Has remote learning taught us anything?

Has remote learning taught us anything?

4 min read

By Stuart Robinson


COVID-19 has not been ideal. In fact, it has been the least idyllic circumstance the global population has encountered in the 21st century. Yet, while we rue its existence it has brought forward a cataclysmic event that may have taken us decades to trial – the blessing (or curse) of remote learning.

Remote learning (aka learning from home) has been the go-to for education when restrictions have forced learning to become flexible, and usually online. It is especially true for the state of Victoria where I now call home, who have registered more lockdown restrictions than any other state in Australia. Teachers have become proficient in pivoting from face-to-face learning to overnight engagement on Zoom, MS Teams, and other video-conferencing SaaS.

This paradigm shift has been touted as unprecedented and unparalleled, as though education has never been confronted with a catastrophic change. However, Dr Ben Schmidt debates this notion by reminding us of the polio outbreak in the mid-20th century. At that point education had to adapt to this new normal and utilise the technology of its time – remote learning by radio.

From a leadership perspective, the time is right to start considering the pros and cons of our foray into remote learning. It is not simply a matter of finding the answers – as our well-equipped educators will be able to resolve these. Instead, current leaders and those aspiring to be in this new world, must ask the right questions if we are serious about educational best practice. 

student engagement & wellbeing

As a result of learning from home, student wellbeing will require focused attention. However, the attention placed on this is not a result of remote learning per se. The decline in student wellbeing is directly correlated with students losing many of their liberties as COVID rampaged through their cities and towns. Their sport, interaction with friends, cultural activities, camps, holiday destinations – the list goes on – were all taken away from them. 

While this is the conversation that fills our news sources and drives government funding, there has been little discussion focused on the positives for asynchronous learners. In an environment where student-focused education has become the epitome of teaching and learning, leaders need to address the possibilities of using our newfound skills to enhance their experience as well. 

This doesn’t exclude the importance of dealing with the majority’s wellbeing. Instead, it highlights that there are two sides to this issue, and at the moment only one of them is getting any traction.

The question for leaders is, will managing student wellbeing as a result of remote learning,only seek to solve the negative outcomes?

the parent as teacher?

Remote learning has forced the parent to play a pseudo-teaching role (at least an increased learning supervision role) while children have been learning from home. COVID restrictions that forced parents to work from home have enabled this, and it may be a blessing in disguise. 

If there has been a trend worth noticing over the past 20-30 years it has been the decline of parent  participation in their child’s education. This has resulted from the perception that dual incomes are required to support the family, led primarily by societal expectations. School fees consistently outstrip inflation and wages growth and the demand is not abating anytime soon. This trend leaves parents time-poor and places education as a commodity rather than embracing the holistic development of the child. 

The question school leaders should be asking is, do we want to retain parent’s participation in the education process? Or, are we content to keep increasing fees and holding parents at arms-length to their child’s learning?

the future of remote learning

The radical response to home learning during the polio epidemic forced educational leaders to adopt technology where it hadn’t been considered prior. However, once the vaccine had been rolled out the technology became supplementary – basically an add-on – to the curriculum. Its value was absorbed into the classroom program with no further benefit as a remote learning tool. 

Radio instruction obviously had its limits. Broadcast times were not accessible 24/7 and they couldn’t be paused, or replayed, at will. Likewise, there were no visuals to deepen the multi-sensory learning experience.  Contrasted with today’s technological advances available to teachers and students, the possibilities seem endless. 

So, what will become of the technology embraced during COVID lockdowns? Will leaders look to implement aspects of it into the classroom experience, or venture into truly remote learning experiences that negate the need for a classroom? Or, can a hybrid exist where both classroom and remote learning experiences provide a best practice approach?

conclusion

It will be deeply concerning if online learning is the proverbial baby thrown out with the watershed of coronavirus restrictions. The conversation at present concentrates on getting students back into the classroom as though the panacea of education is strictly embedded in a physical location. We’ve already proved this is not the case.

This rhetoric seemingly aims to avoid any discussion where an alternative learning model might exist, but I’m hopeful that aspiring educational leaders will strive to find the nuggets of advantage from home learning. Possibly they might challenge the status quo and hybrid models emerge providing improved learning experiences for students. 

Educational leaders must take note that remote learning is not for all students, but neither is current classroom practice.


Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson: MBA, 25+ years in school management. Business degree, AICD graduate. Founder and author sharing expertise in educational leadership, strategy, and financial management.


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