Distance Learning in 2021: How to get ready for the next year

Distance Learning In 2021

Distance education has undoubtedly been one of the biggest topics of 2020. As the Covid-19 pandemic spread throughout the world, mass school closures followed, forcing schools to quickly adapt. While college students and adult learners were no strangers to distance learning, for students in primary and secondary schools, this was a whole new ball game.

Schools and parents shared the burden of making sure that students could continue learning as best as they could in the prevailing conditions, with some positives coming out of distance study, such as:

  • 01

    Greater parent involvement

    Whether they liked it or not, parents were more or less forced to become involved in their childrens’ learning. Those with full time jobs and other commitments may have struggled, but many were grateful that they could play a bigger role in their childrens’ education and properly examine the kind of work that the teacher was giving them.

  • 02

    Creativity

    It is inevitable that the same conditions breed the same results. Like in any workplace, long-service teachers become more comfortable and often start to get stuck in repetitive patterns that involve recycling student material year on year. Every crisis presents an opportunity to be innovative, and the big positive here was that teachers were made to experiment with digital solutions and resources that would keep students engaged and on-track to achieve educational targets that had been set at the start of the year.

  • 03

    Digital development

    Although some commentators claimed that remote learning meant the ‘decline of traditional schooling’, we learnt that there is no decline, but school is naturally changing to meet the demands of the modern world. Especially in their formative years, students should indeed have the opportunity to socialize with other children and interact with people that aren’t their parents or siblings in a non-digital setting. While elements of the physical classroom are still vital, a greater use of digital technology is inevitable and was occurring even before the pandemic.

    By interacting with e-learning solutions, students have taken a further step in being able to navigate their education in an online setting. Through creating digital classrooms, schools have also become more tech savvy and are using this new knowledge to enhance their teaching practice, whether students are physically at school or learning at home.

"The New Normal"

While this phrase has been bandied about by just Yes everyone in the past year, “the new normal” is not anything different from what we have seen in the past. Yes, the pandemic has caused us to look at ourselves differently and question some of our ways of doing things, but adaption has always been a part of human nature, whether in times of prosperity or hardship.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a more rapid shift to online platforms, this was already occurring, with faster national broadband internet, smartphones, social media and online digital services playing a greater role in our lives, especially over the last fifteen years.

Education is one areas where speedy digital transformation has been most pronounced, but our work and personal lives have also been transformed through technological solutions. See which popular tools have been given a boost during the pandemic in our article about Coronavirus and the new normal.

How much has online learning risen?

Before we really get into it, you might want to read up on the rise of online learning. Did you know that in the first half of May, demand for online educational courses was up 250% from the year before? This is extremely interesting, and shows the direction that education is taking beyond 2020.

In the next sections we are going to examine online distance education before the pandemic, how schools have utilized these solutions to respond to home learning and the tools being used by students and teachers. Finally we’ll look at the effects of Covid-19 on education this year, and see what needs to be put in place to best deal with any challenges in 2021. As you can see, this is a lot of ground to cover, but luckily we have some in-depth articles on various topics such as using Google Classroom, the best education software tools, and tips for teachers. Read on to find out more.

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Evolution of distance learning

While distance learning education has come into the spotlight in the last year, many tertiary and adult education institutions have been utilizing online learning platforms for years.

Distance education before COVID-19

While distance education conjures up images of online learning sites and web conferences, it has a longer history that predates the internet. Distance learning is simply defined as the process of transferring knowledge to learners who are separated from the instructor by time or physical distance, and has been going for over 100 years, at first facilitated by the postal service.

In more recent times, the internet has proven the most effective way to access lessons, both in real-time and after the fact. Before Covid-19 there were many reasons why people could not be in a physical setting to conduct their learning. As mentioned above, universities and adult education facilities have long been using distance education to serve people who have work or family commitments that prevent them from being in a physical location at the time of a lesson. In 2018, 16.6% of American college students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.

For students with disability in primary and high school, remote learning is a way to get one-on-one support and work with a specialized syllabus and platform, an opportunity they may not get in a conventional classroom. It also serves advanced students who undertake extension courses that aren’t offered in their school, or students who are separated from their peers by geographical distance. School of the Air has been delivering lessons to students in very remote parts of Australia since 1951, originally using the radio and postal service before switching to internet technologies in 2009.

The COVID-19 Transformation of Distance Learning

Despite a long and successful history, distance learning became much more widespread with the outbreak of COVID-19 and school closures. According to the World Economic Forum, in April 2020 almost 1.4 billion students were impacted by school closures. Schools around the world were commended for how they were able to adapt and begin delivering lessons to students now stuck at home.

