Greg O'Connor and Fiona Thomas

How remote learning practices are shaping the future of education

Originally posted in Education Review.

Adam Voight, a former school principal in Victoria, Australia, wrote recently about the “need to Marie Kondo Victorian schools.” Suggesting it was time to throw out the things in our schools that don’t bring us joy. So, teachers and Texthelpers, Greg O’Connor and Fiona Thomas, explore areas of education that have worked for remote learning and what we can do differently to make the “new normal” a “better normal.”

How remote learning practices are shaping the future of education

Instructional design

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we learned quickly that teaching had to be delivered differently in remote learning environments. Teachers couldn’t simply pick up their classroom materials and deliver them online, with no change to the didactic presentation and no digital interaction for students. The key learning here is that alternative strategies are needed in the blended learning environment for teaching to continue to be effective and keep students engaged. The changing teaching strategies that educators have employed to navigate remote learning should definitely be considered as we move back to the more traditional classroom-style environment, especially if increased learner engagement has been observed and it has shown to enhance teaching and learning effectiveness.

Equitable access to learning

One thing that the move to remote learning has brought to the fore is the digital inequities in accessing online learning resources. It’s something to be considered if education is to become more blended going forward. Being in the classroom makes it much easier to compensate for inequitable access to digital tools at home. If it takes a village to raise a child, we should empower the village to teach the child and give them equal access to the tools to do so.

But inequity is not just limited to technology. Some students simply do not do as well in online/remote learning environments as others. Some don’t learn as well this way, without the more immediate, timely and face-to-face feedback support possible within a traditional classroom.

Delivering critical feedback

Everyone knows that feedback is critical to learning. The quick and effective closure of the feedback loop ensures that students have a good understanding. Timely feedback should arrive with the student while they’re still thinking about the assignment they’ve just submitted. This isn’t an easy task when faced with a pile of completed assignments. But feedback doesn’t always have to be delivered face-to-face, nor does it have to entail reams of comments and a grade on the end of an assignment. Since moving to remote practices, teachers have had to think of new ways to deliver feedback to students, maybe that’s via an instant message, or during a quick Zoom call.

Tools such as Texthelp’s Read&Write can be super aids to facilitate two-way feedback, with voice notes built in as a feature. These are a really effective two-way feedback system. Students can listen to teacher feedback at any time of the day or night and they can also add voice notes to share their thoughts with their teachers.

Learner Agency

The move to asynchronous learning has given students agency to control the pace of their own learning. They can choose to engage at a time that works best for them, not having to fit into a formal timetable of content delivered in a synchronous classroom-led learning environment. Has there been sufficient improvements in students’ engagement levels and progression to allow us to think about delivering a more “on-demand” learning experience in the future, in a way that we have not done traditionally in the past?

Even when we’re back in the traditional classroom, it may be valuable to consider giving students access to asynchronous learning options, so they can drive the pace of their own learning at certain times of the day. Texthelp’s literacy toolbar, Read&Write helps give students agency to choose tools that help them understand and engage with classroom materials and resources. With features like Text-to-Speech and Audio Maker, students who prefer to listen to content rather than read, have the option to consume class materials in that way, rather than having to struggle to read reams of content. There’s lots of features for visual learners too, like Picture Dictionaries and Highlighter tools, helping students to visualise their work before setting about completing an assignment. What’s great about the tool is that it’s available on any device and works in class or at home, allowing students to take control of their learning in an environment that suits them best.

What about maths teaching?

It’s no secret that maths teachers have struggled…really struggled, with the transition to remote teaching. We’ve heard from maths teachers worldwide about how they’ve been struggling to find ways for students to share their work digitally without having to take multiple photos, and send via email to their teachers. The pandemic has forced maths educators to look for ways to take maths out of the pen and paper era and move to more digital practices. But how are they doing it? Flipped classroom strategies have definite value in maths instruction. Flipping the classroom means using web-enabled instructional strategies to allow educators to spend class time interacting with students, rather than lecturing, or in this case creating countless worksheets and collating responses. At Texthelp, we’ve been working on our maths and science product, EquatIO for some time now and across the globe educators are using the tool to move their maths instruction online. EquatIO software allows educators to create maths equations, formulas and more, directly from their computer. Students can then use it to submit their responses, showing full working of problems.

Now that schools are moving back to in-class teaching, should maths teaching and learning really go back to pen and paper? Educators have found a way to facilitate their maths class online and engage students with maths in a fully digital way. They should be permitted to bring those new strategies into their everyday teaching practices, creating increased engagement through a personalised learning experience, allowing students to demonstrate mastery in multiple ways.

Final thought from Greg and Fiona

We’ve talked a lot about the use of technology and how it has been used to overcome many barriers to learning remotely. Whilst the use of technology is often an important component of delivering remote learning, it’s still the teacher and their teaching and learning strategy that is key to successful outcomes. Technology is just a tool to assist in the delivery of the teaching. It can’t teach. Technology in the hands of a skilled teacher can enhance learning outcomes.

To learn more about emerging strategies and common tools that could support teaching and learning in this new normal, check out our webinar series on future-building teaching in blended learning environments for both literacy and numeracy.

future-building teaching in blended learning environments with texthelper on phone


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