Distance learning: making education accessible

Izabela Gral, marketing manager at ViewSonic, discusses how education solutions help to deliver classroom interaction in digital environments and disrupt the current education paradigm

The UK’s education system faces an unprecedented challenge, with schools, pupils and teachers across the country being impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. GCSE and A-Level exams in England and Wales have been cancelled and all UK schools are closed to students, except for vulnerable pupils or children of key workers. There are now an estimated 1.4bn students missing out on their education globally.  As a consequence, more educators and parents are exploring the possibilities of distance learning as an effective learning method in these challenging times.

Distance learning is a form of remote education without regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in a traditional classroom environment. While it’s nothing new, digital technologies are making distance learning more collaborative and impactful than ever. High-speed internet, cloud-based software and online educational resources are blurring the lines between remote and in-person learning.

Already proven to be successful in higher education, distance learning courses can accommodate people with schedules that wouldn’t suit a traditional teaching format. The Open University, for example, offers online teaching with resources that students can access remotely. This form of learning can have several benefits for education, especially in the current climate.

Bridging the gap

In light of the mass school closures, many educators are seeking innovative ways to engage students and minimise the impact on their learning. So how can education technology help to create collaborative learning environments and bridge the physical gap between teachers and pupils?

Traditionally, distance learning has been combined with technology to ensure SEND pupils and those who cannot attend lessons in person can continue to engage with the curriculum. Given the rapidly evolving circumstances we now find ourselves in, there’s no reason why these principles can’t be scaled up to include all children who would otherwise be missing out on their education.

There are four main ways edtech can deliver engaging classes at home:

Remote video lessons – remote video lessons are an effective way for teachers to interact with students in real-time, offering younger pupils in particular a familiar teaching structure. These can take place on a one-to-one basis or in a class scenario where each student accesses the lesson via a secure video link. As many students will be learning from home in the coming months, this gives teachers the opportunity to create engaging lesson plans and bring content to life through a digital platform, removing the reliance on physical classrooms. You would only need one teacher to deliver the lesson which could be accessed by a whole class or even a year group, depending on the academic needs – which is particularly helpful for schools with stretched staffing resources.

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Content libraries – with more pressure than ever on teaching resources, cloud-based platforms have ready-made, age-appropriate educational content (video- and text-based) to support academic development. Research has shown video is one of the core components of educational content in the modern classroom, showcasing the important role it plays in aiding student development, especially for visual learners. There are also many free resources online for parents that are home schooling children in this difficult time.

Cloud-based resources – with cloud-based software platforms, schools can upload documents and learning tools to the cloud which students can then access remotely at home. This also allows students to upload their work and receive feedback from their teachers – a fundamental element of classroom interaction that can be mirrored in distance learning.

Live teacher-student interactions – platforms such as myViewBoard allow teachers to maintain face to face interactions with students in remote lessons via webcam. This means teachers can see facial expressions and tune into their student’s body language to monitor how engaged their pupils are and inform future lesson and content planning. Not only this, but edtech creates the opportunity for interactive quizzes, screen sharing and live annotations to ensure teachers can build a collaborative environment and encourage participation.

Taking the digital leap

The technology is available for schools to deliver distance learning, but are they prepared for the digital shift? The Impact of coronavirus on schools study from BESA explored the impact of coronavirus on 650 UK schools, finding that 24 percent of schools believe they have do not have enough guidance or information to deliver teaching in the event of school closure. A third of schools do, however, anticipate spending up to 10 percent more on teaching and learning resources due to the coronavirus outbreak. This is where edtech companies can play a crucial role in educating and supporting schools and their staff, so this knowledge gap is closed and learning can continue.

Thankfully, those institutions which have already widely adopted edtech into their daily routines are now reaping the rewards. In fact, two-thirds of the schools surveyed are looking at how they can use their current cloud-based learning platform to continue delivering lessons in these challenging circumstances. With resources being stretched, schools and educators are turning to technology to find solutions that can mitigate the impact on students’ education.

Out of dark times comes a bright future

Distance learning allows students to complete work outside of the traditional classroom structure, around their own schedule and using a learning style that works best for them. In these unprecedented and challenging times, distance learning can help make learning accessible to everyone and help schools and teachers to maximise stretched resources. In the long term, technology can drive down the costs of education and support over-worked teaching staff while improving the learning process for children all over the UK.

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