Planning for Effective Online Learning Takes Months Not Days. Let’s Get Started

Editors Features May 20 / May 30, 2020

 – Dan Jones –

For so long, the idea of creating digital lessons, learning new computer programs, or looking at new methods of instruction was put on hold because we were comfortable doing what we had always done, and if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Well, COVID-19 broke all of our methods, and we were all thrown into the position of a temporary fix: remote learning. And if we’re going to be really transparent, let’s call it what it really is… pandemic learning. So, how do we get it to become remote learning?

Just a few weeks ago, educators all over the world were suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into a new learning scenario, and we were charged with the task of figuring it out. There is no scaffolding to draw from when it comes to pandemic learning. The world literally shut down, but education kept rolling forward. Some of that forward movement was awkward, piecemeal, inequitable, and just plain exhausting. Teachers rose to that challenge as best as we could and tried to give 150 percent. We were putting in longer days, making more phone calls, supporting students in new ways, and we did it because it needed to be done. But was it high-quality remote learning? In short, no. 

If this massive workload and exhaustive effort is not remote learning, what exactly is remote learning? According to Dr. Kecia Ray, “Remote learning provides an opportunity for students and teachers to remain connected and engaged with the content while working from their homes. Opportunities for remote learning are typically linked to emergency situations that pose a threat to student safety.” It has a structure that clearly communicates expectations for all involved. Dr. Kecia Ray goes on to say that teachers need to communicate their expectations to students regarding when and how long classes or office hours will occur. It also needs to be clearly communicated how students are to interact with their teacher. Students need a simple workflow. The challenge of going from Google Classroom to Google Meets for one teacher and from Canvas to Zoom for another can create a chaotic and confusing setup for students. Keep it simple. Try to get all staff to use the same type of platform for engaging students. 

Remote learning takes extensive planning and there just wasn’t enough time given to this transition to create what needed to be created. Let’s be honest: we all built the plane in the air. In the article, The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning, Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust and Aaron Bond make the case that “online learning carries a stigma of being lower quality than face-to-face learning, despite research showing otherwise. These hurried moves online by so many institutions at once could seal the perception of online learning as a weak option; when in truth nobody making the transition to online teaching under these circumstances will truly be designing to take full advantage of the affordances and possibilities of the online format.” They go on to say that “what we know from research is that effective online learning results from careful instructional design and planning, using a systematic model for design and development.” There are nine different areas to consider when developing an online learning environment: Modality (percentage of online v. face to face), Pacing (self-paced or class-paced), Student Ratio (class size or grade level), Pedagogy (how students engage with content), Role of Online Assessments (are students ready to be assessed), Instructor’s Role Online (availability), Student’s Role Online (what do they do), Online Communication Synchrony (synchronous or asynchronous), and Source of Feedback (who provides it). Each of these has a variety of options, but every school needs to discuss each area and come to a consensus about the execution of each area. 

Moving to an online platform does not mean that we ditch the learning community that we built in a traditional setting. Continuing the learning communities that we have built is critical to any online environment that we create. Jody Donovan, author of the article The Importance of Building Online Learning Communities, shares that students who are “physically separated by distance,… are connected through their commitment to one another and to learning. Online learning communities can be academically and personally transformational when intentionally created, fostered, and sustained by all involved.” These online learning communities can reflect the traditional classroom environment. If you normally start with announcements, continue to do so. If you get your students up and moving with an activity, continue to do so. Remember that online learning communities are not solely focused on academics. Consistency is key for students of all ages, and maintaining consistency between your face-to-face classroom and your online learning environment grounds your students and gives them precious familiarity. Anthea Papadopoulou writes in her article, How to Build an Online Learning Community (In 2020), that “learning is a social act by itself.” She goes on to say that there are two types of discussions that are important in an Online Learning Community: Synchronous and Asynchronous. She says, “It is best to plan a live collaboration chat with your learners early on.” When it comes to asynchronous conversations, she suggests, “One way of promoting meaningful dialogue and questioning is to provide a set of rubrics of the kinds of questions students may want to ask each other.” 

Pandemic learning is a temporary fix; it is a Band-Aid. It is not meant to be a long-term or permanent solution. The world of education has shifted from online learning to being an option for online learning becoming a part of what is expected of all educators. Moving from pandemic learning to remote learning will take time, careful planning, and a commitment to executing it well. The time to plan for next year is now. Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust and Aaron Bond say that “typical planning, preparation, and development time for a fully online university course is six to nine months before the course is delivered. Faculty are usually more comfortable teaching online by the second or third iteration of their online courses.” Given that we may or may not be teaching completely online next year, it is better to over-plan than to under plan. We have given them our best efforts; now it is time to combine that with the best learning experience.

Join us as we discuss the ideas in the article with educators around the global at the Second Wave Summit | 2020


GEEFL best practices covered in this article

Dan Jones
Dan Jones Jones
Dan Jones is a middle school social studies teacher at the Richland School of Academic Arts. He earned a BS in Middle Grades Education from Ashland University and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Dan is the author of Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide. He is a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty and has earned numerous FLGI certifications including the certification Flipped Learning 3.0 Master Class Facilitator Certification Level - I.

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1 Comment

on June 14, 2020

I love this article Dan! So spot on! I think this reflection needs to continue happening since the future in education is uncertain. I am glad COVID-19 came to teach us so many lessons, but the efforts we’ve had to make as teachers and parents have been great. We need to continue finding ways to help out students learn better! Thanka for this article!

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