I’m back to remind you that online learning is here to stay. In the fall, we shared some of what schools had learned through what was - let’s be honest - crisis distance learning. In replacing synchronous in-person programs with distance or hybrid learning, schools discovered how resilient teachers and students are, and how much families value their independent school community.
There’s now a renewed sense of schools’ value propositions because we have such a clear contrast to what is lost when school is distilled down to just for-credit course work. At the same time, we’ve also seen what can be gained when some learning is freed from the constraints of physical space or synchronous time. As schools plan for 21-22, both in-person and on-campus, we should take time to capture what has been learned. How can digital tools and online options make schools better -- more inclusive, more expansive, more effective?
Elements of online learning that improve outcomes for students shouldn’t be abandoned once students are back in seats in classrooms. Online opportunities can be leveraged in everything from a school’s DEIB initiatives to its enrollment management strategy. In online courses this year, teachers learned they could create pathways that allowed students to see themselves and have their unique needs met within the curriculum, instead of having to raise a singular voice against a dominant culture. Some students thrived under remote learning: introverts weren’t so worn down by the liveliness of in-person learning and some neurodivergent students thrived under conditions that allowed for choice and scaffolded agency.
What worked well in the crisis can be put to good use in planning for the new school year. Students who arrive in high school without Algebra I but want to reach Calculus by senior year can have the opportunity to complete a summer course, if it’s offered online. A wider range of voices, perspectives, and sources can be offered within a course when course materials are provided in an LMS instead of needing to be in print. Letting students record themselves on video for assignments ensures that every student will be seen and heard, no matter how quickly they formulate an opinion.
To decide how you want to move forward with online learning, here are some questions to consider:
As I said on this blog last fall, learning happened in novel and productive ways because students and teachers adjusted to distance learning. That flexibility and resilience is worth celebrating and cultivating. Schools should use every tool they have to create better outcomes for students, and that includes the new tools we’ve crafted in the online space over the past year. Before you move on, take time to reflect on what you want to carry forward--you’ll discover valuable lessons, practices, and strategies to retain in the years to come.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)