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Distance learning during the pandemic: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome!

A version of this post was originally published in the April 2020 E-Learning Supplement of Education Today.

Strange. Challenging. Hopeful. These are probably the best adjectives that describe the times we are all currently living. Large parts of human activity have been brought to a standstill by an invisible yet very powerful global health threat. People in various parts of the world are suffering greatly and have to deal with situations no one should ever have to. Amid the chaos, we still hope that things will eventually go back to normal — whatever that may mean in the near future.

As educators, we try to teach our students not only the general notions of Maths, Geography, Literature, and so on but also the basics of how to be responsible human beings that will thrive in the future. We try to teach them to think critically, communicate with anyone, tap into their creativity, and build resilience. The power of example is indescribable for the latter.

And what better way is there to show students what it means to think critically, keep all communication channels open, be creative and resilient, if not by taking this strange challenge and transforming it into a valuable lesson?

Distance learning: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome

Every industry has been affected by the recent pandemic in one way or another and education makes no exception. Schools and universities may have their gates closed but learning must continue even though from a safe distance.

Many schools and educators turn to distance learning platforms in the hopes of ensuring at least some continuity in students’ education. Most of them are treading into new and unexplored territory. Everyone has to think on their feet and improvise solutions while dealing with rapid changes.

Read more: On challenges and opportunities: Emergency remote teaching

One of the most important things to master in these circumstances is the asynchronous mindset: the fact that student learning is not necessarily tied to that moment in time when the teacher is teaching. Once everyone has a good grasp of this concept — both teachers and students — things become a little easier. And for those that already have some experience with the flipped classroom, things are already a lot easier.

Read more: Adopting the asynchronous mindset for better online learning

Of course, evaluating all resources and deciding how to make the most of them is also important. Inevitably, education technology — in all its shapes and sizes — is a big part of any distance learning strategy, as it’s the actual enabler of learning.

Read more: 6 Building blocks for a successful edtech strategy

How an LMS supports distance learning

A learning management system (LMS) is one of the most comprehensive solutions that can help schools to cope with the challenge of adapting to distance learning. Here are three ways in which you can rely on an LMS in these hard times:

  1. It ensures education continuity

    Students and teachers may be in their own homes, but that doesn't mean they can't interact and engage in teaching and learning activities. Educators can continue creating online learning materials and design activities that can happen within the digital medium.

    With the help of an LMS, lessons can still be taught, students can still ask questions and receive targeted support to overcome any educational hurdle, tests and other assessments can still be taken, and student progress can still be tracked. All the elements of instruction are there; it's up to the teachers to make the most of all LMS features.

  2. It holds student engagement

    Since direct interaction is lost, as students don't come to school anymore, it's very important to find alternative ways to keep them engaged.

    One first step in achieving this is for teachers to create online lessons within the LMS using the video format, or at least include a recorded video of themselves giving a lecture and support it with various other resources in other formats. This helps smooth the transition to distance learning for everyone.

    Read more: 4 Tips for making the transition to remote learning a smooth one

    Another thing that is proved to both student engagement rate, is the use of gamification. An LMS provides multiple ways of applying such techniques in lessons, even automatically. When students constantly get a drip of compliments for their learning progress — in the forms of points, badges, trophies, or leaderboards — they unconsciously activate their innate competitive spirit and keep being enthusiastic about logging into the system and learn more.

  3. It's scalable and reliable

    Many schools now also use the LMS as a means of mass-communication, to send important messages instantly to all types of users. But when thousands of people (or more) are logged in at the same time, the generated online activity can put a strain on both the internet connection and the system.

    The last thing everyone needs in these trying times is to be unable to count on the much-needed technology. Fortunately, a cloud-based LMS is scalable enough to accommodate the needs of increasing numbers of active users, so teachers, students, and school admins can rest assured they can rely on it at all times.

    Read more: What type of LMS is best for your school: proprietary, open-source, or cloud-based?

Closing thoughts

The recent pandemic has forced people out of their comfort zone and into a whirlpool of changes. Education has been disrupted for millions of students of all ages across the world, constraining schools and educators to fall on distance learning and education technologies to ensure the continuity of learning.

We people are resilient beings and can use our creativity to overcome all challenges — even the invisible ones.