The Future of Remote Learning

The Future of Remote Learning

Learning is a verb. 

It moved from chalkboards to dry-erase markers to slide projectors to laptops. And recently, learning ran out of the classroom and into the home. Its departure was quick, unexpected, and disruptive. While the transition to remote learning may not be easy, we’re hopeful about its future. We believe the current iteration will evolve into a hybrid model of face-to-face and remote learning that minimizes learning loss, modernizes education, and equips the next generation with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

Hybrid in Latin first meant the offspring of a tame pig and a wild boar. Today, we mean the blending of a traditional classroom and a virtual one—face-to-face instructional learning and remote learning. If school districts aren’t going totally remote in the fall, they’re making plans for hybrid learning calendars to navigate the pandemic. We think that this seemingly temporary fix of a hybrid model will redefine K-12 education. The future of remote learning is blended learning. The success of the hybrid model hinges on a few key elements: adaptability, accessibility, and human-centered technology and software.  

In the span of a few weeks, we had to adapt to homeschooling, a global pandemic, and a new normal. The abrupt pivot, lack of preparation, and software made for conference calls (not classrooms) took most aback. We reached out to teachers, students, and administrators and listened to their pain points. We heard the frustration and fatigue. Students didn’t have access to computers, teachers were exasperated trying to keep their classes engaged, and administrators struggled with remotely training teachers how to use the technology. Responsibility fell largely on the schools to ‘figure it out.’ With a hybrid model, it won’t just be schools that will need to adapt and figure it out. Workplaces, government, daycares, software design, philanthropy, and transportation will also need to adapt. Schools operate in a complex system, and with the pivot to remote learning, everything else in the system will change too. What if we framed hybrid learning as an evolution (albeit, an uninvited evolution)? Would the response to the pivot be more excited, more accepting? Would it open the door for this experience to be a positively transformative one for K-12 schools? 

It would be easier to answer those questions if everyone had equal access to computers, internet, student-centric software, present guardians, and technical know-how. With remote learning, accessibility is a double edged sword. On one hand, it could make school fees lower because of reduced overhead: fewer building expenses, uniforms, commutes. It could open up schools to students living anywhere. It would be easier to diversify student populations if school placements weren’t tied to zip codes. However, on the other hand, remote learning makes classes, socialization, meals, and support inaccessible to many students across the country. This is already leading to substantially increased learning gaps. So how will a hybrid learning model work? People will have to get creative and get giving. The Education Equity Fund in Seattle set up a fund to raise money for laptops and hotspots for students who don’t have those resources. Amazon, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Microsoft became community partners. In order for the hybrid model to work, we will need collective impact initiatives like this one to start. We’ll need structures that organize and distribute resources to those who need it. What if each city set up a local fund to support remote learning for all students? We will need mayors, administrators, parents, executives, and activists to get involved. The future of remote learning is collaboration and cross-sector efforts. The task of resourcing remote learning and making education accessible will not only be for school districts; it will be for society

K-12 education will no longer live only in brick-and-mortar schools, it will be out in the wild. Its presence will be more visible, louder. New industries will surface; new jobs will be created. Like community centers with education facilitators who guide students through their remote learning. More and more homeschooling communities may pop up around the country. The landscape is changing now because of COVID and it will continue to evolve. With the hybrid model, students will learn responsibility; they’ll learn how to manage their own schedules without a bell informing them. They may feel more agency over their own education. The transition will take time but once students are used to the new way, they will adapt. And with the right resources, software, curriculum design, and support, we believe they’ll thrive. 

We see a future with hybrid learning because the face-to-face experience is invaluable. Learning is a social experience and schools are establishments that also provide guidance and nourishment. What if in-person school was for project-based learning? For dedicated socialization and learning-from-your-peers? The remote and face-to-face learning would have a symbiotic relationship. The benefit of the hybrid model is that learning experiences can be centered around the student’s needs. Students can work at their own pace and think more independently. The experience of learning in a hybrid model will teach students to be able to thrive in the world they’re going to live in as adults. Adaptability, resourcefulness, resilience, creativity, independent thinking, and collaboration will all be crucial skills for success. We see the hybrid model stretching this learning. 

Seamless. That’s what we hope students, teachers, and administrators feel about the transition between their in-person to remote learning experiences. At the moment, a lot of school technology is clunky. Frustrating. Schools use an average of five different software, and right now, schools are also using video conferencing that’s not designed to be a virtual classroom. It’s complicated; there is too much friction. The future is simple and centralized: one system and one log-in. Remote learning will only feel good if it’s designed to meet your needs. Fortunately, there’s a trend towards human-centered software that we are very excited about. 

Virtually, teachers don’t have to worry about keeping students six feet apart right now. When software is designed with their pain points in mind, they also don’t have to worry about taking attendance or following up with students about assignments. If automation is used in the right ways, teachers will only need to teach. Attendance is a key indicator for student performance and risk, and if that data is always automatically recorded, it will help teachers and administrators take preventative measures to minimize learning loss. In the future, we see data-driven interventions and fewer learning gaps. We also see routines getting easier for everyone. For example, if a teacher has to have lesson plans approved by an administrator, we see software using read receipts and having commenting and editing functionality. If an administrator is trying to solve school problems, they will have automated data reports that highlight inconsistencies and red flags; when all data lives under one roof it creates more equitable schools. 

We also see more school software using pedagogy to guide development. Creating software that’s informed by how students learn and retain knowledge will not only deepen learning, it will work towards minimizing learning gaps. We want the virtual classroom to feel like a real one. We see remote learning education embedded into teacher training so that teachers learn how to skillfully manage virtual classroom environments. What if breakout groups were not seen as a hassle, but as an incredible opportunity for students to have 1:1 work and connection time? In real life, it would be impossible to divide a classroom into 15 tiny rooms. Meaningful connections and socialization are possible in a remote setting if the technology is taught, created, and used in the right way. If school software and virtual classrooms are designed with students, teachers, and administrators in mind, the transition between remote and face-to-face learning will be smooth. 

Learning is a verb. It changes, grows, evolves. By the time you’re reading this, learning may have run out of the home and into another place altogether. There’s no predicting its whereabouts. There’s only adapting. Right now we are feeling the growing pains of remote learning, and coupled with the pandemic, decision-making is challenging because of health, accessibility, and learning gap risks. We believe these challenges will be overcome, and that the hybrid-model will reweave the tapestry of school. We don’t know what the future holds. Fall, just a month ahead, is still a big question mark for many schools. And yet we do have the power to start and encourage community action to enable accessibility. We do have the power to bring awareness to local learning gaps. We do have the power to build human-centered, centralized, pedagogically-sound software. We do have the power to vision a brighter future of education. 

We won’t lose our brick-and-mortar schools. We’ll gain an ally; a virtual classroom. And the two will work together to educate and empower the next generation. 

By Maxwell Witt & Kevin Celisca

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