Remote Learning Today and Tomorrow

Article by · January 3, 2021 ·

A little less than a year ago, your children grabbed their books, lunches, and jackets before running down the street to catch the school bus. Today, many students scramble out of bed ten minutes before class begins and take a seat at the kitchen table to attend school online. While the school day looks very different due to Covid 19, teachers, students and parents are determined to make it work. 

  When our traditional face-to-face school day abruptly ended in the spring, a new kind of learning emerged. Schools chose to pivot to remote learning or shut down completely. For schools that chose to teach remotely, teachers and students had already established a relationship, so it was possible to make it work. After being together in the traditional classroom for nearly seven months, teachers knew their students’ habits. They knew which students were struggling and needed more guidance as well as which students would flourish in this new environment. Students also understood their teacher’s expectations, so although the change was sudden and no one knew how long it would last, all could muddle through the next few months. 

  When this current school year began in the fall and schools struggled with making decisions about remote learning, teachers and students were a little more prepared. Although teachers did not yet know their students’ work habits, and students did not know their teacher’s expectations, everyone understood the process of remote learning. Teachers prepared over the summer and many school divisions provided additional training and access to an array of technology. 

  In the traditional school day, teachers build relationships with students. When teachers create trust within the classroom, students are more motivated to learn. They are willing to take risks by answering questions and participating fully. The teacher takes intentional actions to create this bond by supporting students, modeling positive behaviors, and encouraging collaboration. Just walking around the classroom checking on students’ progress encourages these relationships. 

  Along with teacher and student relationships, students also learn to interact and collaborate with others. Students work together, play together, and even share the same inside jokes, which creates a strong bond. These interactions and trusting relationships translate into a community of learners. When classes meet face-to-face each day, these bonds tend to happen organically. It is the daily contact in the traditional classroom where students gain social skills and collaborative competence.

  Without in-person contact, building relationships during remote learning is much more difficult. The absence of face-to-face learning inhibits the organic nature of getting to know each other and working together. The teacher must intentionally create interactions and build a rapport with students. This effort might include additional phone calls or texts, small group meetings, and live discussions. Although teachers can still assign group work through breakout sessions online, the interactions feel stilted; it’s just more difficult to bond online. 

  Teachers want to make remote learning successful for all students. We’ve all seen the videos of teachers wearing wigs, singing songs, and utilizing props. They want to capture students’ attention and make learning fun. This extra effort works well for younger students who intently watch the screen to see what their teacher will do next. Older students can appreciate the freedom of attending class wearing pajamas while eating a snack. And, with the vaccine on the way, all understand that full time remote learning is only temporary. 

  But, is it only temporary? After a year or more of experimenting with some form of remote learning, will schools go back to normal? It’s difficult to predict the future of education in 2021-2022, but it will most likely see a bigger push towards blended learning. Blended learning is a combination of technology and face-to-face learning. Throughout the last several months, schools invested even more money into technology, and both students and teachers learned a tremendous amount of technical skills. So, instead of returning to a mostly traditional classroom, many teachers may keep the online classroom component and enhance it with face-to-face instruction.

  For school divisions that might be a little more progressive, we may see school buildings become a place where students come together for collaborative projects, debates, and group discussions. The school day no longer needs a stringent routine where everyone moves at the sound of a bell. Students could experience a combination of remote learning where they learn new concepts and work on individual projects at home then return to the classroom for those important interactions and problem-based learning (PBL). 

  Of course, these are only predictions, and we are still enduring life in a pandemic. Yet, many companies have permanently changed their policies concerning work in the office. Businesses are making remote work a success by saving money and still getting the job done.  So, what will schools learn and adopt from this online experiment? 

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About the Author
Ritamarie Hensley has been an educator for over 30 years. She began her career teaching middle school English and then transitioned to school counseling. After eleven years working with middle school students, she returned to the classroom at the high school level where she was the English Department Chair. Hensley earned her post graduate certificate in online teaching and uses those skills to create lessons for remote learning at the high school and graduate levels. She recently received her doctorate in education from Virginia Commonwealth University where she currently teaches doctoral candidates in the School of Education.