Back
The District

Four Key Drivers of Distance Learning

The Newsela Team
Apr 6, 2020

Last month, as the severity of COVID-19 in the U.S. set in, schools across the country were faced with a herculean task: switching from classroom to distance learning, and doing it in a matter of days. 

For teachers and administrators, the sudden change to interacting with students virtually raised a number of urgent and important questions. What is a typical day like when remote teaching? How long should teachers be meeting with students, and what technology is best to facilitate? How can instructional content ease the transition to remote teaching and distance learning?

We don’t have all the answers, but we do want to share what we consider four key drivers of distance learning that can help schools adapt to this new reality. Grouped under infrastructure and instructional considerations, these four elements can help provide school administrators with a roadmap for implementing distance learning successfully.

Reliable infrastructure and training that support remote learning

It’s no surprise that infrastructure is on everyone’s minds, especially as schools do their best to maintain the level of connection that’s taken for granted in the classroom. Delivery platforms and reliable internet are, of course, central to this discussion, and the options range from video conferencing apps like Zoom to learning management platforms like Canvas

When it comes to infrastructure, it’s important for school leaders to remember that they can leverage resources already available to them: for example, Google and Microsoft have virtual meeting apps built into their larger platforms. Using resources schools are already comfortable with can go far in enabling virtual classrooms to get up and running quickly, especially since sharing facetime, even if just for an hour or two each day, helps provide a much-needed sense of connection for teachers and students.

A second key infrastructure driver? Training and professional development for teachers. Addressing needs and filling knowledge gaps quickly is essential to a successful transition, and teachers—many of whom are in crisis mode themselves—need to feel as supported by their schools as possible. Many vendors and organizations are now routinely offering webinars and other tools, but how to sort through it all to find what works best for teachers? Consider the following instructional components.

Instructional content and community that is flexible and robust

When it comes to the instructional resources schools leverage in the new distance learning landscape, providing flexible instructional content that can transition seamlessly from classroom to remote teaching is more important than ever. Schools need a content platform that is flexible, accessible, and transparent, enabling teachers to have visibility into how students are engaging with it from afar. Platforms that are digital first (without being digital only) enable the versatility required of schools in this time, and equally important is the depth and breadth of the content, which needs to cover a wide range of subjects while engaging students with topics that are relevant and diverse. 

If content is the motor that drives distance learning success, then a strong and supportive community of school leaders and parents are the hands that guide the wheel. It’s essential for schools to engage families in these uncertain times, ensuring parental buy-in during each transition and providing frequent, supportive communication and guidance. 

Without a focus on the four drivers above, it will be even harder for schools to address the more complex challenges distance learning presents: ensuring equity for students with limited access to technology, and making sure Social-Emotional Learning is a priority to support student well-being through traumatic changes in learning and social routines. These considerations are at the forefront of the transition to distance learning, and finding solutions is a key part of the steps schools take to ensure that connection platforms, training, content, and community are flexible and robust.

