What is the difference between Remote and Distance learning and can it have a negative impact on students?

What is the difference between Remote and Distance learning?

30 April 2020 / Dan Sears

As an educationalist we are in strange times. Following the initial government announcements regarding lockdown, we had limited time to change the way we support our young people. Not only from a learning and teaching perspective, but also their emotional and mental wellbeing.

Being able to watch the situation unfold from a distance felt like an out of body experience. Three weeks prior to the lockdown I was leading a team of staff within my school. I wondered how I would have acted, had I still been in the role.

The key buzz words across social media were ‘remote and distance learning’. It was interesting to see how different school phases and even different individuals dealt with the terminology.

A Google definition

A quick Google search states ‘Remote Learning occurs when the learner and instructor, or source of information, are separated by time and distance and therefore cannot meet in a traditional classroom setting.’

Whereas ‘Distance learning is a way of learning remotely without being in regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in the classroom.’

On the face of this both phrases can be interpreted in a similar way, but for me I see there as being two clear differences.

The differences

When we talk about distance learning, this is a planned event. You would subscribe to a distance learning course, knowing that a part or even all of the course will take place remotely without face to face contact with the teacher. In the past I undertook distance learning courses for safeguarding training. There was no expectation for me to attend or interact with a teacher. Automated slides guided me through the material and an online test assessed my knowledge generating a certificate. How proud I was!

For me, remote learning still involves contact with the teacher. Whilst it might be through on-line lessons, chats or email discussion, the teacher still has an element of control on the direction of the learning taking place.

There is no right or wrong way to deliver ‘home learning’ and from what I can see across my own dining room table, different subject leads adopt different approaches, even within a single school. The challenge is not about ensuring that the national curriculum or exam syllabus is covered, it’s ensuring the child remains interested in learning. We want children to be able to thrive and still have the thirst to develop themselves.

Can these cause a negative impact?

As I look to the future, it’s the social and emotional wellbeing of the children that worries me more. Since March, they have not been able to experience the supportive, mentoring, life guide that a teacher brings to each and every one of their pupils. Checking in by email is all well and good, but that doesn’t show the bags under the child’s eyes, the unkempt clothes or scruffy hair. The re-assuring smile across the classroom for a visual nudge of encouragement is lost.

As the key is turned to unlock the lockdown, I think it will be critical for schools to consider the return back to school as a ‘transitional phase’, just as when a child moves from Junior School to Senior school. Our children have had their structure and routine changed so dramatically that schools will need to coax and encourage their pupils back into the mindset of structured learning away from their families. With social distancing likely to be in place for the foreseeable future they will not be returning back to the environment they left.

Transitioning back to normal

I believe that by making use of products such as the Student Portal, you can not only support pupils while ‘home learning’ but prepare and nurture them back into school while the transitional phase takes place. Teachers will be able to share work across their smaller classes and pupils will begin to feel a ‘virtual sense of belonging’ as outcomes achieved in school are shared through the portal with peers bringing back the collective worth.

Bromcom has allowed all its customers to make use of our Student Portal until the end of the year to be able to support teachers in distributing content to pupils. Utilising this with other technological systems, goes a long way to helping children gain the full learning experience during their time of ‘home schooling’.