The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not always reflect the views of Reverb.
The world is remote. Businesses and schools alike have moved everything online, and significant shifts are occurring. There’s uncertainty on the horizon. This is what it means to be a remote student in 2020.
This is for students of all ages and stages, in different locales, with various economic opportunities, and family structures. Remote learning can be a sensitive matter, and it’s essential to be cautious about homogenization.
1. Remote learning is, for many, involuntary
The choice to be a remote learner is, for many students, involuntary.
Some students already chose to learn remotely through online courses or homeschooling (with parental support/pushing).
However, during the pandemic, many were forced to learn online. The involuntariness means students are not all pleased with this schooling approach.
Some students know and have a good sense that they’re not ideal online learners. They recognize, consciously or not, that they will fidget, skip school, or not concentrate.
These students will not engage with their teachers or their material. Their minds will be elsewhere — literally and figuratively.
2. Lack of SEL – social and emotional learning
Remote students in 2020 are missing out on two of the most essential aspects of learning: personalization and collaboration (with a teacher or fellow students).
We know that the heart of quality education (and trauma responsiveness) is reciprocity — a connection between student and teacher.
With a new school year and potentially new teachers for students, it will be hard to establish rapport at a distance.
Students may struggle to connect with their new teachers. Students may not have private moments in which to learn about each other. Add to this that group projects and engagement among students will be tough to facilitate, and much learning academically and psychosocially comes from these interactions.
There’s hope for this though. There is still amazing online learning with quality pedagogy, online breakout rooms, and private meeting spaces. Asynchronous media, especially audio, can help bridge the gap between students and teachers.
3. More distractions
Remote learners can get easily distracted.
Some will not have spaces in which to learn, let alone access to the internet and the presence of necessary software and hardware.
Noise at home, younger siblings, fighting, talking adults, views out a window — these all can interfere with concentration and learning.
Daydreaming can intervene, evidence perhaps of trauma symptomatology. It is easy to disconnect when learning remotely — in all senses. Students can shut off and put the learning opportunities aside.
Now, more than ever, we need UDL – universal design for learning – to minimize inequities.
4. Less in-person feedback and answers to questions
Asking questions, getting personalized help, and seeing teachers in different settings are all diminished online.
With the current tools, a student not understanding material is often only exacerbated.
Students can ask questions, but perhaps they don’t know the right question to ask – and teachers can’t always read their face or hear their voice tone to discern confusion.
Students can’t go up to their teacher’s desk privately and say, “Is this answer right?”
There are way fewer ways to connect, to get feedback, to feel recognized and understood.
5. More self-motivation is needed
For some students, learning is kinesthetic.
Learners need to move, touch, and feel materials. They need to learn experientially.
This is hard online, as learning is primarily auditory and visual.
Our online pedagogy is not yet rich enough in many instances to facilitate different learning modalities. For this reason, students in 2020 must self-motivate. They need to want to learn, improve, and grow.
As a result, some students will disengage from their screens because, for them, it isn’t the optimal way to learn, and they simply don’t care.
2020 will be the year of improvement
All of this, of course, seems dismal. Students in 2020 are being forced to learn in a way that lacks emotional connectivity, engagement, motivation, and in-person feedback.
The caveat to all this is things really can only improve from here.
There’s now a wealth of ways for students and teachers to prepare for distance learning.
Some are even predicting distance learning to be permanent, or at the very least, blended will.
What’s certain is that educational technologists and innovative teachers are making major strides every day. Online SEL tools are improving. Communication within education is improving. Students are learning, not just knowledge, but technology skills, as are teachers.
Though what it means to be a remote student in 2021 remains to be seen, we can almost bet it’s going to be much improved from 2020.