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Home-based Learning as a Re-invented Approach to our Education Advancement

Dr Mak Wai Keong, Oliver Tian

Dr Mak Wai Keong (CEO, Edtrix Solutions and Edtrix Innovations Pte Ltd, and Member of APARA), and Mr. Oliver Tian (Founder of Oliver Tian Associates and the Honorary Advisor to APARA)

Home-Based Learning (HBL) is having the student to learn at home.  HBL comprises a combination of:

  • E-learning (e.g., online assignments through appropriate media);
  • Student Learning Space (SLS) or other online learning platforms;
  • E-collaboration (e.g., notes or worksheets through emails); and
  • Progressive Assessments.

The implementation of HBL has revealed some fundamental flaws, noticeably, the time, space, and conflicting priorities of the HBL-WFH (Work-From-Home) combination.  The lack of content and manpower, and pedagogical preparedness were lessons identified in the wake of SARS.  However, there was a lukewarm follow-up that cause the same issues to re-surface today.

HBL is a decisive response to continual learning for the students in the current health crisis, and Singaporeans are thankful to the MOE leadership.  Despite their best efforts, many have taken to social media to air their grievances.  One notable complaint is that the adopted Learning Management System can only work on the computer.  For tablet or mobile device users, they need separate apps installed to complete the assignments.  Virtual keyboards become “virtually” useless on these devices, causing parents to snap up the cheaper laptops and Bluetooth keyboards at stores island-wide.

Parents on WFH, also have to juggle with a colossal of tasks: dealing with family matters, performing housework, preparing daily meals, and most importantly, office work.  For those with children, they assume the role of “home teacher” to their children in the same space and time.  It did not help when HBL instructions were send through different channels, with some having conflicting instructions via emails, phone messages, the Parents’ gateway, and Class Dojo systems.  

Besides, children tend to switch to YouTube or other sites if unsupervised.  Further, security breeches with online platforms and tools were also discovered within the first week of deployment. Conclusively, parents are struggling, both physically and mentally, in their convoluted “new” role.  WFH parents with a few schooling children or toddlers having no children care support will not be able to fulfill their job duties.  Teachers, who are parents themselves, have to deal with HBL of their students and their own children concurrently.

A Remedy for the Short Term

What can we do to remedy the situation in the short term?

The assumption that a trainer who trains in a face-to-face setting will be able to train as effectively in an online environment is an exaggeration.  The assumption that a learner who learns excellently in a face-to-face situation will excel in an online learning environment is untrue too.  Even for adult learners, studies done on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have seen completion rates of less than one percent, let alone the passing rate for these online courses.

The Framework of e-Learning developed by the first author, looks at CCA, an acronym for Content, Collaboration, and Assessment, respectively.

Apart from subscribing to existing content by vendors, educators can easily re-purpose existing content by providing voice-explained slides, splicing the slides into manageable chunks (6-10 slides per lesson), converting them into an online interactive format using special software.  Some educators are already delivering live lessons through video conferencing tools.

Another approach to content delivery is to re-invent the pedagogy by leveraging on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic technologies. As the Socratic method enables learning through a questioning–and-answering process, the use of chatbots and deep learning will enhance this learning experience.  

The second “C” is Collaboration, referring to online discussion based on the Constructivism approach.  It is wilful to assume learners will know how to “discuss effectively” in an online environment.  Students must be aware of their roles as participants, and trained moderators to dictate the “rules-of-engagement” to create and manage a productive online discussion.  

“A” is for Assessment.  It uses the revised Bloom’s taxonomy by pairing the six levels of assessment objectives: Remember &  Understand, Apply & Analyse,  and Evaluate & Create.  For instance, if the aim is to ensure the learners know the elements in the periodic table, you can have multiple-choice-questions (MCQ) to test their recall of the properties of the elements.  Learning analytics will help teachers to appreciate better the strength and weaknesses of the students.

A Remedy in the Long Term

In Singapore, the Smart Nation Office has announced five National AI Projects that will deliver economic and social impact for the country and its citizens.  One of them focuses on “Personalised Education through Adaptive Learning and Assessment,” comprises three initiatives.

The first is an Automated Essay Grading that will be implemented by 2022.  MOE is currently evaluating two potential solutions.  

The second initiative is on Adaptive Learning and Assessment.  It means students will get a personalized learning experience tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.   Adaptive assessment can use AI, Big Data analytics, as well as Item-Response Theory and statistical modeling, to better engage and measure students’ ability.  

The third initiative is the Learning Companion. Each student will have a virtual partner as they learn, helping them to develop a growth mindset and nurture the joy of learning.  Presently, there is a challenge for a Proof-Of-Concept  to develop a digital learning companion on the Open Innovation Platform that is managed by Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore.


The introduction of an innovation or technology may face initial hiccups and resistance to its adoption.  Though in its infancy, the HBL exercise has opened the Pandora Box that learning from an alternative location other than at school may be a viable option.  Will we change to a 4-day week, where parents and children work and learn from home, collectively? If so, we will see more innovative HBL approaches be adopted, as well as radical or evolutional changes to working from home.

Amid the hype, there must be a proper balance in pedagogy and technology – finding the balance point is crucial and sometimes elusive.  In the aftermath of the pandemic, when normalcy prevails, will we resort to taking a back-seat, as seen in the wake of SARs?  We have to learn the lesson from this pandemic and to move ahead in bold and innovative, but calculated steps.  

Millennials do learn differently; the school system has not kept pace to massive adoption of innovative learning approaches suited for the new generations – we are still much at the didactic mode with variants and shades of active learning.  However so, if the method of assessment for high stake examinations (PSLE, GCE “O” and GCE “A” Levels) does not change; we are very much stuck in the way we teach and learn; even though pockets of innovative teaching methods peppered the school teaching and learning landscape with varying degree of success.

It is probably too soon to throw in the towels, without giving time for things to settle down.  If we can brave through these challenging times, this resilience may change the paradigm of learning, where HBL becomes the norm of learning in Singapore and the rest of the World.  

“Fight on, parents and children. Singapore, you can do it!”

Dr Mak Wai Keong will be sharing his considerations of how technology can be augmented to support the next generation of home-based learning in his presentation during the upcoming AIBotics 2020 Conference.  More details can be found on the website:

AIBotics 2020 is a 2-Day Conference and Exhibition in August 2020 with the theme “Augmenting the Human Potential.”  AI in Robotics has its footholds across a wide spectrum of industries and applications.   The conference brings together world-class speakers, thought leaders & end-users in the industry, as well as innovative solution providers.  Workshops and tutorials for hands-on learning experiences by experts are available on a third day.

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