The impact of the pandemic was immediate and significant. Its long-term effects were less immediate but are beginning to emerge. One of those impacts that is likely to have staggering long-term effects is the learning loss that has occurred since millions of K-12 school children were sent off to learn in entirely remote, or hybrid, settings.
National data on the broad impact of learning loss is not yet available and, in truth, it may be some time before the impacts of COVID-19 on education will be known. Some groups are already studying this, though. For instance, the Virginia Department of Education conducted a survey of 132 districts in the state and learned that 40 districts identified failing students as the biggest issue they were facing. This was identified as an even greater issue than lack of access to reliable Internet services.
While learning loss has impacted students of all ages across the country, underrepresented and minority students are likely to be the hardest hit.
Situations Driving Learning Loss for Many Students
Learning loss has been driven by a number of factors including:
- Decreased student engagement
- Lack of individual student attention
- Inequitable broadband access
- Lower levels of parent and guardian supervision
- Lower adaptivity to varying learning styles
- Inadequate individual feedback
- Chronic absenteeism and truancy
It’s an issue that, for good reason, has captured the attention of many, including the federal government which has allocated 20% of the funding provided in the American Rescue Plan to help schools and districts address lost learning.
Schools around the nation are stepping up to the plate. Exemplar schools have worked to recover learning with targeted initiatives to:
- Eliminate the digital divide
- Better engage families
- Double-down on feedback loops
- Establish accountability
There is much that you can do to help support learning recovery for students in your district.
Four Considerations to Support Learning Recovery
As schools are increasingly opening their doors to students on at least some level, they are also recognizing that virtual learning is likely to be at play even after pandemic concerns have subsided. They understand that learning loss continues to be a serious concern and are recognizing that there are a number of ways that can support learning recovery.
1. Enhance summer programming
Summer programs have been around for some time and have long targeted students who had the potential to fall behind. In 2017, well before the pandemic, Brookings reported on summer learning loss, a phenomenon they say in an article that “has been of interest to researchers going back as far as 1906.”
Credit recovery has typically been a staple of these programs, but there is an opportunity to enhance summer programs and their impact. Specific areas of focus that can help to make a difference are enhancing non-cognitive skills training, including social and emotional learning (SEL) and the 21st-century skills students need.
2. Enhance access to technology
One of the greatest barriers and most significant drivers of learning loss, especially among rural and economically disadvantaged students is the lack of access to technology. Distance learning during the pandemic required technology that it quickly became apparent was not available to many.
School systems now have the opportunity to enhance the teaching and learning experience through technology using the funding that is available to them through various government programs.
3. Personalize student learning
Students learn differently. Personalized learning has been adopted by many school systems through the recognition of diverse learning needs. Technology makes it easier to personalize the learning experience of students in a variety of ways.
Technology also offers the opportunity for real-time evaluation and feedback which can be utilized in all learning settings. Assessments can also be differentiated based on individual students’ strengths and learning styles.
4. Ensure persistent engagement
Keeping students, especially younger students, engaged is challenging in any setting. The online environment can be even more challenging. Zoom fatigue is real and something that school children are not immune from.
But the online environment also can be very engaging. Teachers need to monitor and adapt to the varied engagement needs of all learners. The wide array of tools and options available to them in virtual learning settings offer the opportunity to use different methods of teaching throughout lessons to help keep students engaged.
It’s important to vary not only instructional methods, but also the types of interactions and the use of video and various types of plugins to keep students’ attention and boost learning.
Impacting Learning Loss at a Micro Level
The four considerations above have the potential to positively impact learning outcomes and reduce learning loss at a macro level. There are also opportunities for impact at a micro-level where teachers can make adjustments on their own to improve learning outcomes.
Igor Efremov is head of HR at Itransition, a Denver-based software development company. While Efremov’s trainees are adults, his insights on the online learning environment are pertinent to any online learner, including children.
In an online learning environment, Efremov says, less is more. “Class-based learning sessions lasting 90 or even 120- minutes proved to be hardly effective in an online format as they cause digital fatigue, loss of concentration, and the slower adoption of new information.” Shortening these sessions can go a long way toward creating more engagement and keeping the attention of learners. For instance, he says: “A course of 30 lessons can now be split into three courses of 10 lessons with different levels of complexity and additional certification after every stage.”
Smaller class sizes can also aid learning, Efremov says. Smaller classes allow instructors more opportunity to engage with students one-on-one regularly. If they can’t, he notes, “there is a much higher risk that some learners fall out of learning-related communication completely.”
Class, built to enhance the capabilities of Zoom for online learning of students from K-adult, can have an impact at both the micro and macro levels. Learn how schools and districts are using available funding to address this issue.