An “old school” parenting tactic, somewhat controversial for our times, seems to be more overly beneficial than commonly thought. Could a similar idea be applicable in online learning?
In 2019 the University of Michigan published the result of a longitudinal study following 1,400 families for over 7 years. On the question on whether “time-outs” —mandating the child to stop or stay quiet— affect the long-term relationship with the parents, or their recidivism, evidence suggest similar effectiveness to other methods, but lower displays of aggression, anxiety and depressive behavior compared to physical punishment.
It is easy to understand how a time-out has a lower negative behavioral impact than more hands-on methods. But until now, parents still wondered if the practice by itself was positive. The researchers are the first to clarify that the study does not prove irrefutable evidence. It is observational and lacks desirable elements of more rigorous experiments.
It does, however, emphasizes on the role these tactics make, and key elements that should be present in the time out, in such a way that the experience is “desirable.” (Scientifically defined as not inducing of undesirable feelings or reactions.) And that over the long run it actually influences behavior. Some of these elements, the researchers suggest, include:
- Show of calmness on the parental figure side as they instruct the time-out. Never shout.
- Consistency in the cause-effect relationship. The child should be able to predict the kind of behavior that would lead to the time-out.
- Similarly, ideas about the time-out as “punishment” or “arbitrary” should be removed, as so should any association with impulsive authority. Clear rules and explanation of how the time-out works and what triggers it is always beneficial.
- A benign environment. While the child should not enjoy it, it should never lead to any kind of physical or psychological harm.
- Opportunity to engage, talk and bond once the time-out is over.
In conclusion: Properly framed, time-outs can be learning experiences with high impact.
If the time-outs do not have the expected result in behavioral change, seeking professional assistance could be the next step. Increasing the aggressiveness is never the right escalation.
Time-outs in online learning
Cases where it could be a good idea to “time-out” a student usually fall within these categories:
- In social learning contexts, the student behaves in ways that make other participants feel uncomfortable or unsafe beyond tolerable levels. Conflict is, to a point, a natural element of social learning. The time-out works when the user crosses a line.
- The student is “misusing” the platform. What an improper use represents (beyond the previous bullet) can be difficult to point out, and it depends on the context and pedagogical baseline.
Generally speaking, do not use time-outs as preventive measures.
Just like in the physical version, the time-out needs to balance the desire to effect behavioral change with excessive feelings of isolation, frustration or inadequacy.
In other to make your online time-out work, keep the following tips in mind.
- Explain the reason behind the time-out with as much clarity as possible. The causality must be simple to understand for the student.
- Focus on actions and behavior, not character. Do not apply blame or character judgements. If it helps, take advantage of “growth mindset” language.
- You can prevent the student access to certain parts of the experience, or prevent access altogether. During the time-out, suggest other activities (virtual and physical).
- If possible, the time-out can include places on the internet and apps beyond the LMS or learning experience.
A time-out isn’t a punishment, and it is supposed to help behavior and performance. Under no circumstance it should put them at a disadvantage against their peers.
Many mobile applications today offer the ability to block your access to your device in the hopes that it will increase your focus. They seem paradoxical and raise questions about autonomy and self-control. On the other hand, there is no evidence that they work. In any case, proponents of limits to screen time offer some arguments, with varying degrees of scientific support.
- Just like in any intellectual task, processing power and attention deplete after a given time.
- With digital tools, this raises eye health and ergonomic issues.
- From an IT manager perspective, limiting the unproductive use of resources can have financial benefits at no expense (often to a benefit) of educational outcomes.
- Depending on how the platform is designed, pop-ups and notifications could be a disservice to the learning experience, from a nuisance to a critical factor in mental issues such as anxiety and attention deficit.
- Back to the issue of social learning, an experiment with surgery teams at Thomas Jefferson University suggests that “team time-outs,” or periods of time where members do not have to meet and work, can have positive effects on long-term team building and productivity.