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  • Keithia Kirkaldy

What Has 2020 and COVID-19 Taught Us About Remote Learning?

For the world, 2020 was devastating in so many ways. Millions of Earth's citizens were infected with a highly contagious virus, COVID-19. So deadly that over 146 million people worldwide have been infected and over 3 million people to date have perished.

On top of that life as everyone knew came to a screeching halt. Restaurants, shopping malls, businesses all closed their doors in order to slow the spread of the virus. Schools were closed around the world and their students were instructed to connect remotely. Teachers, Instructors and Professors were thrown into an unknown environment without any tools or resources and certainly no "How to" manual.

This resulted in so much frustration for students, teachers and parents. How to connect? How to teach? How to learn? How to grade? How to participate? As a parent and an instructional designer I felt for each and everyone affected by the remote learning fiasco. I heard so many people say how horrible it was and how it just wasn't working.

Well it didn't work well because there was no plan, no resources, no infrastructure. It was setup to fail from the start. Remote/Distance learning requires a totally different mindset and approach than in-person learning. There are so many things to consider, so many tools to work with. Instructional design itself is a process and it one has to do their due diligence before embarking on such an effort.

Granted, no one had the time to apply normal rules of engagement in this situation. Going forward though, every school district, university, community college, prep school, charter school, etc... should have learned from this incident and taken comprehensive notes. Distance learning can only succeed if the appropriate amount of planning and work have been accomplished. So what does that look like?

First, one must understand the target audience. How old are they? What modes do they learn better with? Some people are visual learners, some are auditory learners and others are tactile. What skillset(s) and knowledge do they already possess? How are they motivated? How familiar are they with technological devices (computers, tablets, phones, etc...)?

Second, what does the learning environment look like? Will they have access to a device? Is there access to the internet? Are there any environmental limitations (space to work, ease of access to the devices, lack of support resources)?

Third, what are the main objectives for the desired learning activity(s)? Have the main objectives been derived from a task analysis breakdown or some other step by step analysis. In essence, what are the main points that the learner needs to comprehend?

These concepts drive how the learning activity will be structured and then delivered. The learning could be designed to accommodate learners with disabilities, or learners that exceptionally gifted. Learners that need to have continuous engagement have to be considered as well as those that need extra help and attention. On the flip side there are learners that are self starters and need very little support, so how will the activity also include them?


This could mean an online lecture, with an independent activity afterwards. It could be a video with an asynchronous activity afterwards. Or there could break out learning sessions with smaller groups for a discussion. There could be live lecture with a discussion post afterwards. There could also be a real life simulation that immerses the learner in the simulated environment so that the learner can learn by doing. However, all of these paths and options cannot be created and implemented overnight. It takes an enormous amount of time to analyze, research, prepare, design, develop and test out these processes and options. Unfortunately, last year there was no time. Hopefully, if we ever have to move into this space again, all will be ready.

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