LANSING, Mich. — In a new qualitative study from Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI), educational researchers have found that schools and districts that had already implemented virtual teaching and learning practices fared better in the COVID-19 pandemic than counterparts without remote learning structures already in place.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our education system, unsurprisingly, we’ve seen that schools that had invested in building supports for remote learning pre-pandemic were more successful in adapting to the changes required of schools during the past year,” said Chris Harrington, Ed.D., Director of the MVLRI. “This analysis shows that we can indeed do virtual learning well and the time to build those supports is prior to any emergent learning need, not during.”
Since mid-March 2020, traditional schools and districts throughout the United States were forced to adopt remote teaching and learning practices as a result of extended school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and districts that had already implemented effective virtual teaching and learning practices prior to the COVID-19 outbreak experienced greater degrees of success than their counterparts.
The size and span of this study with educators across the country makes it one of the most comprehensive of its kind. The study utilized an online survey of 1,809 virtual educators (1,721 teachers and 88 supervising administrators) representing 17 statewide virtual schools or programs with a combined 150 years of online and blended learning experience and more than a quarter of a million virtual course enrollments annually.
Harrington adds: “Every single educator, parent and student should be commended for their resilience this past year. Looking at the schools and districts where we’ve seen success, there are three major lessons we can glean from this study and take into account with our educational structures post-pandemic.”
Schools must embrace flexible learning models. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all education system. When we try to apply standardized models to actual students, some will inevitably get left behind. What our students need is increased flexibility, more choice, and agility in the system designed to help them succeed in life.
Education should be personalized using student-centered and competency-based systems. Every school has a unique set of needs and challenges, including some that may vary wildly between schools within the same district. Research shows that education is most effective when students have voice, choice, and agency over their own learning and are allowed to progress at their own pace as they demonstrate mastery of academic content and skills. Working alongside educators and communities who know their students best will help schools to create systems specifically designed for individual student success.
Family engagement is essential. As a result of virtual learning from the same house as stay-at-home working family members, caregivers and parents are more involved in education than ever before. Having family support at home, in addition to in a classroom (no matter the setting) is vital to student success. As we begin to restore some balance to family structures, now is the time to retain the active engagement of caregivers over the past year to ensure the success of students going forward.
Conducted by researchers at Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI), this study aimed to provide practices for teachers and school administrators new to teaching and leading in a virtual or remote learning environment to understand the ways in which they could better engage students.