A new, rapid review of the global evidence on remote and online learning has been released by Evidence for Learning (E4L) today showing that remote learning can deliver good student outcomes but it requires deliberate strategies for teachers and there are compounded risks for vulnerable learners that could leave them further behind their peers.
The report, prepared by E4L’s UK partner, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) was urgently commissioned in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on schools and the need for quick decisions by Governments as our educators, students, parents and carers are adapting to a new way of delivering education.
Evidence for Learning Director, Matthew Deeble said:
“As children and educators around the country return for Term 2, we know they’re anxious about the best ways to ensure students are gaining the maximum learning through whichever mode they’re being taught – at home, online, or a mix of both.
“The good news is that the global evidence shows that it is possible for students to get the education they need through different modes of learning if we adopt some specific strategies and invest heavily in the most vulnerable students.
“Remote and online learning can work, if we do it right, but it runs greater risks for vulnerable learners that we need to solve for using evidence.
“The research shows that quality teaching including good feedback and clear instruction tailored for the level of individual students is more important than the mode.
“Lessons delivered via online platforms can work but the technology gaps between well-off and less well-off students is a big problem – not just access but knowing how to use the programs appropriately – and the evidence also shows that we need to provide our teachers with training on using these platforms.
“There are also other strategies – like peer to peer learning and focusing much more strongly on building independent learning skills - which the evidence shows to be particularly effective in remote learning.
“There is a higher risk that vulnerable students disengage either because they can’t access the learning, it’s not appropriate for their level, or the environment they’re in isn’t conducive to learning.
“Moving rapidly to an online or remote learning is not an easy thing to do, particularly when it’s a new practice and being rolled out so quickly but the bottom line is that like our healthcare professionals, our teachers need to be supported with evidence to consider which approaches are best suited for their students, how and why.”
Summarising the findings from 60 systematic reviews and meta-analyses, the report considers five key topics of general remote teaching and learning; blended learning; computer-supported collaborative learning; computer assisted instruction and educational games.
Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered. Whether teaching is done via video, a pre-recorded explanation or is live in a classroom, the evidence shows that a positive outcome can be achieved in each of these modes if the effective elements of teaching are maintained. It highlights that clear explanations, scaffolding, and feedback are more important than the actual mode of delivery as well as instruction that is delivered at the right level for the student.
Access to technology is critical, but not enough. The evidence shows that technology gaps are a huge problem for students experiencing disadvantaged. It’s not just about access (as 15% of Australians are without access to the internet), but that both students and teachers have good guidance on the use of platforms and technical support to resolve issues quickly.
Peer interactions matter to quality learning. Encouraging good peer-to-peer learning in remote and online learning is required. Multiple reviews highlight the importance of peer interaction during remote learning, as a way to motivate students and improve outcomes. Across the studies reviewed, a range of strategies were explored, including peer marking and feedback and opportunities for real-time discussions of content. One of the challenges identified was that many of the studies included in the evidence review focus on older students and more work is needed on what’s effective peer to peer online learning for younger learners.
Support students to work independently. One of the virtues of the current challenge is that multiple reviews identify the value of strategies supporting independent work. Prompting students to reflect on their work or to consider the strategies they will use if they get stuck have been highlighted as particularly valuable. Students who have already developed strategies that support working independently such as metacognitive strategies, will find the shift to home-supported learning smoother than others. Students with less classroom supervision need better strategies when they encounter a problem or task they can’t complete. Wider evidence related to metacognition and self-regulation suggests that students experiencing disadvantage are likely to benefit more from explicit support to help them work independently. It is crucial that the needs of vulnerable groups are not overlooked.
Different approaches are needed for different students and different skills. No one student is the same. The evidence review shows approaches to remote learning vary widely and have different strengths and weaknesses. Teachers should be supported to consider which approaches are best suited to the content they are teaching and the age of their students.
“The fact that we’re relying on the UK government’s education evidence body to produce this work also reminds us that Australia needs its own National Evidence Institute, something that’s been agreed by our Education Ministers but delayed by the Covid outbreak.
“We need a National Evidence Institute to translate these findings into practical tools and guidance to make it easy for our incredibly dedicated teachers and school leaders to implement them in a way that’s fit for our schools.
“Good progress is being made to establish the National Evidence Institute, but it could have been particularly useful during this crisis if it was already in operation. We need to fast track its establishment as it could help us answer some of the urgent education questions arising.
“While delivering the best learning possible now, systems and educators also need to plan for a positive return to schools and centres after the crisis. Just as evidence is central to solving the global health crisis, so too is it central to avoiding an education crisis.”
The full report and E4L’s Commentary are here.
Other E4L resources on home-supported learning are also available.