If your school is like countless others around the globe, the first half of 2020 saw you diving overnight into “remote learning” in response to the pandemic. Your teachers embraced Zoom; your department heads scrambled to digitise homework; your parents pitched in (perhaps grumbling a bit); and your students adjusted and kept on learning.
Now that many physical schools are back in session – albeit with hybrid schedules and daily COVID exposure worries – we are hearing from senior leadership teams around the world an interest in making online learning a regular part of their offering. A mode of delivery that seemed quite foreign at this time last year has now become just familiar enough to seriously consider.
As someone who’s devoted the past two decades to evangelising for high-quality online learning around the globe – beginning with co-founding Connections Academy in the US and more recently Harrow School Online – this is music to my ears.
Here’s a quick look at some of the reasons why your school might consider seizing the online learning advantage, as well as a hint of how you might proceed.
Schools have many excellent educational and operational rationales for adding online provision. Here are some of the top ones we’re hearing about at Pearson.
Enriching your current offering: An online course complete with teaching services can allow a school to add subjects without adding headcount to core staff, while online revision or tutoring services provide multiple valuable touch points for families.
Extending your school reach: A full online programme can allow your school to continue serving families who choose not to return to your ‘brick-and-mortar’ school, or reach those on your waiting list.
Ensuring against risks: As we’ve all learned in 2020, schools can be forced by the virus to close on a dime, or can take core staff members out of commission for weeks at a time. Online learning can provide backup.
Expanding your portfolio: If your school chain is thinking additively, an online school offering creates the potential to span the globe.
One big lesson from the “crisis schooling” experiment earlier this year is that just putting teachers on camera and requiring students to log on live for six-plus hours a day is not a sustainable or effective approach to online learning. Here are some considerations for any school thinking about adding online over the long haul.
Synchronous/asynchronous mix: Be thoughtful about the balance of live online teaching time and “self-study” content that students can access directly. If your asynchronous materials are designed with the right engagement and data capture capabilities, your teachers can use their synchronous time more impactfully.
Online/in-person blend: How your physical campus fits into your online offering – or if it does at all – takes careful planning.
Teacher training: Great teachers make great online teachers, but not without a little help. In addition to tech and presentation skills, professional development might need to focus on data analysis and home communication.
Smart tech tools: The learning management system, live classroom software, and related enablers should do just that – enable great teaching and learning, not get in the way.
Up close and personal: One misconception about online learning is that is inherently isolating, depriving students and staff of the camaraderie that a physical school can offer. We take heart from inspiring lockdown tales to the contrary – anecdotes about students bonding over online projects and teachers getting to know their students more deeply than they were able face-to-face. As your school considers online provision, plan to be very intentional about community and connection.
For a deeper discussion of the whys and hows of online learning, catch up on demand with our free webinar, recorded on 10 December 2020, as part of The Big Think series of webinars for school leaders. Read more about the series and how to register for similar webinars on our website.