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How Can Educational Technology Leaders Improve Distance Learning?

Distance and remote learning options have become more common than ever, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to rely on them for learning. As a result, teachers and students had to adapt to a brand-new learning environment on the fly, which proved difficult, especially in the face of a public health crisis. The negative effects of this sudden shift — often referred to as “learning loss” — have been well documented.

However, as schools continue to utilize these technologies, more educators recognize them as valuable teaching tools with vast potential. Distance learning can provide access to education in convenient and accommodating ways for different populations of students, and components like asynchronous lessons have the power to create a more robust learning dynamic.

Adapting these technologies at scale can be difficult, especially considering the newness of distance learning and the constant rate of change in digital software and hardware. Leaders in educational technology can take steps to ensure that their digital learning structures are utilized to their potential and offer appropriate levels of access for all students.

Internet Access

The first step to creating an effective distance learning atmosphere is to “ensure that all students have the infrastructure they need to participate and engage in this new learning environment,” as explained by the education publication EdTech: Focus on K-12. The reason is simple: students cannot engage with the required learning without proper equipment.

Unfortunately, the digital divide persists. EdTech cites a 2020 Wall Street Journal article that says almost 20 percent of students in the United States did not have the necessary technology to engage with school at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote learning. Like many other inequities, these disparities disproportionately impact students from low-income households and marginalized cultural groups. Sometimes, even teachers have difficulty obtaining the necessary technology support.

Of course, tackling this challenge is complex, given the scale of school communities and the cost of technology. Still, districts have found new and innovative ways to correct them: “Many districts have distributed mobile hotspots and LTE-enabled devices. Others have turned to super hotspots, which are mobile routers strong enough to project Wi-Fi signals into a larger area. They can be installed on a school bus or inside and outside a school building,” according to EdTech: Focus on K-12. Districts can also find assistance in increasing out-of-school connectivity through the help of initiatives or community groups.

Professional Training and Development

Just like people need the necessary physical tools to effectively engage with distance learning, teachers need the proper intellectual tools to foster and manage a dynamic learning environment. Leaders must ensure that teachers have the appropriate knowledge and skills to adapt their classroom practices to a digital environment. Another post from EdTech: Focus on K-12 suggests that professional development curricula be adapted to integrate technology best practices and expectations into all training.

To efficiently teach these lessons, technology leaders should scaffold their training as well. Offering different levels of support helps personalize the learning process: “By providing a variety of learning options, districts can guarantee their teachers will have support and access to training, ownership of their learning and the ability to assess their technical skill levels.”

Student Best Practices

Along with substantive training, teachers can already adopt some simple instructional practices that educators have found to improve the remote learning experience for students. For instance, simplicity in direction and technology helps limit confusion and streamline online learning, as this 2020 Forbes article outlines. Ensure the clarity of expectations and requirements, as students aren’t in a physical classroom with reminders around them. Limiting the number of programs students will use helps create consistency and comfort. Teaching information in shorter blocks of time can also be an effective strategy for online learning. Some educators have also found that distance learning tends to be a better setting for reviewing and reinforcing existing lessons rather than introducing too much new content.

In the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Educational Technology Leadership program from the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM), candidates will explore new technologies and trends related to distance learning and best practices for using them. They will also gain the necessary knowledge and awareness to research and evaluate the best learning programs for their environments.

Learn more about the University of Louisiana Monroe’s online M.Ed. in Educational Technology Leadership program.

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