In March 2020, schools throughout the nation shuttered and educators scrambled to put emergency remote learning measures in place for 55 million students. As the pandemic wore on, school systems across the U.S. struggled to implement some kind of online or blended approach, with varying degrees of success.
The challenge was even more acute for K–5 students. We know that this group of learners needs more support to help them access and engage in the learning process. But despite widespread challenges with virtual learning environments throughout the pandemic, pockets of K–5 students flourished in fully online or blended settings that utilized well-designed, high-quality, developmentally-appropriate digital solutions.
Making sure that K–5 students succeed is only possible in a virtual learning environment that is intentionally designed for this age group. If you’re searching for an online education solution for students in this group, it’s crucial to ask three important questions:
1. Is it virtual by design?
Intentionally designed virtual learning is not the same as the emergency remote learning that led to widespread frustration throughout the pandemic. Rather, an intentionally designed virtual learning environment is created from the ground up to specifically support the needs of K–5 students. Such environments are based on the science of how students learn and are fueled by innovative technology to make learning interactive and engaging.
A top-notch K–5 curriculum for online learning should include core courses that focus on developing fundamental skills that each student needs in order to master the major subject areas, meet state standards, and complete more advanced coursework. The curriculum should be accompanied by a range of formal and informal assessments to provide ongoing feedback about learning progress, and opportunities to remediate or accelerate learning.
In a successful K–5 virtual learning environment, each course is crafted by curriculum experts to ensure that the content and pedagogy are tailored to the age and skills of the students and cover the relevant learning standards, with quality assurance specialists making sure that everything works properly.
2. Is it built for diverse learners?
Any teacher or parent knows that students have diverse experiences, styles, and needs, reflective of a variety of factors including their unique experiences, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, abilities, personal dispositions, and prior knowledge. It is essential, too, that K–5 learners have age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate content, technology, and instruction to effectively access and process new information.
We know that educational experiences created using the Universal Design for Learning framework
optimize learning by making it more accessible to diverse students, regardless of their unique needs. A correctly designed solution will be built upon the premise that students should have equitable access to learning by providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression.
In other words, students should be given multiple avenues to engage and connect with the lesson; content should be represented in a variety of ways; and students should be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned through various methods. Resources are designed in such a way that all students can access learning, digest content, and demonstrate what they have learned through methods that are right for them.
3. Is it bolstered by a support system?
Well-designed K–5 virtual learning environments should include plenty of support to help students learn and gain independence as learners. The basic idea is for educators to provide the optimal level of assistance at the outset to help students become independent learners, so that they require less support as time goes on.
In a virtual environment, students are supported not only by the teacher, but also by various digital resources, specifically designed to keep students engaged and on track. In a well-constructed virtual learning system, students have access to content that’s intentionally designed to support greater student independence, taking much of the responsibility off teachers. Additionally, audio, visual, and interactive supports guide students into gradually more self-directed tasks that can be completed independently, outside of scheduled class times.
Thanks to technology (and the pressures of the pandemic), there are now far more options for online and blended learning than ever before. But it’s critical to select a system that addresses the three questions presented here. Otherwise, the experience may lead to frustration — for both students and families. A well-designed virtual learning system will not only provide the education students require, but also the support they need to become lifelong, successful learners.
For more advice on choosing a virtual learning program that meets your school or district’s needs, visit stridelearning.com/learning-solutions.