Assessing what we've learned about remote learning post-pandemic will help us offer students the best possible learning experience

2 years after COVID, remote learning lessons are clear

Assessing what we've learned about remote learning post-pandemic will help us offer students the best possible learning experience

A recent study by Curriculum Associates found that other factors beyond remote learning may have been responsible for slowing academic achievement during the pandemic. In particular, the study indicated that the pandemic may have simply exacerbated existing inequities in education, with students of color and those from low-income households most likely to fall further behind. As a result of our experience at FTE over the past two years, we believe virtual learning can be a partial solution to, rather than a cause of, these issues. 

Because virtual education is less wedded to specific geographic areas and time blocks during the day, students don’t need to be physically present on a strict schedule in order to engage with educational content. This can benefit students and families with irregular routines or distance-related challenges. At FTE, we found that virtual tools allowed us to serve more students and teachers from across the country, which has created a fuller and more diverse student body, thanks to reduced travel costs. 

Another COVID-related challenge over the past two years relates to student attendance: many schools have reported an increase in dropouts and no-shows among virtual students. However, our experience at FTE tells a different story. Our attrition since COVID-19 began has been less than 1.5 percent. Of the 888 students who enrolled in our most recent virtual economics courses, only 12 dropped out.

It’s also important to note that not all remote learning is created equal. In order for virtual learning to match the in-person experience, instructors must use technology creatively and engage learners in new ways. When done right, our experience at FTE shows that virtual education is a credible option. The proof is in our enrollment numbers; since we started offering separate in-person and virtual-only programs this year, we’ve seen interest in both programs. Teachers have gravitated to online instruction in our professional development programs in significant numbers, with 161 virtual enrollees and 77 for in-person. For our Summer 2022 student programs, we currently have 68 virtual enrollees and 241 for in-person. In other words, students aren’t abandoning the virtual model as soon as the in-person alternative returns, as many believed they would.

Now that K-12 schools and universities have invested in virtual education for two years and made it a critical part of their COVID-era curricula, I believe it will remain fundamental to the American educational experience into the future. The toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube, so it’s important to get virtual education right. While it isn’t a panacea, our experience shows that virtual education is a viable option and can help mitigate certain pre-existing inequities in education.

As the Class of 2022 nears graduation this spring, I hope parents and teachers will keep an open mind about the potential benefits of virtual education and continue to fine-tune it for the Class of 2023 and beyond.

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