To be successful, remote and virtual learning requires many of the same ingredients in-person instruction does:
- Checking for understanding
- Prompt feedback.
However, virtual distance adds challenges, requiring adding more ingredients to the mix to make things work.
In addition to ensuring students have the right equipment and wifi bandwidth to learn effectively, here are some additional ingredients you should include in your remote virtual learning mix.
Encourage Active Student Participation
A fundamental challenge with virtual learning is to get students to show up and complete assignments. Students in remote or virtual learning programs are far more likely to skip out when compared with in-person classroom experiences. Absence is an especially big problem for students from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, who often lack reliable internet.
To combat this, coursework should make it very clear what tasks students need to complete and when. Build-in components that play on the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Include scoreboards and other things that show how other students are participating and the progress they’re making. That may be more like FOBLB (Fear of Being Left Behind).
It also helps to give students the tools they need to build a plan for when and where they’ll engage in schoolwork. Having a self-made plan makes it more likely a student will follow it.
Take an Integrated Approach to Learning
Virtual education doesn’t have to be as cut-and-dried as traditional methods. You don’t have to divide the experience into standard subjects like reading, math, science, and social studies. The old-school approach often turned students off. Reading and math drills, in isolation, can become tedious.
Instead, do things like building reading and comprehension elements into a social studies lesson. Students are more likely to engage with rote material like reading and math when it’s taught in a practical way in context and not drilled into them. Hours spent practicing reading comprehension “skills and strategies,” disconnected from content, are wasted. Teaching reading through topics related to social studies or other subject areas — and spending a significant amount of time on a topic — is more likely to build the knowledge and vocabulary vital to comprehension.
Also, build virtual learning components that focus on a big idea rather than many disconnected parts. It’s a better way for students to learn, especially in virtual settings. For instance, rather than teach the planets one off and ladder up to the universe, start with the universe, then drill down to the solar system and planets. It’s a more cinematic approach that resonates with students who grew up with movies and epic video games.
Check for Understanding Before Asking for Analysis
Even more than in live classroom experiences, it’s critical to check for a basic understanding of the subject matter before asking students to comment. Build regular checks into the material. It’s easy for students to get lost when studying virtually. Make it simple for them to go back and review content that isn’t fully understood. Only when learners have a mastery of the basics should they be required to analyze subject matter.
Keep the Experience Simple
Many online experiences, especially those developed by gaming and other types of companies focused on entertainment, are often focused more on design than learning. This often makes them confusing and difficult for many students to navigate. When developing virtual learning experiences, it’s critical that education be the top priority and elements like design, gaming, and storytelling be used to support learning. If you have any doubts, extensively test your concept with different types of learners. They’ll help you know that all kinds of people can navigate it, engage with the content, and retain essential information.
Connect New Content With Previously Learned Material
Part of the power of virtual learning is that it’s multidimensional, not linear. You don’t have to flip back in a textbook or pull out another text to revisit related content learned in the past. Instead, students can click on a link to check out related material. When designing coursework, consider all the things students might want to revisit. Include clear and intuitive links to things learners will want to connect with. It will help them make the connections they need between material and help them better understand how different concepts learned at other times connect.
It’s great to explain things. It’s much better to support concepts with examples. In textbook days, examples were often limited because of page count. No such limit exists in the virtual world. Include real-life, real-world examples whenever possible. Even subjects like math can benefit from things like a video demonstration that explains how to go about solving a complex math problem. Include ones that appeal to different kinds of learners. Include different demographics, living environments, and media delivery methods. Make it a point to provide examples that all types of users can connect with and learn from.
Supply Information in Consumable Doses
It’s always best to limit the new information students are exposed to in a single learning session. This is especially true in virtual situations. Rather than a 45- or 60-minute online learning experience, break things up into sections of no more than 15 or 20 minutes, especially if the subject matter is new or students are younger. You’re better off repeating the same content in multiple sessions than presenting it in a single long one. Students learn better through repetition. Plus, they value learning more when they want to devour more lessons rather than being forced to sit through a long one.
Balance Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
Remote and digital learning can be done either synchronously, with everyone participating at the same time. It can also be done asynchronously, with students accessing the same lesson independently when they choose. Synchronous lessons can be more challenging to pull off. (Planners and content creators must build opportunities to check everyone is staying on track and understand what’s being taught.)
Synchronous study may have drawbacks, but it’s necessary for a successful course of study. Not only does it allow for prompt teacher feedback, but it also enables educators and students to maintain connections and feel part of a group.
Asynchronous learning provides many of the benefits already covered in this article. It allows students to study at their own pace how they prefer. They can explore additional content and revisit material they’ve studied before. Needless to say, asynchronous study is a critical component of the digital learning process.
Virtual Learning Experiences: The Bottom Line
Remote virtual learning has become a major part of our education system. It comes with unique challenges that require creativity and fresh thinking to resolve. In the end, if done right, it can be a rewarding experience for teachers and students.
Keep in mind that society functions in a collaborative way and peer-based learning happens naturally. Take advantage of this and allow time for small group-learning where students can provide feedback to their teachers and to each other. This can be done with video conferencing, emails, discussion boards, group calls, and regular in-person classroom meet-ups. Groups are dynamic and will likely need to change based on your assessment data.
Keeping students focused on a screen for extended periods of time can be challenging. To keep student attention, create and implement curriculum that is engaging and provides real-world relevance. Consider incorporating team-based competitions, digital storytelling, and interactive videos and images. Make sure content is doled out in digestible bites that leave students wanting more.
Always create an inviting learning environment for students, even online. Providing courses that have a clear and consistent structure throughout each module allows for intuitive navigation and helps prevent student frustration. Don’t forget the importance of formative assessments to determine whether learners are getting the most out of the course.
Leveraging the proven best practices in this guide will help you develop and deliver virtual learning experiences that educate students better than traditional ones.
Need help developing or refining your virtual learning experiences? Perhaps you need support getting this novel type of content approved for use in classrooms across the United States and the world. Contact the experts at EdGate to find out how they can help you succeed in this brave new world of education.