Parents also undertook some of the heavy lifting and national broadcasters such as the BBC in the United Kingdom created daily “bitesize” lessons that could be accessed through their portal by all schoolchildren. Tutoring platforms also saw an increase in subscriptions, with anxious parents worrying that their students would fall behind due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Technological solutions takes the lead

As in any workplace, there are those that are technologically savvy and those that are resistant to any further move into digital spaces. Those that were most adept with IT were able to best adapt to the new situation by utilizing different online classroom resources. While some schools photocopied booklets and distributed them by hand to students, many employed technological solutions so they could deliver lessons live and monitor students’ progress in real-time.

Established e learning management systems such as Moodle, Edmodo, Edsby and Articulate grew in popularity, but free systems have also been widely utilized by schools and teachers, including Google Drive and Zoom.

Google Classroom dominance

As a free, easy-to-use and expansive resource, Google Classroom was already being used by teachers to distribute assignments and resources in class. As online classes became more commonplace, teachers relied on it to conduct lessons, collect work and distribute and monitor coursework in real-time. Check out our blogpost about planning a lesson in Google Classroom to see why this tool has been so popular for teachers and students alike.

Distance learning is here to stay

As we can see, long distance learning has an extensive history, but with the use of new technologies, it is reaching out to more people than ever before. While most students have been able to go back to school, blended learning, where the physical mixes with the digital has become more commonplace. Homework is distributed through custom e learning solutions such as Google Classroom and university students are increasingly taking advantage of the flexibility that online courses have to offer. So what can we expect in 2021?

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Educational institutions: dealing with the crisis

We can agree that schools have dealt admirably with a pandemic that has left most governments scrambling to keep up, but we are not yet in the clear. Many are counting down the days until 2021, but contrary to popular thinking, a new year is not simply a reset button. Things won’t go back to the way they were, and nor should they.

2020 is over: what should schools expect from teaching next year?

Whether students remain on campus, or a lockdown situation causes learners to engage in online study again, there will undoubtedly be changes in schools’ cultures and ways of operating. Here are some points that have been highlighted:

Focus on wellbeing - All children, but young learners especially, crave structure and a predictable environment for their education. With worries around issues such as death, illness and job insecurity touching many families, it is more important than ever for schools to provide a nurturing space that gives students the opportunity to talk about their feelings, participate in a culture of togetherness and boost their own sense of wellbeing. This will be a big focus in the classrooms of 2021.

Health awareness - Vaccine or not, secondary illnesses stemming from COVID-19 and seasonal flus will continue to impact the health of populations around the world. Changes that schools have made in terms of greater health awareness, personal hygiene and social distancing will no doubt continue into the new year and onwards. As long as the practice of cleanliness doesn’t cause children to develop an irrational phobia of germs, being more health aware is one positive to come out of the pandemic.

Greater use of technology - As shown above, even in pre-pandemic times, students were utilizing e learning resources to further their education. However, the rush to long distance education highlighted one significant issue: connectivity. For students based in big cities, they could easily complete coursework online; however, for students in smaller cities and towns it was (and still is) a different story. Good digital connectivity is increasingly being seen as a basic right for all citizens, which is why countries such as Canada and the UK have recently dedicated billions to rolling out fast broadband internet to areas that have traditionally been left behind.

With better internet connectivity, schools will be able to confidently integrate technology further into the classroom. As studies show that students retain more AND learn more efficiently when working with a good internet connection, it is expected that technology will be a big focus for teachers and schools in 2021.

Experimenting with distance learning - Some schools have used a staggered approach when bringing children back to school in order to better facilitate social distancing. Half the students come Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the other half come on Tuesday and Thursday, for example. In addition to the health benefits, with smaller class sizes, teachers can better cater to the needs of students who are at school, while better monitoring behavioural and emotional issues that arise for individual students. This split class model may be experimented with over the coming years.

Building sustainable distance learning: top tips for private schools

While government schools are often restricted in what they can do by stiff regulations, private schools run under a different charter and therefore have more leeway when experimenting with, or implementing new ideas and pedagogies. In a world where distance learning may indeed become more prevalent, here are some of the ways that private schools can take advantage:

  • Branch out with custom e learning services - Whether students are in the classroom, away from school, doing homework or taking part in extracurricular activities, schools and their students can use systems to upload and download work, track progress and interact with peers and teachers. E education solutions such as Classe365 aim to incorporate the teaching and administrative side of school operations into one package.

