Insights from our 2021 Distance Learning in Review

The sudden shift to distance learning in the spring of 2020 brought about distinct challenges and quickly changed the education landscape forever. 

After nearly a year of remote and hybrid learning, we wanted to check in to see how teachers and their students were doing. We surveyed 465 teachers to get their thoughts on the best and worst things about learning from home, including their insight on topics like student and parent engagement, 21st century skill building, the role of technology, and more. As we study these emerging trends in education, we can use our findings to better understand the changes and challenges that are still ahead of us. 

Here are a few of the top trends uncovered in the survey, including insights from education experts on the Lenovo team:  

1. We saw a shift from asynchronous learning to synchronous learning over the course of the past year. 

The majority of teachers we surveyed reported incorporating more synchronous teaching methods in the fall versus the spring semesters. This shift to real-time, or synchronous, learning could be due to increased technology capabilities in the fall with additional devices, hotspots, trained staff, and curriculum plans in place. The results could also be impacted by the fact that 54% of the study respondents work with elementary school students, a group that is generally ineffective in regard to self-taught, or asynchronous, learning methods. Many students in grades K-5 need significant assistance in both remote and classroom-based learning. This could have encouraged more synchronous learning so teachers could better communicate their lessons versus assigning independent work, which is oftentimes better suited for older students. Teachers and school administrators we work with typically recommend a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning, when possible. We must keep in mind, however, that synchronous learning is difficult for many students whose home environments may not allow for continuous streaming or device use.  

It is important to maintain a balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning, preparing adaptive plans for students not able to join synchronous classes due to the digital divide or other challenges brought on by learning from home.

-Rich Henderson, Lenovo’s Director of Global Education Solutions

 

2. Although the transition to distance learning comes with a steep learning curve, many educators are optimistic about their ability to learn and incorporate new technologies into their teaching methods.  

We know there is a significant learning curve with distance and hybrid learning for both teachers and students alike. In the spring of 2020, sudden school closures required educators to quickly implement updated policies, revised curriculum plans, and new technologies. Although 50% of the teachers we surveyed work in large districts and may be predisposed to using more technology, it is still encouraging to see that 49% of those surveyed say they are very comfortable learning new tech with an additional 36% saying they are fine or comfortable with it. We found that many educators used the summer months to reconvene on which elements of their distance learning program were working and which needed revising. In the end, the teachers we surveyed reported that they felt moderately prepared for the fall semester, although they were more confident in their school’s preparation than their own. Overall, teachers have been required to make effective impromptu decisions, proving their resilience and resourcefulness. Additionally, while 91% of educators said they are using 3+ digital tools on a regular basis, almost a third of them also said more tools would be helpful.  

The transition to distance learning is a steep learning curve. Many teachers are leaning on each other for help, from asking for advice from colleagues to joining online Facebook groups. In some cases, individual classrooms have been left to implement new technology solutions on their own.

-Coby Gurr, General Manager at Lenovo Software
 

 

3. Educators believe personalized learning is an important pedagogical teaching method for both remote and in-person learning. 

Teachers we surveyed ranked personalized learning as the most important pedagogical method for hybrid and distance and hybrid learning. Anecdotally, we hear from teachers we work with that personalized learning is also an incredibly effective teaching method for in-person learning. With the right tools in place, teachers can utilize personalized learning methods, including monitoring student progress, gauging their understanding, and offering tailored advice and direction. As long as educators have visibility into their students’ learning, they are able to tweak lessons to fit each student and further drive engagement. While it seems likely that personalized learning has been positively impacted by the implementation of 1:1 device programs that have no doubt been accelerated over the past year, we recognize that the pandemic has caused a “lost year of learning” that will continue to drive a focus on personalized learning plans to ensure educational continuity as we bring students back to school.   

Teachers’ resources and time are limited, and new ways of tracking metrics for student engagement and mastery will be studied. This will ultimately result in new artificial intelligence and machine learning integration into learning platforms to help teachers with better real-time decision making.

-Rich Henderson, Lenovo’s Director of Global Education Solutions
 

 

4. Engagement is crucial to student success, and there is more work to be done to ensure educational equity. 

The majority of teachers we surveyed ranked low student engagement as the most significant challenge they faced with distance and hybrid learning. Fortunately, 69% of teachers also reported that student engagement trended upward in the fall compared to the spring semester. Student engagement is influenced by many factors, and we believe there could be a combination of reasons for this rise in engagement, including the adoption of new technologies, curriculum adjustments that better facilitate online learning, and students’ emotional adjustments to the “new norm.” Additionally, 72% of teachers surveyed said their students’ parents displayed at least a moderate level of engagement during distance or hybrid learning. In an ideal world, parental participation would grow, but given the circumstances, many parents are doing their best to support their students while meeting the demands of their own schedules. As the landscape has shifted, many teachers have reported increased communication with parents through more frequent virtual meetings, which has also hopefully helped to improve student engagement.  

Ultimately, engagement is key to student success, and educators we work with advocate for implementing the teaching methods and tools necessary to better integrate engagement into learning – whether that happens in the classroom or in a remote environment.

-Coby Gurr, General Manager at Lenovo Software
Anonymous