Back to school: ODU expert shares benefits and concerns of ‘learning pods’


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As students head back to school Tuesday, some parents are opting to create “learning pods” or small groups.

Group sizes range from 2-7 students, and someone such as a nanny, college student or family friend is hired to instruct the class. Learning pods have always been around, however they have become more popular during the coronavirus pandemic with virtual learning.

The benefits of a small learning group include more structure, according to Jody Sommerfeldt, the ODU undergraduate program director for elementary education.

“You really can have an individualized education for your child as they are moving through the curriculum of the public school.“

She adds pods help build teamwork, empathy and social skills.

“Those opportunities for socialization are one of the biggest benefits that we see. We know that talking and interacting with other children is a critical part of the learning process for students of all ages pre-K all the way through high school. Allowing the socialization and students to construct that knowledge together is one of the biggest benefits of being in a learning pod.”

However, trends show lower class families may not have the same resources available, especially if the parents work.

“We’re seeing some equity issues in learning pods because they tend to be organized by more affluent families. Those students that are under resourced financially, are not really being included and having the opportunities to join those types of learning pods.”

The concern with learning pods is equity.

“From an equity perspective that’s a bit of a concern, are we actually widening the gap with learning pods, as opposed to being inclusive in and finding ways to to allow mixtures of races and socioeconomic levels into pods.”

Sommerfeldt is proud of divisions for providing technology resources and training for teachers. She is worried about students that do not have support at home.

“We still recognize equity issues are still going to exist. In some cases where some young learners, don’t have a parent, guardian an older sibling that might be able to help them troubleshoot through some of the technological issues. The student may be willing and wanting to be in that place and to learn but cannot overcome the technical issues that might arise.”

ODU Darden college students are studying and researching more ways to assist local teachers.

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