Distance Learning in 2021: How to make the most of this school year

Distance Learning In 2021

Distance education was the big topic 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.

Despite the challenges, we all managed to adapt, and while many schools have returned at least on a part-time basis, the benefits of distance study haven’t been forgotten.

    Benefits of distance learning

  • 01

    Greater parent involvement

    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.

  • 02

    Creativity

    The same conditions breed the same results. Every crisis presents an opportunity to be innovative, and teachers who had been using the same methods year-on-year were pushed to experiment with digital solutions and resources, keeping students engaged and on-track to achieve educational targets.

  • 03

    Digital development

    While elements of the physical classroom are still vital, a greater use of digital technology, especially with remote learning, is helping students to better prepare for the modern world.

  • 04

    Cost savings

    Older students can explore virtual courses, which provide cheaper education with often little difference in quality. With digital classrooms, the overheads of a physical campus are no longer applicable, with savings at least in part passed onto students.

  • 05

    Personalized teaching

    Where student mobility is increasingly under scrutiny, online learning gives teachers or tutors the chance to schedule one-on-one time with struggling students, without the distractions of other students. Shy students can also feel bolder about asking for clarification when not surrounded by their peers.

    By interacting with e-learning solutions, students have taken a further step in being proficient at navigating 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.

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“The New Normal”

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 area 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?

Did you know that in the first half of May 2020, demand for online educational courses was up 250% from the year before?

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 today. Finally we’ll look at the effects of Covid-19 on education, and see what needs to be put in place to best deal with any challenges in 2021. Before you start, you can also read one of our blog posts detailing the rise of online learning for more facts and figures.

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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. It 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 schools, 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.

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Technological solutions take 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.

Which platforms are being used in the digital classroom?

technological solutions

The growth of online learning has seen a commensurate rise in online learning platforms. There are many things to consider, including cost, features, and ease-of-use. Some are all-inclusive e-learning management systems, while others are simple test making tools for teachers. Far from an exhaustive list, here is a quick sample of some of the online teaching platforms being used right now.

  • Edsby - This company has positioned itself solely as a K-12 product, and has features that facilitate the easy sharing of work within groups, integration with third-party apps, classroom management, assessment and reporting, and teacher/parent communication. It is considered one of the best online learning platforms around.

  • Articulate Storyline 360 - This online education platform allows for the creation of beautiful online courses. Suited more to high-school teachers and university tutors, it includes course storyboarding, the ability to personalize interactions, and a host of interactive elements for use. It is one of the leading online course platforms and garners top reviews.

  • Kahoot - This is a favorite online quiz maker for teachers, and really popular amongst students. Kahoot allows teachers to create an online multiple-choice quiz that students access through their devices. It is easy to set up and there is even a library of created quizzes on most subjects if you’re short on time.

  • Google Classroom - As a free, easy-to-use and expansive resource, Google Classroom was already considered one of the best online course platforms, used by teachers to distribute assignments and resources in class. As online classes became more commonplace, teachers relied on Google Classroom to conduct lessons, collect work and distribute and monitor coursework in real-time. See our blog post about planning a lesson in Google Classroom for more info about this resource.

Distance learning is here to stay

As we can see, long distance learning has an extensive history, but the use of new technologies is making it easier for people to access 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.

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Educational institutions: how is teaching changing in 2021?

Whether on campus or engaging in online study, there have been changes in schools’ cultures and ways of operating. Here are some areas that are a focus in 2021:

  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • Greater and more equitable 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, seeing for themselves whether students really can retain more and learn more efficiently when working with a good internet connection.

Despite the possibilities offered by remote learning, there is, however, a question that educators are asking: how can online teaching be best facilitated?

A 7-step checklist to guide online teaching

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While some skills are transferable, online teaching indeed has its own technique and can take some getting used to. Whether you’re finding your feet in this new arena or just looking to improve your practice, here are seven ways to foster a positive learning environment when distance teaching.

  • 01

    Make sure an equitable learning environment is created

    With the consequences of a digital divide well-known, extra care needs to be taken in ensuring that all students have access to the programs and technology you are using. Equitable digital access is central to an inclusive classroom culture.

  • 02

    Prepare supplementary materials

    Supplementary materials are great for helping students process new content and catch up if internet problems cause them to miss a class.

