6 strategies for improving distance learning

'Distance and blended learning have never been implemented at the scale they will be in the 2020-21 school year'
By: | August 21, 2020

Engagement and equity issues need not hinder online and blended learning this school year in the same way they disrupted K-12 education when COVID shut schools down in the spring.

Six strategies administrators and their teams can take to drive quality and engagement in online and hybrid learning have been detailed in a new report, “Improving the Quality of Distance and Blended Learning,” from The Annenberg Institute at Brown University’s EdResearch for Recovery Project.

“Distance and blended learning have never been implemented at the scale they will be in the 2020-21 school year,” the report says.

First, while providing students with access to devices and broadband internet is crucial, it is not sufficient, the report says.

More from DA: 5 insights into students’ mental states during COVID

Even when students had only intermittent access to devices and the internet, administrators delivered effective distance learning through partnerships with public television stations, the distribution of hot spots for weekly uploads and downloads, conference calls for group projects, and providing links to videos and lectures on
YouTube, which can be viewed on cell phones.

Here are the  five other strategies the report recommends:

1. Shift to new pedagogies: Teachers will need professional development to introduce flipped learning and other new approaches. Teachers also should strive to offer a blend of expository, active, and interactive learning.

2. Synchronous vs. asynchronous: Synchronous class time is most effective when it is built around small-group activity and teacher-to-student feedback. Real-time discussion of new content is likely more effective than videotaped lessons.

Peer interaction can also take place asynchronously, with apps that allow students to post videos and comment on each other’s posts.

3. Planning time: Teachers need additional daily planning time to collaborate with colleagues and redesign instruction.

This professional development must be ongoing and relevant to the teaching assignment and instructional context, and provide opportunities for collaborative reflection and feedback.

More from DA: 5 steps for improving school climate for girls of color

4. Students’ social needs: Educators must reserve time for students to connect socially and build community. Activities such as “show and tell” and “spirit week” can be done virtually.

Synchronous classes may also better develop strong teacher-student relationships than asynchronous courses.

5. In-person schooling: Students who are likely to struggle with distance learning, including younger students and students in special education, should be brought back for in-person instruction first.

Online learning ideas to avoid

Here are two approaches the report recommends avoiding:

  • Distance learning will likely be unsuccessful if teachers ask students to watch expository instruction for multiple hours each day—in other words, don’t try to recreate the traditional classroom online.
  • Punitive practices for students who are not meeting expectations can be inequitable and will likely discourage student engagement even further.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.