The global pandemic is shining a white-hot spotlight on the need for personalized, blended learning in an uncertain educational environment

4 ways schools are successfully pivoting to remote learning

The global pandemic is shining a white-hot spotlight on the need for personalized, blended learning in an uncertain educational environment

Spring 2020 was a real learning period for schools that had never used remote learning before. Call it a baptism by fire, if you will, but seemingly overnight, nearly every institution nationwide had to make a quick shift to online instruction.

The approaches varied by geography and by the schools themselves. Some districts missed their own deadlines for getting everyone enabled and connected in the spring, while others didn’t even have phone numbers for their parents.

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Other schools were more prepared, with most of them already having 1:1 and blended learning in place prior to COVID. Students, parents, and teachers were already familiar with the online programs and all of the connectivity issues were solved in advance. This made the transition easier for these schools and allowed them to more immediately focus on instructional needs of their students.

Easing the transition

To help ease schools’ transition to online learning, many companies began offering free, unlimited access to current customers or to all teachers and students. Many of these districts and schools literally went “lights out” one afternoon in March, thinking they’d be back in the classroom in a few weeks.

That, of course, didn’t happen. Even today, many of those schools are still not back on campus. This put districts in the unique position of having to provide education to students off campus, and to ensure those kids have equitable access and other tools they need to be able to focus on their learning goals.

Districts also had to rethink their students’ social-emotional connections, knowing that they couldn’t just go “strictly digital” and not have any interaction with those kids. (I taught first grade many years ago and still vividly remember the connections I had with my class).

To support those connections, create an engaging learning experience, and make the successful pivot to online learning now and in the future, districts should focus on these four steps:

1. Personalize the learning. If there’s one positive outcome from all of this, it’s the fact that personalized learning has become a central focus for many schools and teachers. We know that teachers weren’t going to be able to recreate an exact 6-hour school day in the remote environment but using digital tools they could effectively personalize the learning experience for their students. For example, some are using small groups on Zoom to target groups of students who have specific learning needs. Where that may not have always happened in the physical classroom, grouping the class and addressing key points with specific students is very feasible in the digital universe.

2. Make it flexible. Flexibility is key. Even if a district has gone back to 100 percent in-classroom learning—or staggered their weeks by being in class Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and then home on Tuesdays and Thursdays—they’re still going to need agile, flexible educational approaches. Should a wave of COVID impact the district and require remote learning again, for instance, teachers need to be ready to meet that challenge. Regardless of the environment, teachers will have to be able to seamlessly transition from being in a physical room with their students, to being in a remote environment (and still being ‘present’ for students). The students (and their parents/caregivers) need to be equally as flexible and open to these arrangements during this time of uncertainty.

3. Rethink traditional testing. Assessment capabilities are important in a world where we may not have traditional state testing. In the online learning environment, it’s smart to choose a program that includes innovative assessment capabilities. Embedded assessment without testing captures every click of the mouse or tap of the iPad, and then helps analyze and aggregate the performance level of the student. More importantly, it can help identify skills gaps and allows teachers to intervene and help as needed. This ability to assess, identify skills gaps, and then close those gaps for these students is crucial for preventing “COVID slide,” which may have compounded the annual “summer slide,” and to make sure these issues don’t have a cumulative effect that will impact students for years to come.

4. Eliminate programs that don’t work. The number of educational technology tools available on the market is staggering, but not all of them live up to expectations or promises made. A lot are being offered at bargain-basement prices right now thanks to COVID and the fact that schools are buying more online learning tools. The bottom line is that no district can afford to waste the time, effort, and/or financial investment in a program that doesn’t work. Students and teachers have enough on their plates right now, and they need programs that have been proven to close gaps in short time periods.

Measuring the impacts

Technology tools for literacy should support learning, close skills gaps, assess performance and help students at all levels—not just struggling readers. Knowing that all kids are going to experience some sort of learning loss due to this unprecedented event, districts should be taking steps to ensure smooth transitions from in-classroom to remote learning (and vice-versa).

Getting the right balance isn’t going to be easy, but we’re hopeful for the 2020-21 school year because there are both pros and cons that have come out of this experience. Overall, the idea of personalized learning and allowing the students to learn at their own pace and path—all while engaging with the teacher and their peers—is going to be really impactful for this generation of students.

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