Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year, phrases like “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” and “super-spreader” have become part of our everyday vernacular. And if you’re the parent of a school-aged child, so has the term “remote learning.”

When schools all across the globe closed their doors last spring, it caused a tectonic shift in the landscape of education. We were forced to quickly pivot away from the time-tested and well-understood traditional classroom model to an unfamiliar mode of delivering instruction from a distance — remote learning.

It’s clear that we are in the midst of one of the greatest public health crises of our lifetimes. It’s also clear that education experts will be doing “post-mortem” analyses for years to come to help us understand what went right and what went wrong in the way we delivered instruction to our children during this time.

But according to Carolyn Lucia, Director of Education for Fairmont Schools in Anaheim, California, “While those studies will serve us well in the future, it is incumbent upon us to examine our current understanding — which is sizable — and move the dial in a positive direction for our children’s education today.

So let’s start at the beginning by answering a fundamental question.

What Is Remote Learning? 

According to the Albert Team, a Chicago-based educational consultancy firm, remote learning, in its simplest terms, is “where the student and the educator are not physically present in a traditional classroom environment. Rather, instruction is disseminated through tools such as discussion boards, video conferencing, and virtual assessments. It’s an attempt to recreate the in-person, face-to-face classroom over the internet.”

In its broader sense, remote learning is sometimes grouped together in the larger category of e-learning platforms which includes “virtual” and “distance” learning, the older and more established counterparts that have been widely utilized in higher education at colleges and universities.

While some may quibble over the terminology, there is one thing we can universally agree upon. Remote learning was thrust upon us because of the pandemic and was implemented in haste to address the immediate needs of children to learn from home. We are in the middle of a significant educational shift and one that is not of our own choosing. So when we contemplate the question, “What is remote learning?”, the ultimate answer is this: Remote learning is a triage measure which shores up the physical separation that COVID has created, and it will impact the educational advancement of an entire generation, for better or worse, depending upon how well it is implemented.

By all indications, remote learning will be a fixture for the foreseeable future. So parents (and others who advocate for our children) have a responsibility to understand everything they can about this methodology — including what differentiates a strong remote learning program from a weak one — because nothing less than our children’s educational success is at stake.

Recently, Education Week interviewed Chris Dede, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who has studied the use of educational technology in schools for decades. According to Dede, educators have many high-tech and low-tech tools at their disposal to provide students with meaningful learning experiences whether they’re in school physically or not. “I think too often the focus is on what’s lost and not on what’s potentially gained” he said.

Remote Learning Successes

Adjusting to remote learning has not been without its challenges for teachers, students, and parents, but there have been encouraging success stories. When asked about their experience of remote learning last spring, Fairmont parents were largely satisfied, praising teachers for continuing to encourage and motivate students.

“When the environment shifted and the nation went into an unprecedented change because of Covid-19, Fairmont didn’t skip a heartbeat, didn’t give up on the children, but rather adapted and continued to lead the students forward,” said Fairmont parent Esther Chung. “This is remarkable. Your teachers were consistent to lead and be present despite the chaos and uncertainty, and were the encouraging constant in their lives every day.”

David Bonar said, “Just wanted to…reiterate our satisfaction with how the teaching crew is doing with our kids’ classes via the online model that you’re using. They’re keeping our kids engaged and focused similarly enough to how our kids would be in a live class setting.”

“Distance learning has been challenging for all of us but my daughter’s teacher has been so supportive,” said Magz Agulto-Man. “Her lesson plans are very thoughtful and it is obvious that she carefully considers each student’s learning level when creating her daily grids. She is always available and ready to help when my daughter gets stuck on a lesson and she is able to quickly build the confidence she needs to persevere through a new or challenging lesson.”

Fairmont’s approach to remote learning took into account a checklist of items that their team credits with early and ongoing success.

Remote Learning Checklist

  • Exemplary Teachers and Curriculum — Two things which transcend any mode of instructional delivery are the caliber of the teacher and the rigor of the curriculum. Take an exceptional curriculum and put it in the capable hands of gifted and caring teachers, and you have the formula for success — regardless of whether instruction is delivered in person or remotely.
  • Prior Experience with Remote Learning — Few primary and secondary schools had occasion to delve into the world of remote learning prior to COVID. If your child’s school has had previous experience in online education, he/she has a considerable advantage over students at schools which are still “learning the ropes.”
  • Professional Development — Even the most seasoned classroom teacher may find him/herself scrambling to transition from in-person instruction to remote learning. Schools which elevate professional development are likely to serve their students more effectively because they have availed themselves of current, data-driven remote learning resources which can help foster student success.
  • Technology: Strong Software, Systems, Support, and Savvy — Remote programs are dependent upon extensive use of technology. Schools which invest heavily in their IT infrastructure, purchase access to the most effective software delivery systems, provide “boots on the ground” technical support personnel to troubleshoot (remember, technology can be fickle), and employ tech-savvy teachers are going to provide a remote learning experience which is superior to schools which don’t have the wherewithal to do so.
  • Student Engagement — Educators and researchers will tell you that student engagement is vital to a fruitful student-centered learning experience. They will also tell you that this is much more difficult to accomplish when students are physically separated from the classroom. Nevertheless, schools on the cutting-edge of remote learning are flexing their innovative muscle by employing unique approaches such as live-streaming lessons from the classroom with devices like SWIVL™ and leveraging software such Nearpod, which are specifically designed to boost engagement.
  • Social Emotional Support — Not only has COVID wreaked havoc on our efforts to successfully educate our children, it has cast a dark cloud over their social-emotional well-being. According to Emily Schorr Lesnick, a social-emotional learning (SEL) coordinator in Seattle, “Students need critical connections with their peers, educators, and families during these days.” Schools which are positioned to do this via remote learning — by providing SEL training to teachers and having an SEL professional on staff — will be better equipped to nurture their students in this vitally important area.
  • Parent Support — Students aren’t the only ones struggling with the “new normal” of education. Remote learning has impacted parents in ways that no one could have imagined at the beginning of 2020. As one parent aptly put it, “Who would have guessed that one of the toughest things about COVID would be having to help teach math to my 5th grade son?” Schools need to find ways to support their parents by providing tangible resources like seminars on remote learning and forums for them to connect relationally with their school community.

More About Fairmont Schools

Founded in 1953, Fairmont Schools is a family-owned and operated learning institution with five campuses — Fairmont Anaheim Hills, Fairmont North Tustin, Fairmont Historic Anaheim (Pre-K to 8th grade), Fairmont San Juan Capistrano (Pre-K to 12th grade), and Fairmont Preparatory Academy (9th to 12th grade). Fairmont has been voted Orange County’s Best Private School for seven consecutive years, and is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and Cognia, and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). It’s not too late to enroll for the 2020-2021 school year. Contact admissions to schedule your tour today.