The Latest from @Newsela

Visit our virtual ☕ Teachers Lounge to exchange teaching strategies with other educators and discuss the most pressing challenges you’re facing this fall. https://t.co/w8w5zWHZkj https://t.co/U1lPoQf7ct
September 29, 2020, 8:03 PM
In the ocean's depths, it might take more than a little light to illuminate some of the planet's darkest fish. A newfound mechanism called "ultrablack skin" can soak up almost all light that hits it, which makes these deep sea fish nearly invisible. https://t.co/bn2Elhrlq9 https://t.co/xe9OZfya4R
September 29, 2020, 3:29 PM
Should Supreme Court justices serve lifelong or limited terms? Some argue that life terms give too much power, others counter that they protect justices from political pressures. Students can consider their own perspective on the issue using this set: https://t.co/NsBk4PzoTF https://t.co/avuMlhUWt8
September 29, 2020, 1:45 AM
The very first woman to serve on the Supreme Court was appointed just 37 years ago, in 1981. Here is an overview of some of the remarkable women who have left their mark on our country's highest court, despite the many obstacles they faced. https://t.co/9pcPIJxVPb https://t.co/EgNHQHWbdP
September 28, 2020, 11:30 PM
Racist housing policies are creating some oppressively hot neighborhoods, with temperatures more than 10 degrees hotter than the cooler areas. This article explores how this stark difference resulted from 100 years of exclusionary city planning decisions. https://t.co/lhV9owbqfd https://t.co/LolIlC8N8i
September 28, 2020, 9:34 PM
The justices on the Supreme Court decide what the Constitution says is legal. They are kind of like the referees for the country.  Help students understand why it is important who gets to serve on the Supreme Court using this resource: https://t.co/xjqaJ6wF54 https://t.co/QdH0HGxwE3
September 28, 2020, 9:27 PM
Our Election 2020 Student Poll shows that race in America is the most important issue for students in the 2020 election. Find out how other issues, like COVID-19, stacked up: https://t.co/aUATJp1geh https://t.co/T5nQCCkC8A
September 28, 2020, 8:07 PM
Recently, a committee called to "remove, relocate or contextualize" the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. What are historians saying about the decision? Are those who study our founders and their monuments similarly outraged? Let's explore: https://t.co/hjPU2NfJQK https://t.co/zcb5aB7zzo
September 28, 2020, 7:04 PM
Ready to teach the election? Our free Election 2020 content includes tips for addressing complex election-related topics and guiding meaningful classroom discussions. https://t.co/KaimJO4TRD https://t.co/L3WFRXsw0f
September 28, 2020, 5:06 PM
Shadia and Imran Nakueira opened their ice cream business, Sikia Cafe, with one thing in mind: They wanted to work alongside people with disabilities. Read the inspiring story of how it's breaking the stigma and highlighting the skills of deaf people: https://t.co/xljVXN8xYZ https://t.co/7T6QQTLUBA
September 28, 2020, 3:04 PM
With no sign that concerts will return any time soon, the music business faces an unsteady future due to the pandemic. Read this Q&A with Louis York, a songwriting duo based in Nashville, on how music can be a "lifesaving tool" during times of distress. https://t.co/acBY5A6cmy https://t.co/ANaElyoBF9
September 28, 2020, 2:17 PM
The best lessons—at home or at school—start with the best content. This school year, access to high-quality instructional content can make all the difference. https://t.co/i7enF9qALO https://t.co/ciyRoueCOA
September 28, 2020, 1:11 PM
A strange chemical discovered in the clouds of Venus is defying explanation for scientists. Could it be a sign of life? Here's what researchers are saying: https://t.co/Bxi0agsNRO https://t.co/ogqiAj0pKE
September 27, 2020, 11:42 PM
For some bottlenose dolphins, finding a meal may be all about who you know. Recent studies highlight the importance of social networks, suggesting that dolphins rely on learning from their peers more than anything else. https://t.co/I8xviMgHBq https://t.co/T9x1rzR3j8
September 27, 2020, 8:05 PM
Why does "Avatar: The Last Airbender" still have such a strong appeal among millions? After all, it was released more than 15 years ago. This article uncovers five likely reasons for the show's loyal fanbase 👉 https://t.co/YoYnjrrDxQ https://t.co/i29JzxDVFY
September 27, 2020, 7:05 PM
As the 2020 presidential election nears, knowing where a candidate stands on key policy issues is paramount. This collection helps students familiarize themselves with policy issues like the environment, pandemics, race, education, and more. https://t.co/kzskB5UhWO https://t.co/8lmsacOjI2
September 27, 2020, 5:09 PM
Newsela student polls are now open! Engage future voters at all grade levels with a mock election to gauge their opinion on the most-discussed election issues. https://t.co/kb5CeNbf8O https://t.co/sbQcdopHQC
September 27, 2020, 2:28 PM
Join us for a teacher event about solving tricky distance learning challenges. You'll hear from other teachers and education experts as they share solutions backed by cutting-edge research. RSVP: https://t.co/hAQXYMnNMQ https://t.co/GMfZzRPS1P
September 27, 2020, 1:20 PM
Finding a healthy balance of screen time can be challenging in this season of distance learning. Yet right now, screens are the only safe way for many young people to learn or socialize. How should kids and teens navigate this dilemma? Let's explore: https://t.co/pyIyT3E94R https://t.co/oP1I8wWkoj
September 26, 2020, 11:39 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales