The Impact of Remote Learning on Education

Among the unique questions communities are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic is how to responsibly and effectively conduct remote learning. Using electronic technologies to access educational curriculum while outside of the traditional classroom, students and teachers are finding new ways to stay connected and engaged while staying safe at home. With the pandemic affecting the education of more than 376 million students worldwide1, schools quickly have shifted to e-learning for online lessons and assignments utilizing platforms like Blackboard, Google Classroom and Zoom. 

This sudden pivot in instruction and assessment is not without challenges. Both teachers and students face learning curves with unfamiliar digital platforms, and parents who work from home must juggle their professional responsibilities with needs of their at-home students. Early research suggests that these stumbling blocks have led to deficits in learning. It’s estimated that the average student could begin the next school year having lost as much as a third of the progress they made during the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math.2 Students of color, low-income students, students with special needs, and students who live in rural areas are more vulnerable to these losses. Students fall behind an average of seven months, but that number rises to ten and nine months for Black students and Latino students respectively.3 For students with special needs, nearly a third of school districts were not providing the federally required services that these students normally receive in a traditional school environment.4 Rural students have also suffered during the shift to remote learning, with only 27% of rural districts requiring any remote instruction while schools are closed.4

The shift to remote learning due to the coronavirus highlighted the already-present digital divide in the US. An estimated 42 million Americans don’t have access to broadband internet5, and a 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that low-income homes with children were four times more likely to be without broadband than their middle or upper-income counterparts.6 

As remote learning becomes part of everyday life for students and teachers, so too have innovative ways to overcome early challenges:

1. To bridge the digital divide and technology gap, school districts are providing devices and Wi-Fi to students. In parts of California and Wisconsin, schools provide students with Chromebooks for e-learning. A number of broadband companies and philanthropic organizations are offering free hotspots for students.

2. Like adults, school-aged children are feeling the effects of social isolation during the pandemic, but teachers and school resource staff are using technology to monitor and address student mental health. Video conferencing facilitated personal check-ins, allowing teachers to get a glimpse into a student’s well-being and home environment in a way that a traditional in-school meeting may not. 

3. Teachers are using digital platforms for monitoring progress and tracking attendance, including Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams and Canvas. Using features like “question of the day” helps keep students actively engaged in remote learning. 

4. The shift away from a traditional learning environment has inspired teachers to find unconventional ways to deliver instruction to students. Many have turned to local public broadcasting stations for lessons on a platform accessible to more students. Many public television stations are creating new educational content for students, planning their broadcasting in collaboration with local school leaders to meet district standards and address specific curriculum needs.  

5. The pace of instruction becomes more flexible through remote learning. Teachers and students are setting their own schedules for homework and assignments. Giving students greater flexibility with schoolwork provides amples time for learners of all ages to take breaks, get adequate sleep, and learn at their own pace. Nearpod software makes interactive lessons available at any time, so students and parents can choose when to access lessons, alleviating scheduling conflicts for families with multiple e-learners.

The shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic offers opportunities to change the long-term trajectory of education equity. State and local governments should take a cue from educators and technology companies and use this novel moment in education to consider how to fill the digital divide that disproportionately affects low income students, students of color, and diverse learners.

References

  1. Ray K. What is Remote Learning? Published March 31, 2020. Accessed July 18, 2020. https://www.techlearning.com/how-to/what-is-remote-learning
  2. Goldstein, D. Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions. Published June 5, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/coronavirus-education-lost-learning.html
  3. Dorn E, et al. COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime. Published June 1, 2020. Accessed July 17, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime
  4. Pell M, et al. With schools shuttered, learning lags and students left behind, Reuters survey shows. Published June 2, 2020. Accessed July 18, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/health-coronavirus-usa-schools/
  5. Busby J, et al. FCC Reports Broadband Unavailable to 21.3 Million Americans, BroadbandNow Study Indicates 42 Million Do Not Have Access. Published February 3, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://broadbandnow.com/research/fcc-underestimates-unserved-by-50-percent
  6. Auxier B, Anderson M. As schools close due to the coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap’. Published March 16, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap/
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