Distance Learning. Simplified.

There are four characteristics to look for as you put together your distance learning plan for your students.

Distance Learning. Simplified.

There are four characteristics to look for as you put together your distance learning plan for your students.

As COVID-19 (frequently referred to as “the coronavirus”) continues to impact day-to-day lives, people are forced to look for alternatives to many normal, everyday activities. One of the areas that has been the most impacted is education. Thousands of schools (and millions of students) were forced into distance learning, almost overnight.

Fortunately, technology has come a long way. Broadband internet is widespread, as is the use of mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones. This allows people to stay connected like never before. As a society, we’ve never been more equipped to embrace distance learning than we are right now.

If you’re new to distance learning, it can be a little bit intimidating, especially if you’re a teacher who is used to being in a classroom with your students every single day. You might be wondering what tools to use or how to make sure that your students stay engaged while they’re not on-site with you.

As you try to navigate this difficult time, you shouldn’t have to wonder if your distance learning curriculum is going to work. There are four things you should look for when building your distance learning plan.

We call these the four abilities of distance learning.

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The Four Abilities of Distance Learning

When building your distance learning program, these are the four key “abilities” you should look for:

Affordability
(Can I afford this for my students?)

Accessibility
(Can this be accessed by my students?)

Adaptability
(Will this work for my students?)

Accountability
(How can I know it works for my students?)

Let’s break these down by one by one.

#1: Affordability

With all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it’s difficult to justify spending money. As we watch the stock markets fluctuate wildly and wonder when we might be able to get back to a “normal” life, we get it – no one wants to spend money. But at the same time, you’re forced to balance economic uncertainty with having to meet the needs of your students in new ways.

So what are you supposed to do? Can you really find a distance learning program that allows you to meet the unique needs of your students without being prohibitively expensive?

Yes you can!

Let’s use our Conover Online system as a baseline for teaching soft skills. Soft skills (and social/emotional learning in general) are becoming a huge point of emphasis for schools, and with good reason. But can you really teach soft skills when everyone is isolated?

With a process called mental rehearsal and visualization, absolutely. A University of Chicago study took basketball players and split them into 3 groups:

Group 1 – practiced free throws for an hour every day
Group 2 – didn’t touch a basketball but visualized making free throws
Group 3 – did nothing

After 30 days, they found:

Group 1 – improved by 24%
Group 2 – improved by 23% even though they never touched a basketball!

Visualization is powerful, but you need to have a positive model to imitate in order for it to work. That’s where video modeling comes in.

Video modeling is at the heart of the Conover Online system. So while you may not be able to afford to place students in certain situations to get them soft skills experience, you can develop these skills from home for as little as $25/student.

#2: Accessibility

In a controlled environment, it’s easy to utilize technology-based tools for learning. Just send things to your tech department and have them set everything up for you! When it comes back, everything just works. And if there are any issues, you can send it back and someone with intimate knowledge of the hardware and software systems can fix it for you.

But when students are forced to learn from home, you have less control. You can’t send a chromebook or tablet to your IT department anymore when there are issues or updates are required. You didn’t get into teaching so that you could do tech support, but here you are having to troubleshoot accessibility problems that your students are having from home. And to make matters worse, sometimes you don’t even have all the information you need to identify the problem!

  • Are your students accessing it from their home computer or their parents’ iPhone?
  • What’s their internet speed?
  • Are certain sites being blocked on their network?

You have a lot less control, and there are a lot more potential issues that can keep your students from accessing your distance learning program.

How accessible your distance learning system is and how simple it is to implement may mean the difference between success and failure. Can your students access your distance learning program on the technology they have at home without having to install patches or plugins? It has never been more important that your distance learning program conform to current web standards and not require proprietary software.

Unfortunately, many schools and organizations may not have had time to make sure that everything was set up correctly before students were told to self-isolate. Your IT department might not be able to help you here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deliver assessment and instruction digitally. It just means you have to consider whether your distance learning tools are usable out of the box, given the current difficult situation we find ourselves in.

#3: Adaptability

Every student is different. They each have specific needs, and require a customized learning plan tailored to meet those needs.

This was difficult enough when you shared a classroom. But when you are forced to try and deliver targeted skill intervention from home, it can feel impossible.

While social distancing may make it more difficult to follow, the process for improving outcomes remains the same:

Clearly understand your own abilities.

This is the starting point for all self-improvement journeys. Being able to accurately and honestly assess your own abilities can be difficult – especially when you aren’t in the same location as your students to assist them.

Identify the areas you need to improve.

Once you know where you stand, you can look at what you want or need to change. When you use an evidence-based assessment, the results can show you exactly what needs to happen in order to get you to where you want to be.

Have a plan to gain the knowledge, skills, or tools necessary.

Once you know where you need to improve, the next step is to figure out how to get there. Knowledge without action is useless, and having a clearly defined plan to follow is the first step toward taking action. When you have a plan, you don’t need to focus on how far away the destination is – you can focus on just taking the next step.

The most effective way to deliver distance learning that meets the individual needs of your students is to let the assessment drive the instruction. But that does require a valid, self-directed assessment that users can access from home.

#4: Accountability

When you’re teaching in front of your class, you can tell when your students “get it.” You can see when students are struggling, and can provide assistance where needed.

But with distance learning, it can be a lot more difficult to know whether your students are making progress. You might be able to see if they completed their lessons or score the number of questions they answered in an online quiz, but how do you use that information for federal reporting requirements? Are informal quiz scores enough to use for IEP reports?

While it can be more difficult when separated, you still need a valid, research-based system to assess student progress and an easy-to-use management system that provides the data you need to track their progress.

For example, here are a few of the things that get tracked automatically when users work on an assignment in Conover Online:

User time on task

Tells you how much time your students invested in the assignments you gave them.

Start/End date

Shows you how much time elapsed between the beginning and end of the assignment.

Percentage score

Tells you exactly how each student did, broken down by individual competency.

Incorrect responses

Shows you exactly what each student got wrong.

Pre-assessment results

Gives you a baseline of where each student started, broken down by individual competencies.

Post-assessment results

Documents the growth in skill/ability as a result of going through the lesson.

You can even run custom reports for an individual, a group, or even your entire system with the click of a button.

Sample Conover Online Report

Now obviously, there are other assessment and skill building tools out there. You don’t have to use Conover Online, but you should make sure that your distance learning program is able to get the data you need to meet federal reporting requirements without requiring you to be in the same location as your students.