A Minnesota expert has some tips to get it right.

MINNEAPOLIS — As millions of students turn to e-learning this fall, you’re bound to hear plenty of frustration from parents: it’s impersonal, inefficient or maybe even ineffective. But according to a Minnesota expert, that's because most organizations aren’t using it right.

Dr. Michael Allen, a pioneer in the digital learning field and CEO of Twin Cities-based Allen Interactions, joined KARE 11 to talk about digital learning -- a method that's brand new to many students and teachers alike. 

"Most of what we’ve seen so far have been fill-in-the-gap measures that have been all over the place," Allen said. "And these simply aren’t working."

The new form of learning leaves many students feeling unmotivated. But for Allen, there are ways to fix that.

"The best kind of e-learning or training simulates real-world experiences through what we call 'learning by doing,'" he said.

That means emphasizing active problem-solving and learning from mistakes. Allen Interactions has a simulation for bus drivers that asks drivers to make decisions on virtual routes - just like they would in real life. The drivers get warnings and even have simulated consequences, like the virtual bus being hit. 

RELATED: How to set your kids up for distance learning success

Simulations like that are a lot to ask from teachers who've just started with remote learning. But Allen said there's simpler ways to start. 

  • Building an online activity for students to team up on before or after a Zoom session.
  • Adding a link within a Zoom call and asking students to complete an activity, then come back to the group call and talk about their experience.
  • Challenging students by letting them see what they can already do and then provide feedback and coaching.

Allen said he thinks the digital learning field is going to grow, and it's time to lean in. 

"People’s response to the much of the impersonal learning they’re using this year highlights the importance of getting this right, that we need to better plan ahead for digital instruction that’s worth our time and energy," he said.