Coffee Break - Effectively Embarking on Distance Learning


Distance learning might be a foreign concept to some, but it is upon us now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools shutting down across the country, parents and teachers are scrambling to determine the most effective way to keep kids engaged in school work and consistently learning. So what is distance learning and how can it be approached effectively? The approach will, of course, vary depending on the age group, but let's discuss some techniques to make the experience fruitful, not stressful, for all involved.

Distance Learning

Distance learning is essentially exactly as it sounds. It is learning that happens at a distance, regardless of which technology is used. We are lucky to live in a day and age where technology is at our fingertips. Various online portals used by organizations, combined with email, allow us to communicate information nearly instantaneously. Video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, WebEx and Skype allow businesses and classes to conduct meetings and lessons face-to-face, albeit through a screen. Never in history have we been so connected while remaining so distanced.

Making it Work

Whether or not distance learning is effective depends on many factors: instructors, students, collaboration, schedule.

Having an accessible instructor is crucial to a student's success. A student will generally perform better and feel more supported knowing that his or her teacher is easily reached should the student have any questions or thoughts throughout his or her studies. Otherwise, the "what's the point" question will arise rather quickly. Collaboration is also ideal. Being out of school and away from friends can be challenging for students, so having opportunities to interact with classmates on virtual projects or discussions will help increase morale and focus. It will also help the students feel responsible for their work and encourage them to put their best foot forward so as to not let their peers down. Because every school will have different ways of implementing distance learning, parents will need to determine how their school system plans on moving forward so that they understand how best to facilitate.

While parents might not necessarily have control over the school's approach to teacher availability and collaboration, they can control what the distance learning experience looks like at home. A schedule is absolutely necessary if distance learning is to be effective. It can be challenging for kids to hunker down and complete school work when home. Home is associated with toys, video games, arts and crafts and relaxation. Oftentimes, school is not at the forefront of children's minds when at home. This shift in thinking may take some time, but can be effective with parent support, the proper set up, and a daily schedule. Let's discuss this further.

Setting the Scene

This is not as glamorous as I made it sound, but can be fun! Having a proper work space can make all the difference in the success of distance learning. Find a designated room or space in your house that will serve as the "classroom space" while distance learning occurs. Be sure to have all books and learning materials in one place that is easily accessible and found. If a computer or tablet is needed, have that set as well. The space should be inviting and encourage learning, so whatever that looks like for your child, go for it. Minimize any unnecessary distractions like television, video games, comic books, whatever it might be for your kid.

Setting the Schedule

As a parent, you know how important schedules are for kids and adults alike. Without schedules, there is little to no order and things can easily go awry. Depending on what your school provides for distance learning, your schedule will vary from day to day. That's okay! I suggest starting simply and allocating time for every subject each day - an hour for math, an hour for reading, forty-five minutes for writing, etc. From there, you can get flexible depending on what is assigned daily. Be sure to schedule in breaks and make a list of additional things to do, should there be light work on day and boredom sets in. Finding a balance of work and fun will make things a whole lot easier.

Checking In

This is a great opportunity to teach your child(ren) self-regulation and self-discipline, concepts that are challenging for even adults at times. The key is to be present, but not hover over your child as their work progresses. Set them up each morning, refer them to the schedule and the work they must complete, connect them to the appropriate instructors, and then let them do their thing. This will take practice, but they will eventually fall into a rhythm. Early on, you can check in periodically throughout each lesson to ensure they understand what they are supposed to be doing and are staying on task. As time goes by, you will find they are able to check in on themselves. Obviously, you know your child best and some kids might require a bit more attention than others, but hold the bar high and expect more than you think you should. Kids will surprise you. You can help by setting an example if you are working from home, or by completing any work you need to do around the house. These are skills that will carry them throughout their lives, so it is never too young to instill these work ethics.

Breathe Easy

Will this go completely smoothly as I've laid it out? Absolutely not! But, it's a start, and even if you accomplish a snippet of what is listed in this post, you've succeeded. The next few weeks or months are new territory for us all and we will continue to adjust as best we can. The most important thing we can give our kids right now is support. Cheer them on as they work through their school work and be there for them to answer questions, be they about school or about this crazy time in which we find ourselves. Stick to the regular routine as much as possible within the confines of your home. Any normalcy you can instill is beneficial, not only to your kids, but for your well-being. Kids will gain the knowledge they need and we will all make it out on the other side. So breathe easy and enjoy this time you have at home with your kids.

If you need any assistance with distance learning, Embark Education is offering virtual tutoring sessions to accommodate your needs. Please do not hesitate to reach out!