The COVID-19 pandemic brought immense changes to our everyday lives, especially in the way our children learn. For many students, success did not come easy due to several factors, including a school’s inexperience with online and blended learning, inadequate teacher training and student lack of familiarity with digital learning.
At the same time, schools and teachers with experience and an understanding of online or blended learning were able to move to instruction and student learning remotely. Many wondered about the impact on school systems around the country. With more schools moving to add virtual learning options, teachers, administrators, students and parents are beginning to adjust to new options in education.
Will some of these changes stick around? Education in a post-pandemic world must embrace the advantages of online instruction. It is very important for districts to truly reflect on what worked and what did not as we look to the future. This presents an opportunity to reimagine what schools will look like in the future and evolve so students get the most rewards from virtual learning.
If there’s one thing that students appreciated about virtual learning this past year, it’s the flexibility. Students can choose from a variety of remote learning types, including:
- Hybrid: A portion of the instruction is online but also includes traditional, face-to-face instruction.
- Blended: Integrates online learning into the traditional in-person instructional setting.
- Online: A series of structured learning engagements aligned to standards and delivered over the internet that allow learners to demonstrate mastery of a defined skill set.
Flexibility is key when it comes to remote learning, and each remote learning option offers that. Teachers may distribute assignments on Mondays and provide a recommended schedule for completion, but learning is planned over multiple days to allow students to move at their own pace. To be successful, distance learning makes allowances for disruptions outside the student’s control.
Remote learning can be achieved through partnerships with supplemental programs that specialize in virtual learning and utilize online learning best practices.
The Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, an association of some of the most innovative virtual programs in the U.S., is supporting school districts by:
- Becoming the virtual option for a district that is not designing its own program, enabling students to enroll with a virtual program for courses and remain a student of the local district;
- Supporting districts with infrastructure, courses and professional learning to help develop their own virtual option; and
- Continuing to offer supplemental virtual courses.
A study by Rand Corp., a nonprofit research organization, found that about 2 in 10 school systems are adopting virtual schools or considering the idea. Having quality virtual instruction helps students learn skills for the workforce and become a contributing citizen in an everchanging society. The pandemic shows us that fully virtual or hybrid options are possible. Bringing in partners who provide high-quality, long-term online solutions can be an effective way to supplement local offerings and bring success.
Asynchronous learning is a form of learning that does not require interaction with others to occur at the same time. Students access information, demonstrate what they’ve learned, and communicate with classmates and instructors on their own schedule. This provides a more flexible range of times when other participants may not be actively present in the same moment and proves successful when course design is implemented properly.
Instructional design standards set apart high-quality online environments from digital tools in the classroom. An instructional designer coordinates the design and creation of efficient, effective, and engaging courses and interactives in conjunction with a subject matter expert. This helps create more structured learning methods, not the emergency remote tactics that we’ve seen being used throughout the past year.
There are six standards the online teacher curates and creates to ensure success among students, according to the National Standards for Quality Learning. These standards are:
- Designing learning experiences that use technology to efficiently engage learners
- Using a formative approach to lesson design
- Incorporating diverse media into online learning modules
- Incorporating subject-specific and developmentally appropriate digital learning resources
- Continuously reviewing and aligning all course content with applicable course objects and standards
- Creating, selecting and organizing appropriate assignments and assessments to align curricular content with associated standards-based learning goals.
With the prevalence of emergency remote learning this past year, asynchronous learning is becoming widely known among parents and school districts. Other advantages of asynchronous learning are:
- Students can move through content at a pace that works for them. They may revisit content they did not understand, giving time for more questions or moving through lessons they have already mastered.
- Students do not have to be in a classroom seat at a certain time.
- Taking courses not offered locally especially CTE, AP or other courses of interest.
- Some asynchronous programs are scheduled-asynchronous, allowing students flexibility but within established deadlines that help the students stay on track and move forward.
This type of learning is advantageous for students as well as teachers and staff for training and professional development.
Some teachers were not prepared for the abrupt shift to emergency remote learning caused by the pandemic. Whether hybrid or full virtual learning continues, faculty will need ongoing training to provide students with the best education experience. Training provides the skills and literacy to build a new skill set for virtual instruction.
Skills and pedagogy practices are needed for new learning environments for teachers to support learning and facilitate presence. With the NSQ Online Teaching standards, teachers can embrace the importance of personalizing instruction by incorporating tools and resources to support individualized learner needs, communication, collaboration, interaction and more.
The National Standards for Quality (NSQ) Online Learning has made available to educators a free professional learning portal aligned to the NSQ Online Teaching. The NSQ Online Teaching Portal powered by 2gnoMe “unpacks” the standards for educators and uses a teacher’s own reflections to match high-quality and aligned learning resources to individual needs and strengths.
The pandemic tested education in many ways with student engagement, funding, technology and more. We know that remote learning is possible and has many benefits, if done correctly utilizing established best practices. Schools can implement partnerships with virtual schools to offer more options to students. These changes will help students succeed in their studies and prepare them for a successful future.
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