Is Remote Learning the Future of Public Education?

And then there’s the influence of social media — that virtual space where one can find support for just about any particular opinion — where like-minded people find encouragement and similar arguments to their own. And so these debates can begin to take on a life of their own. I recently blogged about the reality of social media influence — this fascinating place where social media apps sculpt and shape our perspective of the world.

As with most topics in education, we can find ourselves buried in a ‘battle of hyperbole’ if we don’t take efforts to be more strategic and focused on the actual issues. With public education being a place where every child has a home and every need may be different, the importance of having informed and relevant dialogue is critical

Dylan Wiliam

“Everything works somewhere; nothing works everywhere.”

Dylan Wiliam, Creating the Schools Our Children Need (March 2018)

Dylan Wiliam is an internationally recognized authority on assessment and school improvement. Through his experience as a teacher, school leader, and his own research, Dr. Wiliam has found there is no simple solution to school improvement that works in every classroom every time. Solutions to school and student improvement are context specific and need to be assessed based not only on what they are attempting to do, but on which students and in which context they might work best.

There is no panacea — no ultimate solution that will work for all students in all situations. We just aren’t built like that. We are different — different strengths, different personalities, different needs.

Remote Learning is an Option Worth Looking at More Closely

So, how do we explore ideas like remote learning?

Well, rather than launch into a dichotomy of arguments that search out articles to support our claims, we need to use a level-headed approach that asks these types of questions:

  1. Under what conditions does remote learning work best?
  2. Which students tend to benefit most from the virtual learning environment?
  3. How can we leverage this information to provide options in the future for the students who may benefit from it the most?

Setting defined parameters — boundaries that help to define the reasonable limits of an intervention — set the stage for a better solution. Arguing for an educational paradigm without considering the proper context for its use is like arguing for buying a compact car when you need it to haul lumber and building supplies. Context matters.

So, in the case of remote learning I think there are reasonable, contextual areas to explore. Here are a few I’ve come up with so far:

  • Student Age – my initial thoughts are that older students likely respond better to the remote learning environment than their younger peers because of their increased level of complex thinking skills. However, this is worth exploring in more depth.
  • Technology Resources – We have put together an impressive list of resources and platforms to enable communication and learning between home and school. However, spending more time understanding their effectiveness will likely result in greater success.
  • School Subject Area – It would be naïve to think that every school subject responds equally well to the remote environment. I already have my own assumptions on this topic but no empirical data to share.
  • School Timetable – what kind of school structure might best support a remote learning environment? Does remote learning even need to be part of the regular schedule?
  • Teaching & Learning Styles – Not every teacher, nor every student, will have a natural inclination towards remote learning. Do differences show up in areas like teaching experience or perhaps even recent university training? Which teaching methods lend themselves to remote learning? Which types of student learning styles might be best?

In the end, as with most things in public education, we’re not going to find THE solution. Teaching and learning are too complex and always changing depending on each person’s abilities or strengths and the educational landscape we find ourselves in at the moment.

I do believe that in-school instruction is here to stay — most students need the structure of learning in a school with a teacher and their peers.

But, what we CAN take from the space that’s been created for us during this pandemic, is the opportunity to explore a teaching and learning paradigm that many of us back in 2019 would not have even considered possible for an entire system to initiate and explore. What a great time to see where we might find a use for remote instruction in our future when we’re not bound by health restrictions, masks and physical distancing.

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