Unfortunately, there are no drills that could have possibly prepared schools to handle the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this meant teachers and administrative staff all were forced to find quick and creative solutions to maintain a supportive learning environment for students – even at a distance.
Myriad lessons have been taken away from our education systems’ adaptations in the wake of the virus. Moving forward, educators and education designers are asking: how can we take what we’ve learned and create a better, more supportive approach to education both in the day-to-day and in the unfolding of global events?
Learning continuity may provide part of the answer.
What is learning continuity?
The precise wording for our working definition of learning continuity comes from Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, superintendent for the Alexandria City Public Schools.
This is the cultivation of an environment or delivery strategy which is conducive to learning for both individual students and school groups.
Learning continuity in action works to ensure that students at all levels and with any variety of educational access needs continue to engage in and internalize instruction in the event of either an individual disruption, as in the case of illness, or more widespread disruption; for example, if a teacher is sick or if there is a wider contagious outbreak.
A learning continuity plan should also create a more manageable teaching environment for instructors, which empowers them to continue facilitating a supportive learning environment.
Read more about learning continuity here
The role of learning continuity in the face of global (and individual) disruption
The foundational elements of a learning continuity strategy may shift as we continue to innovate our current educational structures. In 2019, no one would have dreamed that we would be scaling virtual and hybrid learning resources at the current level, and we can’t possibly predict what other unprecedented event might force another dramatic adaptation to the present system.
But learning continuity can and does allow for greater flexibility and a dynamic response to both daily and not-so-daily disruptions to the standard school week. With learning continuity as a top priority of educational planning, academic institutions are better able to assemble the necessary resources – including technology as well as supportive extra staffing – that allow students to progress with their studies wherever they may be.
5 tips for getting prepared with learning continuity
So how can educators and administrators engage the idea of learning continuity to help prepare their schools and districts for disruption in the future? Here are a few ideas.
1. Invest in teacher learning.
There was a definite lull in educational quality at the beginning of the pandemic as teachers scrambled to orient themselves as well as their students to new-to-them technologies before they could continue teaching.
Whatever innovations you make to your learning repertoire, instructors should be given comprehensive time and material to learn how to engage the proposed innovation that will allow them to pick up this tech when and if it becomes necessary to implement.
2. Leverage existing technology.
This means familiar software like Zoom or Blackboard as well as existing open-source Youtube content or expert-made materials delivered through Khan Academy, etc.
Thomas Arnett, Senior Research Fellow at the Christensen Institute, encourages schools to engage existing technological resources, especially during disruptions, to lighten the instructional load carried by teachers so they can focus on building relationships with students and guiding interactional lessons.
3. Build individualized learning into the day-to-day.
Flexible, personalized learning is one of the most groundbreaking recent innovations in education and continues to result in better learning outcomes for single students as they access education in ways that function better for their individual needs and learning styles.
If schools are already supporting this kind of learning in the day-to-day, this means the technology and resources will already be in place if an individual or group disruption necessitates distanced learning or other temporary adaptation.
4. Prioritize accessibility.
As an extension of the above, you should ensure that there are a variety of access points available to your student body based on the expressed or anticipated needs of different individuals.
Keep in mind that not all students may have consistent access to the internet or other digital solutions. How can you ensure that they are getting the same quality education as their peers?
It is also critical to consider how you can prioritize accessibility for disabled students or students with other specialized learning needs.
5. Think long-term.
Amy McGrath, COO at Arizona State University, says, “We’re not looking for quick fixes – we’re finding variables and designing around them.”
The adaptations you as a teacher, your school, or your district makes should be in service of long-term flexibility. It is unrealistic that we will ever return to the “traditional” mode we had gotten used to before the pandemic, so temporary or short-term solutions should either give way to more sustainable infrastructure or cut out.
The trick now may be to bring forward the aspects of traditional schooling that were working well and combine them with the emerging innovations we see knitting themselves into the fabric of our educational structures. In the years to come, educators and administrators must do the analytical work of finding the best ways to support each student in both the in-person and virtual classrooms and use what they find to build a better system for all.
Gain more expert advice from educational professionals in our exclusive webinar: Ensuring continuity of learning.