Distance Learning in 2020 – The New Normal

“Distance learning” is such a generic term. It’s being bandied about daily – in the news, on the internet. But what does it really mean?

In simple terms, it means that kids are learning online.


Online vs In-Person

Teaching kids online and in-person are two very different environments. Add in the fact that the learning time with a teacher has been reduced, and you can potentially end up with a mess for everyone!

Let's face it, although we all use technology, we all have different comfort levels. And teaching face-to-face, in person, is VERY different than teaching face-to-face through a computer screen! Click To Tweet

Plus, distance learning is all new to our school system. Sure, every board offers online courses, but those teachers know the online environment. Also, the online courses have already been written by other educators, so every teacher has units, learning activities and assessments to follow and tweak to meet the needs of their students. The kids are getting the same material, the same evaluations as everyone else.

Classroom teachers have a set curriculum to follow from policy documents, however, they don’t necessarily have units, lessons/learning activities, and assessments provided.

Don’t get me wrong, every school and/or board has determined the expectations and learning goals for each course. But, every teacher has their own delivery methods, assignments and evaluations. They don’t always do the same thing as the teacher next door, even if they teach the same grade and subject.


Distance Learning: ARGH! I have to teach with a computer???

To suddenly take everyone out of their comfortable classrooms and thrust them into an unknown situation can wreak havoc on their lives. Their stress levels will go through the roof, and all of their tried and true classroom management techniques have been thrown out the window!

Not good!

Now, some teachers do use online systems to supplement their classes – but I would imagine the majority don’t.

So, what will they do?

They will probably try to teach online the way they do in their classroom. But an online classroom doesn’t work that way.

It’s the same for the kids. They are used to a structured routine. That’s non-existent now.

And that can be especially hard on kids with special needs. They really need structure.

Let’s talk about the other side of the equation – the parents.

So, teachers can’t ‘teach’ their classes 5+ hours a day, five days a week.

Most online classes meet for a period of time, and then the kids are left on their own to do the work. This will work for some, but not the majority.

I’ll make a bet that most parents are having a difficult time keeping their kids on task, and those who are also working at home during this crisis are most likely ready to tear their hair out – especially those with younger kids who are used to being supervised all day.

I certainly don’t have the answer to this dilemma. All we can do is the best that we can.

Teachers Need Support!

I do, however, have a couple of suggestions.

Computers can give kids independence. When used correctly as a tool, they can teach initiative and be used to empower learning.

But kids need to be taught how to use them as a learning tool.

This means that teachers also need to be taught how to use them as a teaching tool!

And that’s where the problem is! 

The powers that be assume that teachers already know how to use everything. (We all know the true meaning behind the word “assume”!)

How many boards/school districts have given their staff professional development for online learning? I would hazard a guess that very few have given any time to this, and those that have probably haven’t done any in-depth PD.


Distance Learning: Teacher Professional Development

Teachers are being left hanging in the wind. I have colleagues all over the world, & the most common complaint has been that they don't know how to teach online. And they aren't getting the support they need. Click To Tweet If you want a teacher to teach online, then show them how to use the software. Give them tips on how to do classroom management in an online environment. Click To Tweet

Teacher & student interaction is also very different in an online environment.

Here are just a few questions off the top of my head:

  • How do you grade kids online?
  • How do you test kids online?
  • How do they do group work?
  • How do you prevent plagiarism?
  • How do you motivate kids and make them accountable?
  • How do you work with parents?

Distance Learning means teachers need hands-on workshops, manuals, guidelines, and tech tips. Basically, they need to relearn how to teach in an online environment.

My Prediction

Obviously, some will need less support than others. But, if they don’t get the support they need, then I predict teacher retirements and the drop-out rate will increase dramatically in the next year.