If you’re a high school teacher or are working in higher education, everything has changed due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Education has moved online, sometimes without enough time to truly assess the best way to do it.
A new school year is underway, but the picture is no less confusing. There are daily reports of high schools and colleges reopening only to close again when new COVID-19 outbreaks flare up. With school closures now the norm, teachers have to adapt, and this guide will help you do that.
You’ve probably already discovered that there’s a world of difference between face-to-face teaching in a classroom and distance education delivered online. It can get pretty challenging, especially if you need to pivot quickly.
You need a clear understanding of what distance learning is and what it isn’t. How can you provide a positive learning experience for students, even when you can’t be in the same space?
That’s what this guide is all about. In it, I’ll cover:
- What distance learning is and how it fits with online learning
- Statistics on how distance learning has been growing, even before the pandemic
- Why distance learning is so relevant today
- Types of distance learning
- Delivering course content and engaging your students
- Student assessment with distance learning quizzes
This last point is where Interact can help. In the past, we’ve focused on quizzes for lead generation, but as you know, quizzes can also be a great learning assessment tool. I’ll share some examples of distance learning quizzes and show you how to create a distance learning quiz of your own.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
What is Distance Learning?
Distance learning, also known as distance education, is a type of learning where there are no in-person classes. Interestingly, distance learning has been around for centuries. In the past, people learned via correspondence courses, and later via broadcast educational programs. Apart from submitting assignments and getting feedback by mail, students had almost no contact with teachers.
Distance Education vs Online Learning
One thing that sometimes gets confusing is the difference between online learning and distance learning. Online learning is education that takes place on the web. Confusion between them arises because teachers can use online learning to complement face-to-face instruction. For example, that happens when teachers integrate YouTube videos and online quizzes with in-person lessons.
While online learning is now integral to many distance learning programs, distance education is always remote. Strictly speaking, true distance education doesn’t require in-person interaction, even if students and teachers use digital tools for communication. In practice, though, those lines are blurred all the time.
Why is Distance Learning So Relevant Today?
Distance learning is more relevant than ever in a world that continues to struggle with COVID-19. Over several months, we’ve seen countries shift from full lockdown to partial reopening and then back to full lockdown. So far, what’s clear is that reducing face-to-face contact reduces the likely spread of the novel coronavirus. And that’s why many educational institutions are looking to incorporate distance learning.
Challenges of In-Person Education During a Pandemic
The challenges with in-person education are as follows:
- Use of class space as many institutions can only accommodate 50% or less of the student body to comply with health recommendations
- Group activities are difficult to arrange if people need to maintain the recommended social distance of six feet
- Policing social interaction when people attend gatherings without observing social distancing recommendations
Distance education using online learning technologies represents a workable alternative.
Pros and Cons of Distance Education
Some of the benefits of distance education for teachers include:
- Accessibility—you can teach from anywhere, provided you have a reliable internet connection
- Availability—using distance learning means students won’t have their education interrupted every time external circumstances change
- Flexibility—it usually allows for students and teachers to work at the time that suits them best
- Breadth—if you use online learning, then the resources available for creating classes and promoting learning opportunities are almost limitless
There are also some potential disadvantages teachers may experience, including:
- Not everyone has a robust internet connection
- It’s hard to know whether students are actually doing the work
- A lack of engagement because there’s little face-to-face interaction
Statistics on the Growth of Distance Learning
Distance learning has long been a popular form of education, especially for those who are balancing their education with careers and family responsibilities.
The World Economic Forum believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. In fact, it’s safe to say that it’s sped up a trend that was already happening. The stats show that in the space of a month, the number of students whose education was impacted by the pandemic moved from 0.3 billion to 1.38 billion.
Image source: World Economic Forum
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that in the fall of 2018, 35.3% of U.S. students (almost 7 million people) were enrolled in distance education programs. Inside Higher Ed also shows that 34.7% of college students have taken at least one online class.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning is likely to become even more common. For example, the State of Oregon Employment Department reveals that:
- More younger students are choosing online programs so they can learn at their own pace
- Distance learning is growing at a faster pace than overall enrollment
- The number of college students taking online-only courses has increased nearly 2.5x in just ten years
Image source: State of Oregon Employment Department
A recent study suggests that distance learning is likely to grow by 10.8% each year through 2023. The drivers of that growth include:
- The increasing recognition of non-traditional qualifications
- Flexibility around the time and location of education
So, how can you, as a teacher, be ready for this shift? Let’s take a look at the types of distance education, and how this trend relates to teachers. I’ll also cover technology, best practices, and integrating distance learning quizzes into your classes.
