Schools Continue To Use Remote Learning

Virtual training pieced together overnight at the start of the pandemic wasn’t as successful as in-person learning for most students, educators and parents say. Does it mean K-12 educators and policymakers should avoid remote learning? When and for which pupils should schools adopt virtual learning? What remote learning lessons may be gleaned from the pandemic? How do these lessons inform future approaches? Two authors of a recent report on online training answered Alyson Klein’s questions jointly. Policy Analysis for California Education’s Alix Gallagher and Ben Cottingham responded by email. The nonprofit is led by Stanford, USC, UC Davis, UCLA, and Berkeley faculty. Gallagher Virtual learning is considered ineffective by many educators. Others see it as an opportunity. Research on virtual learning quality? The truth? Retrospective: How to deliver excellent in-person training has been refined over time. Before March 2020, virtual learning wasn’t widely used. Many students initially struggled to access a comprehensive instructional program, and even as schools’ efforts to offer pupils with technology succeeded, teachers tried unfamiliar pedagogies with poor outcomes. Humans are social beings, and schooling is a social activity. Screen-only instruction reduces learning quality. Virtual learning is enhanced with increased contact points between teacher and student and between peers (e.g. phone calls, small group instruction, focused feedback), but few teachers know how to foster vibrant interactions in their classes. Many students prefer in-person instruction over virtual learning. Virtual learning technology can let students interact and learn in new ways. Providing high-quality virtual education at scale will require reforming educational systems on numerous levels, from rethinking teachers’ roles as content experts to facilitators of student learning to modify established school rules and structures. Given the scope of these adjustments, few school systems will make them soon. We can imagine a scenario where some communities (e.g. low-density rural communities with WiFi access) create a stable remote schooling option for a large portion of the population they serve or where many of the students whose needs are best served by remote learning options—such as high school students who need to enter the workforce for financial reasons—have access to remote learning.

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