How Can Flexible Online Learning Benefits Mothers

Over the last few years, huge numbers of American women (more than half) have left the workforce. About 10 million of these women, in the last decade, have taken on a job they love, and both went back to school to do it.

How Can Flexible Online Learning Benefits Mothers

A recent working paper by Kate Burrington and Jenny Smith published in the American Economic Review examines how child-like activities that are common in child-rearing and in-home parenting actually can benefit the cognition of children. The research combines findings from two studies looking at the effect of online learning on child’s verbal recall, memory and co-occurring computational capabilities in adults. The two studies have estimated the cumulative costs of residential and in-home intensive parenting over the course of 10 years.

Amongst US adults, the study examined six common activities, including playing games, playing sports, knitting, sewing, gardening and taking up knitting, as well as those in which such activities were mimicked at home through online learning. The first study compared 16 participants aged 15 to 24 who engaged in at least one of the activities with 20 participants aged 16 to 39 who did not engage in any of these activities. The study’s authors asked the 20 participants to answer a series of tests of language recall to measure their verbal performance. The teens did better on average but the women’s performance was actually lower on average. In the second study, the researchers recruited 100 adults aged 18 to 46 and compared them with those who did not engage in any of the behaviors in order to measure how people developed computational abilities. The study’s authors asked the same group of participants to interact online with 50 children aged between three and eight, and they were asked how long it took for them to complete the tasks.

Child-like activities are common across many human societies. For example, in West Africa and Australia’s Aboriginal community, women playfully are called “kitchen help” and “poppy girls.” Child-like cognitive skills not only contribute to better cognition but can also provide the foundation for more complex strategies. After interviews with adults who took part in the studies the authors found that those who viewed online education could discern that learning was a pursuit enjoyed by adults and children. They have gone on to describe their findings as evidence for the notion that learning and child-like activities can be shared across generations.

Conducting research on child-like activities, coupled with traditional in-home parenting, is novel as it attempts to probe why some people have a better memory for tasks performed under child-like contexts versus those performed in environments that are very different.

This study has implications for the processes of early learning and English Language development. Following the British NHS’s National Curriculum, it is not unheard of to see two year olds sitting in groups learning reading. Older children in primary schools read to younger children in middle school. There are almost 65 countries that use National Curriculum. English learners may also move outside the classes they are attending. However, child-like interventions like horseback riding, robotics, tai chi and role play may not raise the cognitive abilities of English learners. The authors note that it may be worth exploring whether such interventions are needed to increase cognitive abilities and teach languages in different environments.

Other researchers might also suggest the idea that learning may be more efficient through child-like activities in optimal environments, and in better ways than they do now. If this is the case, then it may be well to think about investing in the broader learning environment across contexts to give children and young adults the best chance to acquire the skills they need. Even better than this, it might also make sense to invest in new approaches to educational outreaches.

Charles McArthur is an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Washington. This article originally appeared on his blog, Teaching Engineering. He also blogs on teaching engineering.

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