There is nothing remote about Online Learning

January 3, 2021

There is nothing remote about Online Learning

The Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of “remote” provide us with some amusing diversions but all lead to the realisation that the Department for Education with its Example Lessons for Remote Teaching, doesn’t have the remotest clue about technology for learning, whether in Schools, at home or online.

That’s because they have studiously avoided engaging with it since the day the Coalition Government took over the reins and immediately disbanded Becta, the National Centre for innovation, research and advice in this area.

To add to the folly, then education ministers Michael Gove ,including schools Minister Nick Gibb and ’spad’ Dominic Cummings, ramped up the ideology. So far that the word “learning” – what teachers want to encourage and children and students actually want to do – was verboten.

So let’s go back to the Oxford for a minute. The first definition up is “(of a place) situated far from the main centres of population; distant”.

It’s a perfect description of where the DfE is coming from. Despite the Conservative politicians’ original pledge to “trust” school and college leaders, they are worlds away from educations central concerns with expertise on how children learn, and ensuring fair and responsive systems for assessment.

Another definition is “Having very little connection with or relationship to – ‘the theory seems
rather intellectual and remote from everyday experience’”. Spot on for the notions of remote learning espoused by the department. The fact is that many trailblazing schools and colleges made technology integral to their learning and teaching years ago. Thoroughly inclusive, they have ensured that all their learners have access to technology and online learning.

Here is a great definition for the Government’s hapless laptop-for FSM pupils scheme that has just had a fatal 80 per cent cut in the original numbers schools were allocated:

“(of a chance or possibility) unlikely to occur – eg ‘chances of a genuine and lasting peace become even more remote’”.

Of course for those learners who have yet to open their laptops or schools who are only getting 10 per cent of the devices they were promised, learning opportunities will be very remote indeed, if not non-existent.

The recent missive from the DfE about “remote teaching” is at least honest enough to admit they are not in the business of online learning as they offer guidance for “examples lessons for remote teaching”. However, this seems to suggest that broadcasting talking-heads somehow equates to learning. It does not in my book. Indeed, they go on to describe this initiative as “Remote Education” whatever that is… As my colleague and chair of the Educational Technology Action Group Professor Stephen Heppell points out: “There is obviously a serious need for some professional development for education ministers and DfE civil servants if they think this is anything like education.”

Recent research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) offers a more constructive view about effective learning but sadly they also fall into the trap of describing it as “remote learning” and in their press release even refer to “remote schooling”.

Interestingly, the main finding of this meta-analysis is that the crucial factor in all this debate is the quality of the teaching whether face-to-face, online or some sort of blend of the two. Online teaching however demands a different skill set from classroom teaching.

So now we have Remote Education, Remote Schooling, Remote Teaching and Remote Learning.

Confused? I am. So in an attempt at clarity I offer this:
Remote Education = A system that is not related to the needs or contexts of the learners;
Remote Schooling = Individual learners at home standing in front of a device singing Land of Hope and Glory in a school assembly led by the Archbishop;
Remote teaching = Much of what happens at Oak National as talking-head teachers broadcast lessons to passive screensavers;
Remote Learning = No such thing. Learning happens in your head so by definition it cannot be remote;
Online learning = A carefully and skilfully designed combination of content, creativity, co-
construction, collaboration, communication in context and a community supported by caring, capable, confident and compassionate teachers.

Nothing at all remote about that!

Coincidentally, I am in the middle of judging the entries for the Learning Reimagined Awards which highlight the most innovative and inspiration use of technology to enhance and extend learning and engage and empower learners across the world.

Sadly some of the entries make the DfE efforts look incredibly quaint and outdated.

Someone pass me the remote control!

Previously published by @SecEd

1 Comment

  1. Pat Mainprize

    I couldn’t agree more with this Bob. Learning has never been remote, isn’t remote and never will be remote. On-line learning set alongside and fused with face to face teaching and learning is something we should have learnt a lot about over the past year and lessons should have been learnt about how blended learning can be adapted to all circumstances wherever students may be. I think we have known for a long time that the current education system, as it stands, is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. I include in this the way in which we still assess performance and attainment. Sadly the wheels within the DfE are very slow moving. Thankfully, there are innovators out there, many of them within our schools and colleges, that are moving forward into a new era of learning and teaching and embracing technology in ways which can support learning and bring equality. I always smile and laugh a little whenever I hear you speak or read your texts, but more importantly I go away re-invigorated. Thanks.


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