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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Capra

Remote Learning: a Pros & Cons Analysis

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

The rhetoric surrounding remote learning is largely tied to the societal need for childcare while underscored by deep rooted personal beliefs about the nature of school. But perhaps framing the discussions around pros and cons can spark innovation and lead to improvements once Covid-19 is gone. Here are some pros and cons relevant for K-12. #remotelearning #onlinelearning #distancelearning #technology #theresacapra #teachingtips #Covid19


Pro--Bullies stay home

Evidence demonstrates that bullying, once perceived as an inevitable rite of passage, can derail a child’s school experience and have detrimental long-term social, academic, and physiological impacts. Although school districts have forked over big bucks for anti-bullying programs in recent years, bullying, in general, is up since 2016.

The nature of reports vary, but most of the time, it’s during school hours. Boys report physical harassment in hallways, cafeterias, and school yards, while girls report being ostracized and pressed through the building rumor mill.

We can’t ignore that remote learning, especially for older students, can reduce the terror of attending school with crowds of peers that have decided you’re a target for abuse. Students with special needs, minorities, and LGBTQ+ are especially vulnerable populations that schools have struggled to protect.

According to the Pew Research Center (2018), about 60% of teens report online harassment and cyberbullying. Ironically, technology may have the potential to address this. If students spent less time shuffling back and forth in crowded buildings and more time learning how to become independent learners who use technology (including social media) for education not just entertainment, rates of cyberbullying might decrease.

Finally, if remote learning was planned and established, at least victims would have feasible learning options outside of homeschool or dropping out.

Con-- Lack of student observation

In a physical classroom, observation is a powerful formative assessment. With students gathered in the same place at the same time, a teacher can circulate to ascertain who is struggling, who needs to be challenged, and so forth. Remote settings can delay immediate assessment necessitating reliance on formal and summative assessments.

Special needs students may be harder to identify and families, especially with young learners, will need support to recognize them in the home. There are strategies to assist teachers with formative assessments in remote learning environments, but it’s still more challenging.

In addition to assessment, through observation, teachers have become frontline reporters of child neglect and abuse. Cases of confirmed child maltreatment dropped in 2017 for the first time in years. The most susceptible populations are infants and young children living in poverty.

Reporting suspected abuse can save a child’s life. Of course there are holes in the system because even when reports are made, overburdened child welfare agencies may not intervene properly. But at least another pair of professional eyes can sound an alarm.

At the secondary level, teachers may detect substance abuse or other risky behaviors that if confronted early, can reverse negative outcomes. Because these physical interactions cannot be transported to remote learning environments, the roles they play in school must be considered.

Pro--More time, fewer distractions

In 1984, a landmark study titled, A Place Called School, demonstrated that time is a precious resource that is wasted in many schools resulting in academic loss. Much of the waste can be attributed to classroom management. It’s not much better today.

Classrooms have become crowded making it hard for even skilled instructors to keep students on task. New teachers in particular struggle with classroom management.

Academic tracking in many districts results in high-performing homogeneous classes typically composed of learners who need less guidance resulting in fewer disruptions. However, the majority of students end up in heterogeneous classrooms with wide learning variations resulting in differing management needs.

Inclusion classrooms, which blend special needs students with general education, require extra classroom management skills and training that is oftentimes not supplied by districts. Some districts can afford education support professionals to assist with high-need students and in some cases, a second teacher with a special education degree is needed, which is quite costly. But even with extra adults, classroom management still consumes a lot of time.

A blend of remote and face-to-face learning can increase academic learning time by eliminating classroom distractions, especially beneficial to average-paced learners who usually lose attention.

Con--More independent learning

Online learning requires self-regulation, autonomy, and discipline. It’s been a staple in higher education for over 20 years and still, many college students struggle due to time management. Remote learning is not fully online but it does require self-regulation, which can be difficult for many students.

Perhaps if these skills were developed early on, students would be more comfortable with self-guided learning. But currently, that is not the case and with parents working, they cannot hover over children to keep them on task.

Similarly, this is new for teachers so they too are in the trenches. Teachers must work to find new ways to motivate students to complete independent assignments with the absence of physical presence. Therefore, remote learning will be bumpy until teachers and students become more comfortable.

All modes of learning have flaws. But let’s use this time to reflect on how we can work together to improve education overall in the future.

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