What Are the Different Types of Distance Learning?
As mentioned earlier, distance education has evolved a lot over the years. We’ve come a long way since the days of mail-in correspondence courses. But before we get into the technology, let’s look at some of the current approaches to distance learning.
Distance Education: Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning
Two terms you’ll hear a lot when talking about distance learning are synchronous and asynchronous education.
Synchronous learning is where everyone takes part in lessons at a given time, similar to classroom teaching. You set a time for the online class, webinar, or video-conferencing meetup, and everyone learns together. The value of synchronous learning is real-time interaction between students and teachers.
However, the potential disadvantage is that students need access to technology at set times. While some homes may have access to multiple computers, others won’t. That might make synchronous learning impossible for some students.
Asynchronous learning means students can work through course content at a time and in a way that suits them, without being required to attend a Zoom or Google Meet meeting at a set time.
This can be a big advantage for students, allowing them to speed through material they understand and linger on material they don’t have a grasp on. Asynchronous learning is flexible, but there’s less interaction among students, and they have to wait longer for teacher feedback. However, asynchronous learning works well for students who don’t have consistent access to the internet.
Distance Learning: Remote vs Hybrid Teaching
As we’ve seen, some types of distance education are fully remote, which means that students and teachers never interact in real time in a classroom space.
But there’s another option that some schools and colleges are adopting: hybrid teaching. That’s where teachers combine in-person teaching with distance learning within the same course. Some educational institutions are coping during the ongoing pandemic by dividing up their student cohort, which means some students may be present in a classroom while others follow along remotely.
Of course, hybrid approaches aren’t new. Inside Higher Ed‘s survey showed that in 2019, 46% of faculty had taught an online course, up from 44% the previous year.
Image source: Inside Higher Ed
How Does Distance Learning Relate to Me as a Teacher?
As a teacher, you’ve seen a lot of upheaval over the last few months, and this looks set to continue as the global COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of abating. You’ve likely moved from emergency remote teaching (attempting to replicate the classroom experience) to thinking more long term about what education will look like in the future. You’re not alone.
According to Inside Higher Ed, 25% of teachers have taught online for more than 10 years. Many of these teachers have seen benefits including:
- Using learning management systems more effectively
- Improved teaching skills
- Engaging students with multimedia content
- More experimentation and innovation
Some 69% of instructors who moved from face-to-face to blended or hybrid approaches also found they incorporated more active learning activities into their classes.
Many educators agree that it is possible to achieve equivalent student outcomes through distance learning.
Issues to Consider as You Prepare For Distance Learning
As you prepare for distance education, there are a few aspects of the process you’ll need to think about, including:
- Course planning
- Learning management systems
- Content delivery
- Student engagement
Let’s look at these in more detail.
Distance education isn’t just about replicating in-class teaching online. It’s important to design student experiences correctly from the start.
Image source: CatlinTucker.com
When you think about this at the start of your course building process, you can easily create appropriate learning objectives, choose the right content formats, and work out how you will assess learning. A survey from Inside Higher Ed revealed that two-thirds of educators changed their assignments when moving to remote teaching.
One of the big advantages of distance learning for students is flexibility. By using different resources, you can allow students to find their own way through course material, giving them more freedom in how they learn. Note, though, that while this works for some students, others need more guidance.
Learning Management System
If you’re teaching in a school or college, it’s likely that your institution will already have some kind of learning management system (LMS). An LMS usually includes the facility to create, administer, and assess courses, using a variety of content types.
One LMS that’s frequently used these days is Google Classroom, but there are many others. Whether you’re using Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, or something else, these tools serve as a hub for all course material and teacher–student interaction.
Learning management systems are essential for keeping everything organized and reducing stress levels. You can even keep your LMS super simple, using an online document as a hub pointing to different resources.
