How Online Learners Can Succeed in a Fragmented Education System
The fragmented nature of the U.S. education system works in our favor by giving schools the opportunity to try different tools, technology and curricula to see what works and what doesn’t. We can use this data to inform how we instruct future generations of learners so that with each passing year, the educational experience gets better and better.
United States education system is saddled with a patchwork of
systems, districts, decision making and budget commitments. This
results in policy reform moving at snail’s pace, and long lead
times for government-backed laws, regulations and change. But that
doesn’t mean the system is broken. Just because there is no
centralized format for decision-making on a federal, or even state
level, doesn’t mean that students’ best interests aren’t being
kept top of mind. In fact, the opposite case could be made. In the
United States, Districts have more freedom to address the specific
needs of their students — ones that couldn’t be addressed if
education was tightly regulated by state and federal government.
decentralization of the U.S. public education system also works in
our favor by giving schools the opportunity to try different tools,
technology and curricula to see what works and what doesn’t. We can
use this data to inform how we instruct future generations of
learners so that with each passing year, the educational experience
gets better and better.
Impact on the U.S. Education System
in response to the pandemic, 1.2
transferred out of the classroom and into an online learning
environment in just a few short weeks. The U.S. was no exception.
U.S. educators demonstrated that, when necessary, they can move at
lightning speed to adapt. This should disprove the canard that
educators are not capable of changing. The truth is quite the
opposite. Because our system is decentralized, we saw districts
rapidly mobilize a huge range of approaches for online education —
and no one was waiting for a central direction from the government.
It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but it got done.
a result, the infrastructure for online learning is ready. What would
have taken five to 10
years was muscled into place over a few months. The technology is in
place, and both teachers and students are equipped to use it. And,
the vast majority of
school districts plan to incorporate some online learning into their
where does that leave us?
a pretty great place to continue online education and improve it
based on what we’ve learned so far.
for Making Online Learning Successful
learning is a powerful tool that can greatly enhance the learning
experience for a child when wielded correctly. Despite the fact that
educators across the nation are all teaching online differently,
there are some considerations that all should keep in mind. Below are
some tips that will ensure any online virtual program you implement
the question: Who will benefit most from online learning?
find out where online learning belongs, you have to understand who
will use it most effectively. These are the students who:
studying a niche subject that is difficult to staff;
in extracurricular activities that impinge on the school day;
feel safe in the school building;
better via virtual instruction.
you try to make online learning a one-size-fits all mechanism, it
simply won’t work. But, if you take a look at who will benefit most
from online learning, it makes it easier to tailor your teaching
approach to the needs of the individual online learner.
the question: What format should virtual learning take?
only do you need to know who is best suited for online learning, but
you need to know how to deliver the online experience to the students
to best meet their needs in the context of your district. Should the
virtual learning be:
when you’ve decided on a format for virtual learning, don’t be
afraid of change. You may find that the format you chose isn’t
working quite right for specific students, and you’ll need to
pivot. Learning what works best takes time, but thanks to COVID and
our decentralized approach to education, we know that schools have
the ability to quickly adapt and change course when students aren’t
the question: What technology do I need to make online learning work?
the same way you wouldn’t use diesel fuel in a gas engine, why are
educators using business tools for their classrooms? Platforms like
Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet are designed with employees in
mind, not K–12
They were great in the pinch of the pandemic, but they are not the
best long-term solutions. To make virtual learning successful, you
must invest in tools and technology built for students and teachers,
not for the business world. This will not only increase engagement,
but it will make learning and teaching easier for students and
Ahead for Continued Innovation
need to continue to innovate and improve upon how we thoughtfully
weave virtual instruction into the larger instructional ecosystem. We
can do this by implementing a policy framework on the state or
federal level that encourages schools to experiment and test
different ways of delivering virtual learning. If the policy sticks
to high-level guidance and provides funding for the effort, and if it
leaves local decision makers a lot of latitude in how they implement
it, we will see rapid innovation.
Lee Wilson is a senior advisor with VEDAMO