Remote learning in schools

Paul Main

How can primary and secondary schools design effective remote learning?

What is Remote Learning?

Remote Learning takes place when the student and teacher, or source of information, are at a distance and do not meet in a traditional educational setting. In 2020, this concept became forced upon schools around the world as they tried to navigate their way through the education disruption caused by the Covid-19 impact. Curriculum content when online overnight and contact with pupils was facilitated through zoom. Many deprived schools were unprepared for delivering classwork to students. Most education institutions had to facilitate the distribution of devices to pupils in a very short space of time. Without a contingency plan, headteachers had to think on their feet.

After a steep learning curve, most schools now have the educational technologies they need to deliver the daily instruction for a comprehensive educational curriculum. In this article, we take a satellite view of the different approaches in schools to the curriculum alignment of educational material when facilitating online learning. Whether you work in a private school or a state-funded institution, we hope you find some insightful new perspectives in this article.

Technology plays a huge role in education today. From tablets and smartphones to virtual reality headsets and online courses, students are increasingly turning to digital learning resources to supplement traditional classroom instruction. But while technology offers tremendous opportunities for educators, it also presents challenges. One challenge is ensuring that students who participate in remote learning programs are able to achieve similar educational outcomes as their peers who attend school face-to-face.

To address this issue, researchers at Stanford University developed a platform called Project Zero. The project aims to create a system that allows teachers to monitor student progress remotely. The system uses artificial intelligence to analyze data collected via sensors placed inside each student's backpack.

Remote learning terminology

Remote teaching is generally provided via digital technology (video conference, email, audio bridge, discussion boards) so there is no need for students' or teachers' physical presence unlike the traditional classroom environment (or else, it would be called Blended Learning). Remote learning can be used to deliver synchronous or asynchronous education. Remote learning is also called Remote Training, Flexible Learning, or Distance Education.

In some cases, remote learning environments prove to be a better option than in-person learning. For example, when it is difficult to accommodate a larger class size. Also, when traditional learning isn't possible due to any illness, the geographic gap between the student(s) and teacher, scheduling conflicts, and/or school closure due to any crucial disrupting events, like the covid-19 outbreak.

Active remote learning experiences
Active remote learning experiences

How can we structure remote learning?

The typical structure of remote learning varies between school districts, but it usually revolves around an online learning homebase or learning management software such as Google Classroom which is used by the teachers to share information, feedback, assignments, news and more. It is crucial that after providing the necessary professional development to the teachers, schools must select an easy to use and reliable learning management system. As well as the technological solutions, school systems will need to have in-depth conversations about curriculum objectives and online behaviour management.

During distance learning, learners log in to a specific learning management system (for example Showbie). These platforms are used to contact the teacher, access the course content and support material, check their grades and connect with classmates. Generally, instructors post daily or weekly assignments which students have to complete. Schools and teachers send a how-to guide to prevent students and parents from getting caught up in distant learning challenges. The how-to guide contains details of logging into and using the learning app and software.

Each district or county and teacher would want learners to remain online for a specific amount of time. These timing can vary from school to school. A lot of schools use Skype meetings or zoom lectures to uphold a personal connection and to deliver live teaching alongside the general coursework. Remote learning is considered a relative loosely-structured and flexible teaching strategy, but it all revolves around an effective learning management system.

Students complete their daily or weekly tasks posted on the digital education platform; instructors check the work, and then the teacher provides feedback to each student using the online platform. Although the main structure of remote learning is quite simple i.e. login, complete task, evaluation; but the variety of ways and apps used for online distance learning, makes it fairly easy to bring flexibility and innovation.

Designing effective remote learning experiences
Designing effective remote learning experiences

What are the advantages of Remote Learning?

The classroom curriculum is usually taken online through necessity. However, in more stable times there are still clear advantages of Distance Learning that include the following:

  • Remote learning is used when it is not possible to offer face-to-face instruction: The first and most significant benefit of distance learning is that it provides everyone with a great opportunity to earn an education. Whether it’s a primary school student who is using Google Classroom to continue learning during the time of COVID-19 or to keep up with any subject matter, or a college student attending an online lesson during lunch-time at their day-job, remote learning creates great learning opportunities. At present, remote learning is the best option we’ve to earn an education.

