Distance learning has become one of the top EdTech trends over the last year. To be blunt, with the global pandemic and the resulting school closures, distance education actually became THE top 2020 EdTech trend overnight.
Modern distance learning offers an amazing opportunity for classes and courses to take place, when students are not able to be in the same classroom or even when people are in different parts of the world. This means education institutions are able to reach a wider audience, more diverse groups of students can connect and collaborate, and students are able to access learning and course materials more easily.
However, with all the advantages and opportunities distance learning brings, it’s important and necessary to acknowledge the challenges of remote education.
After all, only by understanding these challenges are we able to devise strategies to reduce their negative impact and overcome them. Keep reading to learn more about four common challenges distance learning presents and ways to overcome them!
Quick Summary: What is Distance Learning?
Distance learning describes any learning that happens without the students being physically present in the lesson. (However, this could also apply to the teacher in certain situations.)
Historically, this described correspondence courses in which students would communicate with their schools or teachers by mail. More recently, distance education has moved online to include a huge range of systems and methods on practically any connected device.
Common types of distance learning include: video conferencing, synchronous and asynchronous learning, open-schedule online courses, fixed-time online courses, computer-based distance education, and hybrid learning.
For a more in-depth look into distance learning, check out What is Distance Learning and Why is it So Important?
Challenge #1: Engagement and Attendance
Arguably the single biggest challenge associated with distance learning is achieving a high level of student engagement and keeping attrition rates low. According to research carried out by IMAC, many distance learning courses suffer from comparatively high dropout rates – sometimes exceeding 50 percent – and this is often related to engagement.
The study goes on to highlight some of the ways engagement can be boosted, including:
- Achieving fluid communication within the learning group
- Creating a close environment, with co-responsibility as a feature
- Making use of virtual classrooms and similar online spaces
It is crucial to avoid a situation where distance courses become little more than recorded lectures. The basic premise of active learning can still be applied in video conferencing or virtual classroom settings and this technology can also help to facilitate collaboration and whole-group activities, which can help to build collective responsibility.
Challenge #2: Reliable Communication
The challenge of achieving fluid and reliable communication is one of the major obstacles with remote learning and this is especially true when many of the learning activities are asynchronous and rely on independent study. However, regular email correspondence, clear instructions and options for one-to-one video chats can help.
With synchronous learning, on the other hand, it is important to be clear about the times when the learning group will come together and what will be required to do so. For instance, if people need to have access to specific channels of communication, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, they need to know in advance.
The best way to overcome distance learning challenges related to communication is to offer as many channels for communication as possible. This will allow students to ask questions and obtain information when they need it, feel connected to other members of the learning group, and minimize misunderstandings and similar communication issues.
Challenge #3: Access to Required Technology
Most modern distance learning takes place over the internet and often, students will be required to use the same applications or even a broader learning system. This does, however, present a challenge when it comes to providing access to all students.
It is important that distance learning is made as accessible as possible and when students are paying course fees and splashing out on the necessary devices, it may be expecting too much for them to invest in a large number of software applications, too. Similarly, it can be important that essential technology is kept as affordable as possible.
With regard to providing access to software, cloud-based platforms, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps, are likely to provide the best solution. Some academic institutions also improve access to technology by offering discounts or funding for students to acquire laptops and similar essential devices.
Challenge #4: Facilitating Collaboration
The advantages of collaboration within education are numerous. As Cornell University highlights, the concept of collaborative learning can help students to develop higher-level thinking, improve understanding of key concepts, and build communication skills. On top of this, it can help to create a social element to the classroom experience.
Of course, with distance learning, facilitating collaboration becomes slightly more complicated. In a physical classroom, it is relatively easy to ask students to work in groups, and collaboration can be much more ‘hands-on’. While it may not be as seamless as in the physical classroom, remote collaboration is also very possible, especially thanks to cloud hosting, screen-sharing, video conferencing, and other similar technology.
Given the numerous ways that collaboration can help to improve learning experiences, facilitating group or pair-work tasks is often a top priority. Solutions like myViewBoard can assist with this, offering shared whiteboarding, instant huddle groups, live annotations, screen sharing and a number of other useful features.
Summing It All Up
The modern age of the internet has already helped to remove many of the traditional distance learning challenges, but it is imperative that teachers, schools and students all have an understanding of the obstacles that remain. Specifically, engagement, attendance, communication, access, and collaboration all pose challenges that need to be overcome, and technological solutions, including myViewBoard, can play a key role.