  • 03

    Explore different ways to communicate online

    Whether for children or adults, absorbing information from talking heads on a screen is difficult. Utilize drawing tools, annotate documents in real-time, show videos and explore breakout rooms to add some variety to the communication.

  • 04

    Remember the quiet students

    A perennial challenge for teachers, more than ever, the quiet students shouldn’t be forgotten. If needed, schedule time for smaller groups or even meet with students for quick one-on-one sessions. That way you can better collect evidence of learning in the classroom.

  • 05

    Encourage collaboration

    Teamwork shouldn’t die with online working. Use the resources of the Cloud to assign group projects, instrumental in creating a positive learning environment through greater socialization and peer teaching.

  • 06

    Use the technology at your disposal

    We can’t tell you exactly how to make distance learning fun, but we can encourage you to explore the many websites that allow you to make quizzes, blogs and even cartoons. These will undoubtedly liven up the class environment.

  • 07

    Give yourself a break

    You’re doing your best, so don’t become hung up on small technical glitches or lessons that don’t go exactly to plan.

These points addressing online communication in education are just a start, but hopefully, they have sparked your imagination and will make your online teaching experience a more enjoyable one.

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Building sustainable distance learning: top tips for private schools

Building image

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 - An increasing array of e-education solutions 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 one place.

  • 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 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 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 examples show how distance learning 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

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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, fostering deeper engagement and a more inclusive community.

Picking the right software tools for your educational 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, and for more online learning tips in general, visit this blog.

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.

Private education and student's life-time value: how the pandemic help institutions rethink their business

Private schools & distance learning in 2021: opportunities & challenges

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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. Rather than someone who stands at a blackboard with a stick of chalk, a teacher is now seen as someone who is expected to inspire and foster a lifelong love of learning to all students in their care.

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.

However, there is still the perennial question surrounding how to keep students engaged, especially when working online.

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Engaging students in online learning is no easy task, especially once the novelty of working from home has worn off. Remote learning activities need to be deployed with much consideration, and while there is no silver bullet for keeping students on task for the entire lesson, here are some things that educators generally find helpful.

  • Simplified learning activities - Students of all ages shut down when the cognitive load of a task becomes too much. Taking learning out of a classroom environment and asking students to often be more autonomous can be mentally taxing, meaning that activities need to be even shorter and to the point. The maxim teach less and teach it well definitely applies when finding out how to make online learning more engaging.

  • Frequent breaks - This point is related to one above; frequent breaks will allow students to mentally reset and come back fresh. A 5-10 minute break between lessons is sufficient (provided that you can trust the students to return).

  • Student ownership and control - In any task, a feeling of ownership and responsibility brings greater engagement and care. Within reason, let students personalize their work and present it in the way they wish. It’s bound to spur some creativity, and when you interact with students, they will no doubt express pride in their work.

  • Breakout rooms - Tied to the above point, breakout rooms can have the benefits of allowing students to direct their online learning, express ideas in a smaller group environment, and give the quieter students a chance to get a word in. Make sure, however, that you set up the breakout rooms before the lesson.

  • Platform proficiency - You might have a fancy new learning management system with a wealth of capabilities and great tools for online learning; however, without the ability to properly use it, you are setting yourself up for disengagement. Learn how to use the LMS or online program before the lesson for greater engagement.

  • A “cameras on” policy - Adopting this policy will allow teachers to be able to monitor students, but also, the students themselves will feel more engaged. When you are not seen or heard, it’s very easy to get distracted and slip away, even with the best of intentions. Of course, this “cameras on” policy needs to take into account notions of student privacy.

For those wanting tips for how to engage students online, this is a start, but like with all advice, is not a sure-fire guarantee, as all classrooms have different dynamics. You should know your students and experiment with different elearning ideas to see what works best for you.

If you’re looking for more online teaching information, see our posts covering topics such as:

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Work-life balance for teachers in 2021

With all the exciting changes linked to electronic learning, we must not forget that making changes to meet the expectations of this new learning environment is time consuming for teachers. 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 but there is still the issue of training. Based on research from the OECD, we can see that not all teachers are getting comprehensive training (see infographic below). Whole-school teacher training led by school management would ensure that no teacher is left behind in improving their practice within a supportive and engaging environment.

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Students and learning online in 2021: reshaping education

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 online learning. Other countries enacted similar policies, bringing laptops, tablets and SMART Boards into classrooms en 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.

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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

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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