Seamless Learning in the Time of Covid-19
Take a moment and consider this question: why are so many schools not working “normally”? Why has learning been so disrupted that student progress and growth has slowed since March, and that most students won’t manage the next set of grade level expectations?
No, it’s not COVID-19 or social distancing. The real reason most schools are failing their students is that they aren’t designed for seamless learning. Instead, student activity is defined by schools buildings, classrooms, and all the typical trappings, the traditional “form factor” of education.
So how could learning continue seamlessly? What ingredients are needed to ensure students keep learning and growing regardless of their access to a school building? I would suggest the following, none of which are immensely difficult to achieve, but require us to relax the vise grip on traditional form factors:
Curricular materials need to be digital and interactive. PDF copies of textbooks don’t cut it, nor do PDF worksheets. Courses and materials should be designed around engagement, active learning, interactivity, and should reflect the digital reality of our world. While a lot of such materials exist, most publishers haven’t moved away from the traditional textbook model (even if in PDF form), and many schools are struggling with adoption.
Schools need effective learning management systems that are more than glorified file servers. Such systems should facilitate individualized learning and pacing, track student activity, learning and growth data, and should work equally well for students in face-to-face and distance learning modes.
Students also need Internet access to use such systems when working from home, and it’s time for a minimum level of Internet service to become truly pervasive like other utilities, regardless of a student’s socio-economic status. Until that’s available, schools should be responsible for providing either wireless or wired internet support, as that is as important as providing buildings, classrooms, and sports fields.
Face-to-face contact with students is important, but it’s not a prerequisite for effective teaching. Both synchronous and asynchronous teaching models can be effective, and teachers need to be trained on how to move seamlessly between these models to achieve optimal student learning. Teachers may also need to redefine their own sense of success with different teaching and learning styles, including new approaches to assessment and grading.
Curriculum, teaching, and technology are key elements of seamless, active learning. They don’t, or shouldn’t, depend on the availability of physical spaces.
COVID-19 has not broken our system of education; it just showed us how the current system is broken. Let’s take this opportunity to ensure that learning and growth can take place seamlessly anywhere, anytime. Doing so is within reach and the tools are available—as long as we commit to a mindset of seamless learning in any setting.
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