One of the newest trends in education, learning pods have taken schools by storm this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept came from Maureen O’Shaughnessy, Ed.D., who published the book Creating Micro-Schools for Colorful Mismatched Kids in 2019. Her idea grew in popularity during the pandemic as a way to create a unique learning environment for students with a more personalized educational structure.
What are Learning Pods?
Learning pods, also known as micro-schools or pandemic pods, are an in-person option for K-12 students to learn in a small group with a teacher or tutor. These learning pods are designed to help students adjust to remote learning with their peers, giving parents the freedom to focus on work. It enhances independent learning while offering the support that students need in an academic environment, providing an effective solution for parents who are unable to help their children learn from home or don’t feel comfortable sending them back to school full-time.
Under the supervision of a parent or a teacher, students follow a curriculum and meet at someone’s home or outdoors for an agreed-upon number of hours per week. Parents can purchase online curriculum modules and order supplemental materials to support learning, such as headphones and wipes explicitly created for the classroom.
Learning Support vs. Self-Directed
There are two different types of learning pods: support and self-directed. Learning support pods are where students stay enrolled in a public, private, or charter school, but come together under parental supervision to learn and do their schoolwork online. It can take place at one person’s house or rotate between houses.
Self-directed pods are more in line with homeschools. A teacher or tutor is hired to meet with a small group of students and is responsible for creating the curriculum following district standards and state regulations. Parents can be the teacher or put together their resources to hire an instructor. Students no longer attend a traditional school, but their parents become fully responsible for their education.
Certain schools are also creating school-run learning pods where selected students can continue their education in a classroom environment with their grade-level. Each cohort is assigned a district staff member who stays with the same students for most of the day, while the school staff continues to work normally.
These learning pods require students to meet in person, which can have several mental health benefits.
Mental Health Benefits
One of the most significant effects of full remote distance-learning is depression from being physically isolated from other students. Social interactions are important for children and adolescents to build their self-esteem, mental health, and social development. Cooperative learning, where students work together, also increases important communication, teamwork, and empathic skills.
Though group projects are still assigned in distance-learning, working together in-person has a different effect on students and how they understand non-verbal language. Specifically, for young children, social play is vital for them to build foundational social skills. Learning pods allow students to be physically part of a community and mingle with other students in a safely controlled group.
Learning pods can also decrease students’ stress and anxiety when it comes to their education. With remote learning, everything is done over the computer, which causes technology fatigue and stress from looking at the screen all day. Technology is also not always reliable, and any technical issues can make students feel anxious about their grades or dynamic with their teacher. They may also feel like they don’t have anyone to turn to for help. When students meet in person, they can talk through academic or technical issues and solve problems together or with their in-person teacher or tutor. This can help lower their stress and anxiety because they know they can ask for help from someone who is physically present and invested in their learning.
With students who struggle academically, learning pods are incredibly beneficial because they can have a more self-directed learning experience. Though students are still expected to learn independently, tutors or teachers can pay more attention to the specific needs of the kids in a smaller group. For those kids who require more help or attention with a particular subject, teachers can meet their needs and keep track of their academic and mental health more closely. Having a structured routine in a physical environment will help students learn better as well. It helps separate their home and school time, allowing them to feel like they aren’t constantly in an academic environment.
The purpose of the learning pod can vary between communities, but the bottom line is supporting your child’s learning in the best possible way during this difficult situation. Connecting kids with other students in-person can have a tremendously positive effect on them as they meet academic goals set by parents and schools. Ultimately, learning pods are a great alternative way to help keep your child on track with their education, encourage their social life, and support their mental health.