If you’re not using an LMS, you’ll likely still need the following technology to deliver your distance learning program:
- A video or screencasting tool
- An audio recording tool
- A messaging system
Communication is the key to keeping everyone feeling connected to course content. Typically, distance learning courses will include:
- Synchronous communication while live sessions are going on, making use of the chat capabilities in tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams
- Asynchronous communication via emails, messages, discussion boards, and chat features in virtual classrooms
Some teachers choose to hold regular sessions to update students (and parents if necessary) about what’s happening in class. And they record those sessions for those who aren’t able to access sessions live.
These days, you’ve got plenty of options for delivering course content, including:
- Reading material like PDFs or annotated PDFs, Word documents or Google documents, and websites like Khan Academy and other online course sites
- Presentations either created yourself or pulled from sites like Slideshare and others
- Audio files either recorded yourself or pulled from podcasting or educational sites
- Screencasts, which are great for demos
- Videos either recorded yourself or shared from YouTube, Vimeo, and other sites
- Websites, using tools like Wix, Weebly, and Google Sites
Interactive tools and virtual tours can also contribute to an enriching distance learning experience.
Since classes moved online, it’s more important for teachers to make a connection with their students. The eLearn Magazine article cited earlier suggests several ways of keeping students engaged, including:
- Giving students multiple ways to interact with course content
- Assigning students as notetakers in rotation during live sessions (this also helps those who aren’t able to attend in person)
- Using flexible presentation methods and interactive discussions
It’s also important to give students multiple ways to show what they’ve learned. This can include creating digital resources like infographics, and making their own presentations, podcasts, screencasts, and videos.
How to Build a Distance Learning Quiz
Here are some key points you’ll want to think about when building a quiz for distance learning:
- Identify your audience. You’ll change quiz questions and answers depending on whether your quiz is for elementary school, high school, or college students.
- Select a quiz template. Interact has several pre-prepared quizzes to help you get started quickly. You’ll also benefit from stock imagery related to your quiz topic.
- Go through the quiz questions. Adjust questions and potential answers depending on your audience and what you’re trying to assess. If you’re working with younger students, you might use true-false questions to test their knowledge. With older students, multiple-choice questions or those with open answers might be better choices.
Once you’re finished, you’ll be ready to launch your quiz. For more instruction on designing an educational quiz, see Interact’s guide to creating a learning styles quiz.
5 Distance Learning Quiz Examples
Distance learning quizzes can help engage students because they’re interactive. They are easy to assess and give students immediate feedback to help them to improve.
Looking for inspiration to create your own distance learning quiz? Check out these five examples:
This seven-question quiz allows a quick assessment of your teaching style. It includes both true-false questions and checkbox questions. Once complete, you’ll see the pros and cons of your teaching style. This could easily be adapted for students to assess what kind of student they are.
There are different kinds of teachers, and there are different kinds of students, too. Knowing students’ learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, or linguistic) can help you design courses that really engage all of your students.
You’ll also figure out which students work better alone and which prefer group work. With 80 questions, this is a long quiz, but it’s totally worth it. There’s also a shorter version for younger children.
In an era of short attention spans, it’s useful to know if your students like to read. Again, this can help you decide on the content mix for a particular class. If reading is hard work for some, including more multimedia could be an option. And if you have a class of avid readers, bring on the handouts! Use this five-question quiz and adjust your course content accordingly.
Even career guidance can move online. If you need to advise students about suitable careers, this five-question quiz about STEM careers is a good starting point. You can create this for any career, building in characteristics and personality traits, and providing results about job scope and salary. It’s a good resource to help you advise students on the courses they should take to prepare for their chosen career paths.
While this short quiz is geared to in-person classes, you can adapt it to find out what your students are paying attention to and how they feel about course material. And, of course, you can also adapt this quiz for any situation you want to learn more about.
These quizzes are just a starting point. Remember, you can use quizzes to engage students, to help them review course material, and for assessment. Check out the different quizzes available on the Interact site for even more inspiration.
Well, there you have it—a comprehensive guide to distance education. You’ve learned what distance learning is, why distance education is relevant today, how to plan your distance learning program, and how to integrate distance learning quizzes into your courses.
There’s quite a lot to think about, but armed with this guide, you can totally do it. Distance learning quizzes will help you create a great teaching and learning experience for both you and your students, while getting you ready for the future of education post-COVID-19.
Thanks for taking the time to read through it all. I hope you find it helpful in creating distance learning courses.