Mapping the K12 Distance Learning Journey – Phase 1

March 16, 2020

We received the official notice this afternoon that our “home school” would be in session beginning immediately as the nation prepares for its largest experiment in distance learning. Pre‐kindergarteners through graduate students are about to experience tech‐enabled teaching and learning like never before. Faculty members are being asked to prepare lesson plans and novel methods for engaging students across the digital spectrum. However, if they are simply focusing on using new tools to deliver lectures in front of the camera, they are missing a generational opportunity. As someone who has spent the last twenty years designing media solutions for adult learners in global companies, there are some basic rules to distance learning our classroom teachers should apply that could transform their classrooms for years to come.

Consider clusters rather than individuals from the beginning. It’s easy to begin planning by thinking about the most engaging or entertaining way to present content to an individual. However, consider clustering students early on in the process to promote group work and connections. Across the age spectrum, whatever you are producing for your students is being complemented by their activities on social media. So, think about allowing them to work together from the beginning to imagine how they might use resource materials to “teach the content” to each other. What does it look like if the clusters become the instructors and you become the shepherd through the content.

Think projects not Power Point. Instead of creating new slides and multimedia to make lectures more engaging using this medium, think about a series of compelling projects that students can complete in clusters and online. Don’t worry, parents. These are not the science projects that require more use of your time and foam core. Rather, these are plans and projects that students are assigned at the beginning of the week to complete in a group and present to fellow classmates. Imagine if your study of the Constitution turned into an exercise where students curated their own Federalist Papers. Students could submit their editorials to each other for editing and student clusters could sequence them to make the most compelling arguments for or against ratification.

Make TikTok work to your advantage. There is no greater media tool right now that has the attention of America’s students. Find ways to use the media that students are using daily rather than solely looking at streaming or bulletin board platforms. Give you students a chapter for the week and tell them that they should create a TikTok crystalizing the message. Make the act of learning a contest and creative exercise to allow them to find new joy in the learning process.

Create discussion forums like never before. In an age where most people’s ability to interact via the written medium has been wiped out through texts, Snapchat, and other means, allow students to learn to argue, debate, create and propose new ideas using the written medium. It’s the one skill that I see so lacking in new employees and in students. This change in the rhythm of how we speak to classmates should put a new premium on the written word. Therefore, think about giving students time to think about ideas and then learn to communicate them with impact. Ensure your platforms have discussion board capability and don’t put a Twitter like restriction on characters.

Use your influence to care for your students. I’m just starting to see our children’s resilience crack with questions about the impact of COVID‐19. So, ensure that you are thinking about virtual touch points with them where you can see their faces on a camera and allow them to ask questions and share emotions. After all, they’ve spent the school year building deep, trusting relationships with you. Don’t let them die.

Teachers and faculty, you are the sages of our children’s educational journeys. I have complete confidence in your ability to partner with parents during these unprecedented times. Thank you in advance for what you will do, and good luck, as you use this time to think about how your classroom can be changed forever.

John Tolsma is President of Knowledge Launch, a learning media agency focused on corporate education.