    Benefits for students include: everything being in one place, more chances for student-directed learning, easy access to the teacher when needed, as well as integration with Microsoft Office apps, Google apps and cloud-based storage services.

    Benefits for teachers include: the easy creation and distribution of multi-modal teaching resources, simple tracking of student progress and attendance, integration with popular apps and the ability to manage administrative tasks online. Teachers no longer have to collect and file physical permission slips and money for field trips and other events, they can do it easily online in the one place.

  • Explore online opportunities for student collaboration - In class, students are face-to-face, bringing about the opportunity for dynamic discussion or a group design task with nothing more than pen and paper. When students are off site, that doesn’t mean that collaboration has to end; in fact, it can be done just as effectively with the right tools. By connecting a file to a cloud-based storage system such as DropBox or GoogleDrive, groups of students can work on a task at the same time, with real-time syncing meaning that there is no lag or need to send a file back and forth. Any comments left or changes made can be seen as they occur, giving students the ability to create and solve problems as a group.

  • Cater to different types of learners - Parents choose private schools for different reasons. Sometimes it is because they believe private schools have the best facilities, and other times it is because of a unique teaching style that the school offers. Maybe the school has a special language program, or is faith-based.

    If they can afford it, parents of children with disability or learning difficulties may choose a private school as they believe it will have the resources to better cater to their child’s learning style. This can undoubtedly be furthered with the use of technology. By combining teacher resources with online teaching platforms, educators can use different modes to deliver similar material. If a student is a visual learner, they can be provided with material that incorporates graphics, pictures and tables, rather than straight text. Students with vision problems can use text-to-speech tools, and autistic students can be presented with a resource in colors that are more calming.

  • Embrace flexibility - When searching for the benefits of distance learning, flexibility is always mentioned. While distance education in primary school is fairly fixed (for obvious reasons), for older students it doesn’t need to be this way, especially in a private education setting. Private schools already have varied schedules, sometimes with longer days, Saturday classes or faith-based holiday breaks that are different to their government school counterparts.

    There is also research a that shows in adolescence, students aren’t as receptive to lessons in the early morning. Distance learning could give senior students the flexibility to complete set online tasks at the time when they are most alert, leading to better results.

These four examples show that distance learning doesn’t have to be a last resort - it can be an effective addition to a school’s successful program if done correctly, while lessening the burden for teachers and students.

Software tools that drive e learning

Software tools can come with impressive features to engage and improve students’ performance in school. There are many different software solutions, but the market leaders promise an ecosystem where students, parents and teachers can easily share documents, photos, videos and posts related to all aspects of school life. This technology can be powerful and fosters deeper engagement and a more inclusive community. Visit this blog to find out more about why software tools are used and which ones can boost academic achievement.

Picking the right software tools for your institution

If you’re sold on the idea of software tools for teachers in schools to utilize, the next question is: “Which one(s) to pick?”. Here is what some of the best software offers:

  • Sharing and monitoring of digital tasks

  • Strong chat function to communicate with students and parents

  • Online resources for teachers to utilize

  • Reporting and analytics tools

  • Registration and administrative tools

  • Professional and easy-to-use layout

  • Integration with third-party apps

While these are the main features that you should look out for, schools have differing needs based on the cohort of students that make up the student population. For more information, read our guide on 10 essential software instruments for private institutions to get a better understanding of what you need.

Looking to the future

Far from doom and gloom, the move to online learning has brought about a way for us to reconsider what education can look like over the next decade. Embracing aspects of e learning in education for younger students as well as older ones means that schools will be able to equip their students to better navigate the modern world.

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COVID-19 and its impact on teachers

It is commonly acknowledged that teaching has become more and more complex in the last few decades due to the shifting understanding of what a teacher is. A teacher is no longer seen as someone who lectures learners with a blackboard and stick of chalk, but an individual expected to inspire and foster a lifelong love of learning to all students in their care. While imparting knowledge, we also want them to facilitate self-directed learning, while developing sensitive and well-adjusted members of society that have their emotional needs tended to.

It is also expected of teachers that they keep up to date with current technologies and pedagogies, employing the most modern and exciting methods to capture the attention of learners with increasingly shrinking attention spans. Despite being tough work, many teachers love their job and find it intensely rewarding.