  • Remote learning has a more flexible schedule: Remote learning is flexible learning for the students. Also, teachers get the flexibility to structure their class and to create and evaluate assignments. Using remote learning tools, students can access online learning materials when it is most suitable for them. Hence, both students and teachers do not have to follow a strict schedule, which saves time, energy and money. Also, teachers get more time to create more effective lesson plans and assignments. Overall, distance learning is more flexible as compared to attending a physical and traditional class every day.

  • It's easy to access digital learning content: In online education, students see educational videos and websites as tools for learning. Analysis of studies shows that using short video clips allows for better processing and memory recall. A large population of learners finds it much easier and more interesting to learn using the auditory and visual nature of videos interests. These videos allow each student to process information in a way natural to them.

  • Online learning is more beneficial for visual learners: Due to the visual nature of online learning, students who prefer more visual tools of learning often find remote learning more suitable for their learning style. Online lessons, assessments developed through online mediums and tasks involving computers can improve learning through visual pedagogical models.

  • Allows students to work at their own pace: Teaching in the traditional physical classroom can sometimes be too quick since there is always so much content to teach in a short amount of time. But, digital access to remote education tools allows learners to engage with their coursework at their own pace. Distant learning can equalize the difference between different students. Each student can learn at his/ her own pace, so the highly-individualised nature of distant education makes the pace of education easier to handle.

innovative instructional tool kits such as the universal thinking framework
innovative instructional tool kits such as the universal thinking framework

What are the disadvantages of remote learning?

The following outline some of the considerations when designing your distance learning provision.

  • Prone to Technical Problems: Online learning is not possible without a reliable computer and adequate access to the internet. Students and teachers, both suffer those moments of absolute frustration when remote learning tools and internet access get disrupted, especially in times of need. The poor WiFi service, hanged computer or malfunctioning printer; hence, online education is vulnerable to many technological disruptions and difficulties for the disadvantaged pupils.

  • Lacks Social Interaction: Remote education offers a complex learning environment that offers lesser opportunities for personal or face-to-face engagement with the students. Lack of social interaction in a remote lesson may also affect student growth in areas such as leadership, social-emotional learning, public speaking and social skills.

  • Remote Learning is more distracting: As remote learning experience occurs on the computer, it can be easy to get distracted or sidetracked by news notifications, favourite websites, emails or online shopping. It can make remote learning difficult and it can lead to a decrease in the quality of learning outcomes. Ongoing distraction is one of the most serious remote learning challenges.

  • One-on-one help from the teacher: Children in school can speak directly to other students and teachers. Especially, young children struggle with maintaining focus in the remote learning environment. Students may not feel engaged in distance learning programmes as they are learning in different locations as their classmates and teachers.

  • Students are less motivated to learn and complete lessons: Many students, even those who are considered strong learners may struggle to feel engaged and motivated in remote learning environments. Sometimes; students may be logged out or removed from the class or they face distractions. Overall, students feel less enthusiastic to learn and complete assignments due to the absence of physical teachers or peer interaction during a remote learning experience.

  • School leaders also have to think about how they replicate the active classroom dynamics associated with an active learning environment. Re-creating 'the buzz in a breakout room is difficult to do. The sheer level of information exchange happening in a typical school day cannot be easily replicated through an LMS. 


Make learning remote learning cognitively active
Make learning remote learning cognitively active

Final thoughts on remote learning

In the 21st century, a primary objective of education is to develop a deeper understanding of content while creating, synthesizing, and assessing information from a wide variety of sources and subjects and with respect and knowledge of diverse cultures. The above discussion shows that remote learning has more advantages than disadvantages but pedagogical considerations have to be carefully thought through.

A successful remote learning agenda involves adequate investment and is not possible in the absence of appropriate school resources. As well as thinking about the technical resources such as internet access and educational technologies, school leaders need to also think about the philosophical values associated with online delivery. An online environment can never replace the nurturing experience of school but with adequate access, it can keep learners connected to the classroom curriculum.