Strategies for Successful Digital Learning at Home

April 2, 2020 Chris Frazier

How do you encourage a culture of learning from a distance? How do you translate the support and structure of the classroom online, in the home?

Work from home office

These are popular questions right now. By mid-March, schools around the world had shut their doors and moved classes online in effort to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Now, many teachers and students are experimenting with online learning for the first time, and naturally they’re looking for guidance. Parents and guardians are also looking for support, as many may now be playing more active roles, as parent and teacher, in their children’s learning.

Successful online learning requires everyone involved (teachers, students, guardians) feel empowered to participate and succeed. 

In this post, we’ll describe how to achieve this using a simple three-part framework as a guide: create a stable experience, a seamless experience, and an engaging experience. In each part, we’ll address common challenges teachers and students are facing in their transitions to remote learning, and offer tips for how to improve the experience and ensure it works for you.

Whether you’re a high school teacher, a college senior, or the parent of a kindergartener, this post will help you understand how to recreate the classroom online, and how to cultivate a culture of learning even at a distance.

1. Create a stable experience

Make a schedule

Routine is crucial to managing change because it provides structure. If you haven’t already established a clear schedule of classes, study time and breaks, this should be the first thing you do. 

Teachers: Provide a clear schedule of class times (if applicable), check-ins and deadlines. If there is no set time for classes, provide estimated times for daily coursework so students can set aside time for class.

Students: Create a daily calendar of class and study times, check-ins and deadlines, and when you’ll take breaks. Set reminders for submission due dates, but also for start and end times to help you structure your day. 

TIP: Your routine doesn’t have to be all work. A typical school day is broken up by time for socializing, exercising, eating or just taking a moment for yourself. Be sure to make time throughout the day for these activities, even if they’re somewhat different now. Schedule a call with your friends, or take a few minutes to walk around your home—whatever feels most helpful for you. 

Find a workspace
Before anyone can get to work, they need to know where they’re going. One benefit of home learning is the flexibility to choose where you attend class or study, but it’s important to establish where that place will be. 

Pick a place that’s free of distractions and that will allow you to commit to your work. For example, the living room may not be ideal if you’re likely to be distracted by the television. But maybe there is good light from the window in that room, and natural light keeps you motivated. Consider setting up a desk at the window at an angle that blocks you from the TV. 

TIP: Take advantage of this time to envision the ideal space to work and create it. If you get restless sitting all day, consider working at a tall table so you can stand. If you’re easily distracted, try to find a spot where you won’t be interrupted. 

Make note of all the spaces conducive to work and the times they’re available. If you’re not alone in your home, you’ll likely have to share space with other people. If you have a fixed schedule, communicate it to those around you to ensure you have the space and time you need to work successfully. 

You might also consider changing spaces throughout the day, providing doing so isn’t distracting. This will help you share space while breaking up the day and keeping the environment fresh and stimulating. 

TIP: Even if you aren’t changing rooms throughout the day, try getting up and taking a walk around your home between classes. At school, the transition between classes provides students and teachers time to digest what they’ve just discussed, reset their minds and prepare for the next class.

2. Create a seamless experience

Don’t juggle platforms

There are many ways for teachers and students to communicate digitally, but you don’t need to use them all at the same time. 

Jumping from platform to platform can create confusion and frustration. Communication needs to be consistent, and there needs to be clear instructions on how it will be used. 

Teachers: Posting assignments to a portal can be a great way to keep documents organized, and these portals tend to have a social component (emails, discussion boards, etc.) so all communications can be centralized. Still, you may find it more reliable to communicate via email. Either way, establish a clear communication plan, one you think is reasonable for you and your students to keep up with, and make it known. 

Students: Make note of the primary means of communication and make it part of your routine to check that platform daily for updates.

Create a clear learning plan

Sometimes it’s inevitable: You need to juggle platforms. Maybe your class uses an interactive e-book, but you also post your own supplemental videos to the school’s course management platform. A clear learning plan creates structure for the course and supports a seamless experience, even if there are several tools or platforms to navigate. 

Teachers: Provide clear, step-by-step instructions of what’s needed for every assignment, including estimated time for completion, links, and directions for how to find the necessary materials. For example, you might start by outlining the assignment, then following it up with explicit steps, like this:

This assignment will involve a short video, followed by a worksheet and a quick online quiz.

NOTE: We will discuss this material in Thursday’s class, so the deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm, Wednesday, 04/10/2020. Any worksheets or quizzes submitted after 11:59 pm Wednesday will be marked late.

  • Watch this video, “How to Create a Lesson Plan” (5 minutes).
  • Complete the worksheet entitled “Video Follow-up: How to Create a Lesson Plan” (30 minutes). Once completed, take a picture of the worksheet and submit it for grading using the course’s submission portal. 
  • Complete the quiz entitled “Quiz: How to Create a Lesson Plan” (10 minutes).

TIP: Consider encouraging students to prepare all materials ahead of time to avoid interruptions once the lesson starts.

3. Create an engaging experience

Experiment and adapt

Learning is not a one-size-fits-all experience; people learn in different ways. Digital media provide a wide range of opportunities to make content engaging. Get creative! Don’t be afraid to experiment with new approaches if the situation calls for it.

Teachers: Engage different learning styles by incorporating a variety of materials throughout your lessons. Consider providing pre-recorded lectures for students to watch and reflect on, then follow up with live video calls where they can ask questions. You can also engage the internet, and provide students with links to other resources, like interactives sites for visual learners or additional lectures for auditory learners. 

Students: Take advantage of this unique opportunity to help shape the learning experience you want. Communicate to your teacher what’s working for you, what isn’t, and why. This will help them adapt to your preferences, but also help you take control of your learning and become a stronger student. 

Discourage academic dishonesty
How do you promote honesty in the classroom at a distance? In person, it’s relatively easy to know if a student is using their phone to look up answers during a test, or copying someone’s work. What’s the alternative for online learning?

Instead of competing with the medium, engage it. Platforms like WebAssign provide screen locks during tests to ensure students aren’t browsing the internet in other windows. You can also get creative. Ask students to make a video teaching how to do a problem. This will also provide the class with more review content.

Once you’ve established what feels like a supportive home learning experience and brought it to life in an engaging way, continue referring to these points as a guide for how to improve that experience. As you get a better sense of the kinds of resources you need, you may find you need to update the tools you use to accommodate those resources, which may require a revision of the learning plan or even some adjustments to your schedule.

Related Content:

Communication for Remote Learning: How to Build the Plan Your School Needs
Communicating with Remote Education Students: Do’s and Don’ts

About the Author

Chris Frazier

Chris Frazier is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. He covers technology and helps clients make their messaging clear and meaningful.

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