So how can we assist teachers in completing such an important job? At Lumin PDF, we try to come up with interesting posts to help teachers adapt to the exciting but challenging new online reality. We offer information about different topics such as:

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Work/life balance for teachers in 2021

With all the exciting changes linked to electronic learning, we mustn’t forget that the ability for specialists to carry out their work while learning about new trends is a difficult and tiring activity. Having a balance between doing great work and relaxing should always be a priority. Of course, this is easier said than done. Here are some ways that teachers can make best use of their time, reduce stress and leave themselves free for leisure time:

  • Don’t take work home - When working online this is now a concept, rather than a physical action, but it is extremely important nonetheless. When you get home, turn off notifications, forget about your emails and leave any marking at the door. Do something every single day that brings you pure joy, as it will take your mind off work and decrease your mental load.

  • Set realistic expectations - Create a to-do-list in order of priority, seeing the ones at the top as necessities, and the ones below as optional. It is unrealistic to expect that you will get through all the tasks you need to complete in one day, so don’t set an impossible standard for yourself. With a prioritized list, knowing that you are working through the most important tasks can relieve mental stress.

  • Plan and learn as a collective - Teaching is more than ever about creativity. When teachers work together they can share ideas, experiment and develop new skills. The burden of planning is also lessened when divided between colleagues, freeing up each individual’s time.

Are teachers ready to support digital learning?

Teachers are eager to support digital learning. As can be seen from the infographic, this willingness can lead to widespread, whole-school teacher training led by school management. This would ensure that no one is left behind and teachers can improve their practice in a supportive and engaging environment.

Teachers’ preparedness to support digital learning

Teachers have reported high need for training in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT):

60%
of teachers received professional development in ITC*

18%
reported a higher need for development in this area

*In the year preceeding the TALIS survey

**Data on professional development for lower secondary teachers, on average across OECD countries


Teachers are also not relying heavily on distance learning for their own development**

36% reported participating in online courses or seminars

More than 2x as many reported participating in courses or seminars in person

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Students and learning online in 2021: reshaping education

As covered in the sections above, online learning, either at school with a teacher present or in a home setting, is here to stay. Only 20 years ago, students would carry around heavy sets of textbooks and go to a designated “computer room” to practice their Microsoft Word and PowerPoint skills. Knowing that a school’s duty is to give students tools to flourish in an ever changing world, in 2007 the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, rolled out an ambitious plan to give every senior student in the country a laptop computer for their studies. Other countries enacted similar policies, bringing laptops, tablets and SMART Boards into classrooms on mass. With this innovation, the way students learnt and the way teachers taught would forever be changed.

Due to technology, there has been a shift in emphasis in classrooms around the world. “Transmission teaching”, whereby a teacher imparts information and facts for students to write down or memorize has given way to a different approach. Students have so much knowledge at their fingertips, that learning how to search for, find, organize and store information is now a major area of attention. Students are given more of a free reign to direct their own learning, but given the skills to do so in an effective way.

Distance learning is the next evolution of students undertaking their learning with more flexibility and self-direction. While there is no doubt that this can bring benefits, this doesn’t mean the teacher can be done away with. In this new educational reality teachers continue to guide students and facilitate expansive enquiry.

How can students take advantage of distance learning?

We have talked a lot about schools and the direction they are likely to take in 2021, but what about students? How can they adapt to a rapidly changing education environment and make the most of distance and e learning? There are many different ways that students can make the most of distance education, from practical considerations such as where they study and which successful habits can be formed, to the number and type of online learning tools used.

As this is such an important and detailed area, we deal with the most effective techniques for online learning in an in-depth blogpost.

Which are the best student and teacher tools online?

The Microsoft Office suite still plays a large role in students’ education, but e-learning brings about the opportunity to experiment with other educational sites and tools. There are websites for teachers and students that give the ability to create interactive quizzes, design sleek multimedia presentations and experiment with different file types for collating and sharing information. These are extremely important in ensuring that students can continue to access the best resources and collaborate effectively, even when working remotely.

One commonly used file type that is getting much more attention is the PDF. In online education, PDFs can be used to:

  • Create professional looking assignments

  • Compile personalized study aids

  • Annotate set texts

  • Work collaboratively through cloud-based storage

  • Design complex multimedia presentations.

To learn more about PDFs and their strong use case for e-learning, check out our blogpost: 6 Must-Have PDF Tools for e-Learning

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The final word

The pandemic has brought the genie out of the bottle, distance learning is no longer just for adults or college students. With schools across the world experimenting with home lessons and further digital integration in a classroom setting, new tools are being developed and used every day. It is a challenging but exciting time, demonstrating the resilience of students and teachers to adapt to a new landscape. Lumin PDF aims to support teachers with digital solutions and classroom strategies, so everyone can get the most out of our product!

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