The challenges and opportunities of remote learning

Sarah Horrocks, director of London Connected Learning Centre, on the long-term a need to move to ‘slow-learning’

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges as home schooling becomes the new norm. At London Connected Learning Centre (CLC), part of Education Development Trust, we support schools and other organisations to use digital technologies critically and creatively. We aim to embed the use of technology into all areas of the curriculum, based on the principle that every young person deserves to develop the digital skills they need to be prepared for modern life. As parents, teachers and children adjust to remote learning, new challenges have emerged and the CLC is keen to share its expertise on how educators can navigate and adapt to this new reality. The CLC’s website provides a wealth of case studies and guidance and signposts online resources for parents and teachers. This includes safeguarding advice and guidance on how to get ready for remote learning, as well as on how to use tools like See Saw and YouTube to support remote education. It also shares examples of best practice, for example, from Kate Atkins, head of Rosendale Primary School in South London.

During this period of uncertainty, we know that every child’s experience of remote learning will be different. However, these differences are exacerbated by social divides, access to technology, availability of resources and the amount of parental support and input they receive. In this context, we welcome the government’s announcement that it will provide some disadvantaged children across England with laptops and tablets in an effort to make remote learning more accessible. It’s a step in the right direction, and we hope it will be extended to the least advantaged children across all age groups. At present, however, the challenge remains for educators to adapt to remote learning to ensure that children are not left behind because of individual circumstances.

‘We are in unchartered territory’

When schools initially closed and widespread home schooling began, there appeared to be an urgency for schools and parents to replicate the school day at home. However, for most children and parents, the idea of remote learning is new and potentially daunting. Many households may also be experiencing financial stress, employment instability or pressures of home working as a result of COVID-19. Children will benefit from a routine and daily structure which fits with their family circumstances and allows them some degree of choice and independent learning within the activities and work set by teachers. As educators, we must ensure that, as far as possible, remote learning is manageable, purposeful and engaging.

The unprecedented and complex nature of the current situation means we must adapt. Teaching styles during this period of remote learning must ensure that children, regardless of their situation, are still able to learn and engage with their teachers and classmates. We are in unchartered territory, with limited research on remote learning pedagogy at our disposal. As a result, we are learning a whole new pedagogy. At Education Development Trust, we have written a report about best practice in pedagogy for remote learning.

The launch of the Oak National Academy is therefore also a welcome initiative, but most schools will want to deliver learning based on their understanding of their own pupils’ curriculum knowledge. This requires careful thought from educators on how best to use the resources available to them – including Oak National Academy and the BBC – while also ensuring that they are delivering for their pupils by adapting the resources and setting activities for their own classes. There are a number of creative approaches which can supplement these online resources.

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One approach – which may help to mitigate challenges around differing access to technology, and which may be a potentially more sustainable long-term approach to home schooling – is to combine clear, structured activities with aspects of project-based or ‘slower’ learning. In addition to clear instructing, guiding, questioning tasks (set, for instance via a blog, email, video, or as a quiz), teachers may wish to provide opportunities for children to take their time on longer, in-depth assignments or projects. This approach gives students greater autonomy over their own learning and encourages them to engage with complex questions and real-world problems. It can allow children to follow their own curiosity, while also benefitting teachers and parents, as the day is not broken down into short lessons. Reading and writing at length, doing research, and making and designing a project to share with the class could be pursued in-depth. In our study into blogging and writing, we found that for many children in the study, writing came alive when they could write at length from home on the class blog. This can be tied into reading at length (for example, with children writing book reviews for their classmates based on more extensive reading). This is not to suggest that project-based learning is a free-for-all: it requires careful scaffolding from teachers through careful prompts, thoughtful feedback and helping children to reflect on their own learning. Utilising project-based learning enables teachers to focus on consolidating the skills that children have already learned, while giving pupils the opportunity to undertake independent learning. While children will acquire new information as a result of their projects, teachers should remain in control of what concepts are taught.

Moving to project-based learning

We are undoubtedly more reliant on technology now than ever before, but as educators, we need to be mindful that children will not all have the same access to technology or even the digital skills to navigate complex online learning materials. A shift to project-based learning can be part of the solution to this problem: with careful scaffolding and instruction from their teacher, children are able to work in their own time, using the resources available to them. Crucially, while it integrates technology in terms of communication and presentation, this approach also allows children to work independently offline.

From using platforms such as YouTube to communicate more difficult concepts or briefs, to sharing activities via Twitter, teachers across the country are trying innovative new techniques as they adapt to remote schooling. To assist them, the London CLC is sharing best practice and examples of what’s working. It’s undoubtedly a challenging time, but it’s one that also provides an opportunity for educators to experiment, learn and try new methods of teaching. At Education Development Trust’s London CLC, we are keen to support them as they do so, to help ensure the best outcomes for their pupils.

Image source: Freepik

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