Feb 27 2020

How E-Learning Supports On-Demand Instruction for K–12 Schools

It takes significant planning, preparation and implementation to ensure e-learning is effective, researchers say.

The walls are coming down for K–12 schools. While classroom learning remains critical for student success, spending on e-learning initiatives is on track for $325 billion in the next five years as educators look to leverage the increasing impact of digital education.

“I have real faith and confidence in the future of electronic education,” says Jessica Millstone, co-organizer of the New York EdTech MeetUp, which facilitates industry discussion about what’s working and what needs work in education. “It’s useful for our entire lives, and there’s going to be a hybrid moment where all the technology we’re developing for consumer and business experience will become part of e-learning as well.”

Schools typically have a mandated number of days for instruction. E-learning — also known as cyber days, virtual learning days or online learning days — offers administrators the flexibility to ensure instruction continues even when school buildings are closed.

For schools just starting their journey toward digital learning initiatives, there’s no recommended rubric that describes ideal implementation and adoption processes.

A Multipurpose Model for Delivering Deeper Learning

E-learning is “utilizing electronic technologies to access educational curriculum outside of a traditional classroom,” according to North Carolina’s eLearning education initiative. E-learning courses or programs are generally based online.

But, Millstone notes, “the most successful versions of e-learning revolve around a split classroom. While some assignments are completed online, there’s also a certain amount of content acquisition — teachers then explore it more deeply in the classroom.”

The result? E-learning in schools isn’t a single-service model. Instead, it’s a dual-purpose approach that delivers:

  • Problem-solving: Physical school infrastructure isn’t always accessible. As a result, some districts have adopted digital learning days to enable instruction to continue during inclement weather or amid outbreaks of serious illness (which has immediate implications for weathering a potential coronavirus outbreak, Millstone says).
  • Practical supplementation: Emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality “provide a trajectory where e-learning is integrating real-world experiences to provide deeper, concrete learning,” Millstone says. With the right stakeholders and technology support, classrooms can be “amazing laboratories” that supplement electronic learning initiatives at scale, she says.

Millstone points to the advantage of a multimodal approach. In her experience, “the least effective model is telling students ‘go learn this by yourself.’” Instead, she suggests starting with an agnostic technology platform, such as Google Classroom, that allows teachers to connect with students both inside and outside school walls.

But there is a positive impact of game-based learning. “It’s hands down one of the best ways to teach and learn,” Millstone says, “and there’s more demand for it now from students who recognize the learning value of these experiences outside of the classroom.” For example, the Montour School District in Pennsylvania has created a Minecraft room where students recreate stories they’ve read and connect abstract learning with direct digital representation.

MORE ON EDTECH: Find out what K–12 schools can learn from remote work programs.

Embracing E-Learning Benefits and Dealing with Drawbacks

More than 70 percent of K–8 teachers say that gamification initiatives have increased students’ math learning skills, while the use of outside classroom learning to facilitate practical, project-based work in school drives both increased academic success and knowledge retention.

To effectively leverage the advantages of e-learning for students, however, administrators should also draft policy focused on regular measurement of student outcomes and ensure stakeholder support for e-learning initiatives. It’s also important that digital learning technologies work the first time, every time students attempt to access them, Millstone says.

“Reliability is as important as relevance,” Millstone says. “Teachers will try something once, and if it doesn’t work, they won’t try it again. A great product isn’t enough if it doesn’t work properly.”

For districts looking to successfully deploy e-learning initiatives and learning management systems, this means carefully assessing potential vendors and products before bringing them online: Are they reliable and reputable? What type of support do they offer? How quickly do they respond?

E-learning requires significant “planning, preparing and implementing” to ensure meaningful learning, according to a 2019 report from the Digital Learning Collaborative.

For effective e-learning, teachers need to be prepared to offer online instruction, and students need to be ready to learn online, the report states. Administrators also need to think through requirements ranging from accommodations for students with disabilities or those whose first language is not English, as well as the types of systems and devices needed to support e-learning efforts.

It’s also critical to consider student technology infrastructure. For example, if broadband connections aren’t readily available or cost-effective, schools may be better served by resources that have offline components or require minimal connective bandwidth.

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