What is Missing Via Virtual Learning? Eye Contact

Expert stresses that children benefit from the physiological connection that comes from making eye contact.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Although governments, businesses and schools are beginning the process of bringing people back into the buildings they left behind at the outset of the pandemic in spring 2020, there are still millions of people participating in the “new normal” all across the country – working and learning remotely.

With respect to children, there is a subtle social skill that those who are enrolled in virtual learning are missing out on – eye contact.

“Keeping kids engaged in a virtual world is really difficult,” said Paul Gilford, CEO and Executive Director of Project CLASS, a Texas-based nonprofit. CLASS is an acronym that stands for Children Learning Appropriate Social Skills.

Eye contact makes a major difference in helping students to maintain focus and learning readiness, according to Gilford, who points to tech issues, distractions, and the logistics of the virtual learning setup as multiple reasons why establishing eye contact online is nearly impossible.

“There is something that happens in the hardwiring that actually, physiologically, neuronally occurs with eye contact,” Gilford said. “So, that does not happen in the virtual world. Even if I am looking at you there is not a physiological connection with the brain wiring that creates the linkage, so what ends up happening is there are consequences.”

Project CLASS has produced a series of free, instructional videos on this subject. The videos are geared toward kids, parents, and schools and can be found here.

Gilford stressed that when trying to get the attention of their children, parents at home should first ask for their eye contact before giving any important instruction. In return, Gilford said that parents should commit to eye contact if their children are the ones who initiate it.

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