The Silver Linings of Remote Learning
Last spring, I visited the local high school track for an evening workout. When I arrived, I noticed a homeless person sitting at a nearby picnic table. I had never seen this person before even though the track had become my go-to spot for exercising during the pandemic. It was a cold night and he was bundled up in a large coat. I admit I kept my eye on him while I ran laps. I’m glad I did. It was a moment that distilled just how much our world had changed in a matter of months. This individual was not in fact homeless. He was a high school student, hunched over his laptop and working from a location where he could access the school’s internet despite the late hour and low temperature.
When I recall the memory of that student, I am reminded of just how vital technology is in a world in which no single industry, organization, or individual has been spared from the long-reaching effect of COVID-19. Education is one of the sectors most stressed, predominantly because it has lagged in its adoption of technology. A 2016 Deloitte survey ( 1 ) reported that four in 10 teachers said their schools were “behind the curve” in the implementation of technology.
At the onset of the pandemic, educators found themselves at odds with the need to keep students and staff safe while also delivering quality remote instruction. An influx of new online videoconferencing and learning platforms led to high levels of confusion and frustration among all stakeholders. Data privacy and security concerns surfaced. Morale suffered. But even in the most trying of times, you can usually count on a silver lining or two. After several months of adapting to life during a pandemic, educators and students alike are beginning to benefit from several upsides of remote and hybrid learning.
Remote Learning Helps Hone Soft Skills
The move to online learning stands to sharpen the next generation’s understanding and adoption of critical, transferable skills that will serve them well at any stage of life. The high school student I observed is an excellent example. While there is an acute need for equal access to critical resources like Wi-Fi, the student’s actions demonstrated resiliency and initiative. Soft skills like these – which also include time management, the responsible use of and fluency with technology, the ability to collaborate with a team and effectively communicate – are essential as students embark on the next phase of life. Their aptitude to learn and quickly adapt may be more important than ever. According to a 2017 report ( 2 ) by Dell Technologies, 85% of jobs in 2030 don’t yet exist.
Fewer Zip Code-Imposed Restrictions
Students learn differently, and there are myriad ways of teaching subjects like math and science. Yet, both students and teachers may have felt constrained by the curriculum used by their district. Virtual learning is free of geographical constraints. Pre-pandemic, students were often limited to classes offered on campus. Now, they can access additional courses and content previously not available to them when they attended school in person. This has the potential to drive more cross-pollination between students with varying socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds, leading to more equitable learning opportunities.
Less Distractions and Stress
Let’s face it, students in classrooms are overloaded by stimuli that can derail their attention span. A 2016 study ( 3 ) found that about one-quarter of an elementary schooler’s time in the classroom is spent being distracted. Students who have a dedicated space at home equipped with the right technology for online instruction are less likely to lose focus.
For students who are prone to social anxiety, attending brick-and-mortar schools where they are encouraged to interact with their classmates is often a source of immense stress. The pressure to fit in, stand out, or be popular is prevalent. A February 2019 Pew survey ( 4 ) found that 70% of U.S. teens say anxiety and depression is a “major problem” among their peers. Remote instruction allows students to largely forgo these concerns and simply focus on their lessons.
Flexibility Benefits Students, Teachers
Greater schedule flexibility has opened the door for more self-directed learning opportunities. A remote learning environment allows students to manage their assignments and watch recorded lessons on their own time with less oversight. This engenders them to take more responsibility for their education, which is key for college and career readiness. They also have more time to rest. Before the onset of COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( 5 ) reported that 57.8% of middle schoolers said they suffered from insufficient sleep. Among high school students, that figure rose to 72.7%.
Educators also benefit from increased schedule flexibility. Long before COVID-19 upended our lives, a 2016 survey ( 1 ) found that 64% of teachers said technology could make a big difference in allowing students to get feedback and help even when school was not in session. Only 25% said they used technology in that capacity at the time. Think about how much that has changed in a matter of a few socially distanced months!
Teachers who instruct in all-remote environments can use their commute time for extra planning. One-on-one check-ins with students and parents can be done via videoconferencing and during times of convenience. Some types of remote instruction provide students with a more individualized experience. Educators are also able to take advantage of additional online resources now that many students have a mobile device. Field trips, for example, are no longer limited by geography. An increasing number of museums and galleries around the world offer virtual and even live, guided tours online. Many zoos and aquariums now livestream their habitats. The best part? The ability to expose students to the world’s most exotic creatures or humanity’s greatest works of art, science, engineering and architecture won’t disappear once the pandemic subsides.
Innovation is Here to Stay
There’s no question that the pandemic has and continues to put the education system through the paces. But one important shift will remain long after students begin to return to the classroom: Innovation in education has moved from the fringes to the very center of its future. Now is the time to capitalize on what remote instruction has taught us to forge an even better and brighter future for students and educators. Learn about the latest Remote Learning technologies here.
- Deloitte Development LLC, “2016 Digital Education Survey,” 2016
- Institute for the Future for Dell Technologies, “The next era of human machine partnerships,” 2017
- Karrie E. Godwin, Ma. V. Almeda, Howard Steltman, Shimin Kai, Mandi D. Skerbetz, Ryan S. Baker, Anna V. Fisher, “Off-task behavior in elementary school children,” ScienceDirect, May, 31, 2016
- Pew Research Center, “Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers,” February 20, 2019
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Short Sleep Duration Among Middle School and High School Students,” January 29, 2018
About the Author
Mike Logan is Regional Vice President of Sales for Trox. He has worked in both the Educational Technology and Pro AV industries for over 20 years. Various roles have given him extensive experience in strategic planning and K-12 technology plan development and implementation. Mike is passionate about helping schools and districts discover the value technology brings to learning and how it can help develop new learning methods and change learning outcomes.. His background and profile can be found on LinkedIn.