Overcoming remote learning's three greatest challenges

Overcoming remote learning

by Tony Maguire, Regional Director at EdTech leader, D2L

During times of change there are always challenges.

Last year, schools, universities, and other education institutions were forced to adapt to a complete overhaul of how learning was thought of, how it was delivered, and how it was assessed.

The scale of this change is best summarised by Steven Fouracre, Assistant Principal at Wodonga Middle Years College; “We were forced into a situation where we had to enable 900 students to learn remotely, it was unprecedented and we relied heavily on our LMS to make the transition. It’s the first time in more than 150 years education has been delivered differently in Australia.”

In order to understand how Australian learners coped with the almost overnight transition to remote learning, we surveyed more than 200 Australian students in the last quarter of 2020 across secondary, higher education, and vocational training colleges about their experience over the past year.

Below, we explore the three greatest challenges Australian students reported encountering and suggest strategies educators can use to overcome them and support students throughout their learning journey.  

Difficulty staying focused and motivated to learn – 53%

By far the most common challenge students reported while learning remotely was staying focused and motivated.

With distractions littered around the house, and without the physical delineation between home and school, keeping students engaged is the core of every successful remote learning program.

This requires a pedagogical rethink. While more passive forms of learning might work with a captive audience in the traditional classroom, this simply doesn’t translate in the digital world.

Educators can help students remain focused and motivated by providing learning materials and feedback in dynamic formats, particularly video. While frequent feedback in and of itself is key to engaging students throughout their learning journey, doing so via video can help develop a connection between the learner and the educator – a connection that would have traditionally been formed face-to-face.

Another strategy for building engagement is to encourage students to discuss concepts among themselves, both in dedicated breakout rooms and in online forums. By doing so, students cultivate a connection with each other while simultaneously developing higher-order skills like communication and collaboration.  

Enabling Teachers and Lecturers to use technology effectively – 39%

While the rapid move to remote learning during the pandemic was extremely difficult for students and learners, it was just as difficult for educators. Teachers and professors, many of whom have spent their entire careers teaching face-to-face, were suddenly forced to adapt to an entirely new teaching paradigm.

From a pedagogical perspective, remote education demands a shift towards more active learning methodologies. This can be essential to student success as it keeps learners engaged while they study in isolation.

However, doing so requires educators to be confident in their ability to use all the features and functionality of a digital platform. Whether hosting synchronous and asynchronous lectures online, developing video and audio content, providing frequent and timely feedback, using analytics, or moderating discussion boards, educators need to be supported as they build confidence in using these tools.

Professional development is foundational to helping educators acquire the skills, confidence, and resiliency they need to engage and nurture student growth with a completely new set of digital tools.

Critically, professional development should be delivered via the same Learning Management System (LMS) educators will be using to educate their students. Not only does this provide an authentic way for teachers to familiarise themselves with the platform, it also allows them to understand the digital learning platform from the perspective of their students. 

Issues with internet connection – 38%

The third greatest challenge Australian students reported while learning remotely was issues with internet connectivity. Due to any number of socioeconomic, geographic, or technical reasons, equity of access can impact the learning experience.

While this is one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome in remote education, it is possible to support learners by thinking strategically about how course materials, lectures, and other elements of the program are delivered.

In recognising that not all students have the same level of internet access, educators should seek to provide content in as many formats as possible – including the least bandwidth-intensive. While video and audio content serve to engage students with a reliable internet connection, making the same materials available transcribed in text ensures no student misses out.

Some students, however, may experience even greater levels of disadvantage and not be able to participate in remote learning at all – this may be due to the digital divide or perhaps because both parents are essential workers unable to provide at-home supervision. In these cases, many schools continued to welcome struggling students onto campus so they were not left behind.

When doing so, those students on-campus should be encouraged to use the same online platform as their remote learning peers with the school’s computers. This ensures all students have a common educational experience, develop the same digital communication skills, and no one feels left out.     

Ultimately, when learning remotely, engagement is everything. Engaged students are more motivated to succeed and achieve the desired learning outcomes, but educators must be empowered to guide learners along this journey. Careful consideration must also be given to students who may not have the same access to technology at home to ensure no student is left behind. 

Want to learn more? The full findings are available in our Remote learning and the future of post-pandemic education eBook, now available for pre-registration.