Originally published on besa, August 2020.
As thousands of learners get ready to return to their schools and colleges, now is a good time for educational institutions to pause and reflect on the successes associated with online learning. As students and educators rapidly took to remote learning over the past few months, it has enabled many to gain a valuable insight into the benefits of online platforms and digital learning tools. And whilst remote learning environments don’t come without challenges, appreciation in the value of online learning has led to many questioning ‘what does the future of education look like?’
Online learning is not new, but the pandemic has accelerated the pace of change towards online tools. This sudden shift to online and remote learning formats has been a considerable achievement for many institutions and educators, who are rising to the challenge whilst continuing to fulfill their day to day duties. It has been no mean feat, but the shift has undeniably brought about many positives for the whole student population, and given educators the chance to review what is working and what could be improved.
Most obvious is the widespread advantage of greater flexibility and convenience for both students and teachers.
Being able to work at an individual pace, without any pressure to keep up with the rest of the class, means learners have the time to think and process at their own speed. They can work confidently, without distraction. For the educator, they’re given the opportunity to focus on every individual student, and give their undivided attention, without interruption.
As Edutopia say, these benefits and more, are being echoed amongst many educators around the globe;
Increasingly, teachers in our audience are reporting that a handful of their students—shy kids, hyperactive kids, highly creative kids—are suddenly doing better with remote learning than they were doing in the physical classroom…the unplanned break from the physical classroom may be bringing to light hidden reasons some kids struggle while others succeed. In the responses we gathered from our educators, we found recurring themes—like social situations and the inflexible bell schedule—that simply don’t work well for all kids.
All that being said, it’s important to note that there are some students who are struggling to adapt. As educational institutions weigh up the benefits of a blended learning environment, where online learning combines with face-to-face teaching, we need to address the challenges to ensure a future of education that’s beneficial for all.
With how rapidly change occurred, drawbacks to remote learning over the last few months have included technical difficulties, such as poor internet connection and the absence of an available device. Some students also felt the impact of the loss of social interaction and may have become disengaged and unmotivated – and this sense of isolation was probably, and understandably heightened by social distancing measures across all areas of life. Furthermore, students with additional learning needs may have been facing additional challenges, because the reactive change meant restricted time to put strategies and supporting mechanisms in place.
In her recent blog, Leader of Learning, Kate Macpherson said ‘in pre-pandemic teaching, students with learning challenges and additional learning needs relied on their peers, as well as the physical classroom, to help them through their lessons. They were able to watch and observe what others were doing, to know they are on the right track, and they had the ability to seek advice from peers.’
But, with the right support in place, every student can flourish in a remote learning setting. The key is to ensure a digital platform, which empowers personalized learning.
Being able to personalize learning has been found as the biggest barrier to remote learning during the lockdown period, with the second barrier being keeping students engaged. These aspects work hand in hand. If students are able to personalize the way that they learn, and choose how they complete their tasks, it empowers them to work with confidence – which ultimately leads to more engaged learners.
Personalized learning is defined as ‘an educational approach that aims to customize learning for each student’s strengths, needs, skills and interests’. It has been a dominant trend in the EdTech sphere over the past ten years, and many educators have been implementing technology in the physical classroom space for years, using digital tools to easily differentiate learning materials, and provide more meaningful learning experiences for their learners. Technology has been playing a key role in addressing learner variability and facilitating the advancement of personalized learning. Students can adapt learning materials with ease, using digital tools to help them process information, and demonstrate their understanding in their preferred way.
The scalability and consistency offered by technology has given rise to tools providing personalized learning pathways, enabling teachers to challenge, intervene and support students where necessary. Online learning environments can also be augmented with the addition of native assistive technology tools.
Looking to the future, the coronavirus outbreak has forced widespread experimentation around entirely remote classrooms, which could result in the permanent transformation of education, comprising a combination of online and classroom-based learning. Therefore, it is imperative that we draw on our learnings to address the challenges that students and educators face with remote learning and assessment.
Assistive technology empowers educators to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving and diverse student population, and provides students with a range of supports which are beneficial for learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Take Texthelp’s cloud-based API toolbar, SpeechStream, for example. Licensed by global educational publishers including Pearson Education, SpeechStream seamlessly embeds reading and writing support tools, including text-to-speech with synchronous highlighting, translation, word prediction, and more into digital learning and assessment content. This gives all learners an equal opportunity to learn, whilst providing often essential accommodations for learners and test-takers of all abilities. Students can self-select the tools they require or prefer to learn with.
In addition, SpeechStream’s functionality aligns with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles by presenting information in different ways, addressing learning variability and reducing barriers, enabling all learners to engage in meaningful learning. The cloud-based toolbar is highly flexible, scalable, and easy to implement, making it a perfect integration for any online learning platform.
One thing we can take away from recent experiences of online learning is that the benefits are here to stay – and assistive technology tools are a key element in harnessing the advantages of digital learning environments.
Find out more about how SpeechStream can support you and your students learning remotely, by clicking here.