- K-12 emergency online instructional programs cobbled together in reaction to school shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic offered less-than-quality learning opportunities, with teachers reporting hybrid and remote students were behind in average learning growth, according to a new report from The Christensen Institute.
- The experience with remote learning options and tools, however, has empowered some teachers to make their classrooms more student-centered through differentiated instruction, capacity to allow students to learn and demonstrate knowledge in various ways, and the use of online tools to help absent students keep on track academically.
- School administrators also have expressed optimism that pandemic-era experiences with flexible learning formats and ed tech tools will strengthen efforts for equitable and personalized student learning, as well as individualized educator professional development models.
A return to traditional educational structures of uniform lesson scheduling and pacing will likely frustrate some students, families and educators, and could leave some students behind.
The efforts made during the pandemic by teachers and administrators to use online tools to make lessons more engaging, track students’ individual learning needs, and blend in-person learning with independent online study holds promise for personalized instruction, The Christensen Institute report said. Data in the report is built from survey results from nearly 2,000 teachers and administrators.
Thomas Arnett, a senior research fellow at The Christensen Institute and author of the report, warns that student-centered online tools and instruction should be high-quality instead of “plug and play” lesson supplements used as an afterthought.
“Those that haven't had a great experience. I think we're also going to see a ton of pushback from folks that are eager to be done with online learning,” he said.
Some potential high-quality blended learning approaches that have a student-centered focus include:
- Flipped classrooms, where students learn fundamental content independently and in-class time is reserved for discussions, practicing problems and project collaboration.
- Flex models, where students progress through lessons at their own pace.
For example, the Kettle Moraine School District in Wales, Wisconsin, developed a vision for student-centered learning called “Learning Without Boundaries,” which includes systems and practices that leverage online learning to help teachers identify and track students’ academic needs and personalize learning experiences.
One practice that doesn’t hold potential in post-pandemic education is “Zoom in room” where teachers instruct simultaneously to in-person and remote students. Although 80% of hybrid teachers used this arrangement, according to the report, teachers felt they were inadequately serving students’ needs.
The report also discourages system-wide mandates on educators to adopt online instruction and tools. While school system administrators can set student-centered visions for educators and guidance for innovative models, the initiation should be teacher-driven so efforts come from teachers’ own recognition of the value in the approach rather than being done for compliance sake.
One way administrators can encourage those interested in using online tools is to help organize pilot programs and communities of practice, Arnett said.
The report shares a variety of resources to help school systems with shifts toward student-centered practices. The Learning Accelerator, for example, recently released a white paper about using skills developed during the pandemic, such as students’ experience with instructional self-direction and stress self-management, to improve educational practices.
The white paper provides the example of Chicago Public Schools' implementation of virtual personalized learning plans that allowed students to complete assignments in the order they choose. Another example is from a school in the Dallas Independent School District that taught students how to lead their own parent-student-teacher conferences.