Virtual School Meanderings

July 23, 2021

The potential of online learning, according to the Christensen Institute

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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The potential of online learning, according to the Christensen Institute


new study, by Thomas Arnett of the Christensen Institute, reports on the findings of a survey of teachers from mainstream districts. It contrasts emergency remote learning (my term, not his) with “online learning’s potential benefits for K–12 [that go] well beyond providing stop-gap solutions during school closures [and] offers an opportunity to transform school instruction to better serve the needs of all students.

The report contains quite a bit of information to unpack, which I’ll present in three parts.

Part 1: My minor quibble
In the context of the full study this may seem minor, but I wish Arnett (whose work I admire) had made more of a distinction in language between the emergency remote learning of the past year, and online learning as practiced by experienced schools, providers, and teachers. The sub-title, for example, is “COVID-19, the rapid adoption of online learning, and what could be unlocked this year.” To me the concept is solid, but a greater distinction could have been drawn by calling the instruction of the past year emergency remote learning, and contrasting that with the better online learning that has existed for millions of students already, and ideally may expand for many other students in the future. Arnett and other people at Christensen understand this distinction, but I’m not sure that all of their readers do.

Is that point minor or critical? Maybe both—minor in the context of this report, critical in the overall shaping of the narratives regarding success and/or failure of online learning during the pandemic.

Part 2: The potential of online learning
The heart of the study is based on a survey asking teachers about five components that make up the potential of online learning. These components are:

  • Flexible timing
  • Flexible pacing
  • Flexible learning pathways
  • New metrics of progress
  • Expanded teacher capacity

The first three on this list are well known to digital learning advocates, so I won’t dig into them here except to note that the report’s details on teachers’ views on these topics is valuable.

The final two topics are worth a closer look.

“New metrics of progress” refers mostly to mastery-based learning. After characterizing mastery-based learning, Arnett explains that:

“The one major hurdle to mastery-based grading, however, is practical feasibility. This approach hits a significant friction point in schools and classrooms that operate on conventional instruction because conventional instruction requires conformity to uniform instruction and pacing, as noted above. Thus, online learning’s ability to unlock flexibility in path and pace is key to making mastery-based grading and progression logistically feasible.”

Did pandemic-induced emergency remote learning lead to a significant uptick in mastery-based learning? According to the survey results, not by much:

“we sought to gauge teachers’ use of mastery-based grading by asking if they used online resources to facilitate mastery-based learning. Our results…suggest that this practice still has very little uptake among K–12 teachers, with only 9% indicating that they currently use resources that help facilitate this approach.

This finding isn’t much of a surprise, for two reasons. First, during the pandemic most mainstream schools and teachers were challenged to figure out remote learning tools, content, etc.; switching to mastery-based learning at the same time was a stretch. Second, in many ways implementing mastery-based learning requires support and/or policy changes at a department, school, or district level.

Finally, Arnett looks at “expanded teacher capacity.” In my view, this point is especially interesting because Arnett grounds this examination in online tools and resources being used by students, as opposed to efficiency and productivity tools aimed primarily at teachers.

“Arguably, the biggest potential benefit of online learning comes not from how technology supports students’ learning, but from how technology can expand teachers’ capacity. When teachers can rely on online learning resources to provide foundational coverage of course content and basic feedback on students work, they have more time and attention to devote to some of the most important aspects of their jobs: building relationships with students, orchestrating deeper learning experiences (e.g., discussions, projects, experiential learning, etc.), and providing students with individual coaching
and feedback.”

Did teachers realize the potential of online learning during pandemic-induced remote learning? The answer is mostly no. From the conclusion:

“The survey results suggest that pockets of teachers were able to take advantage of some of the benefits of online learning described above. But, overall, many of these benefits seem largely unrealized in classrooms across the US this past year. In fact, teachers’ answers to the free response section of our survey suggest that most teachers saw this year not as an era of innovation, but as a time of frustration.”

Despite that dispiriting finding, the report holds significant value for digital learning researchers and advocates. Part 3 explains why.

Part 3: Connecting the dots…

The beginning of the report contains this gem:

“The foundational tenets of conventional instruction hinge on uniformity and compliance. Schools and classrooms by-and-large need students to conform to a common set of requirements in order for cohort-based learning to work. Unfortunately, nearly all students struggle to one degree or another to fit conventional instruction’s norms.” (Emphasis mine just because I love that line.)

Transcending “uniformity and compliance” is an excellent summation of the goals of many innovative schools. It’s clear that in most cases, emergency remote learning did not reach this bar—mostly because the goal was to continue instruction as much as possible, not raise the bar on instruction. As Arnett explains:

Given their trying experiences, many teachers may see online learning as a flawed mode of instruction. But in reality, last year’s headaches were not the inherent product of online learning, but of the chaos of COVID-19 that led to poorly designed approaches to online learning. When we consider this past year through a lens of institutional change, it’s perfectly understandable why the benefits of online learning were largely unrealized. Unlocking online learning’s power to enable flexible instruction, mastery-based grading, and an expansion of teacher capacity requires more than just plugging technology into schools. It takes foresight, time, and strategic implementation to institute the shifts
in practices that unlock the benefits of online learning.

As life returns to a degree of normalcy this coming school year, and as schools consider how to use the massive influx of federal funding headed their way, there’s a new opportunity for schools to design instructional models that leverage the benefits of online learning.

I agree, and would add—given that the study is based on a survey of teachers—that this opportunity cannot be realized by teachers working alone. It’s going to take excellent teachers working in innovative schools and districts, supported by leaders and policies that allow for invention and risk.
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Vista Virtual School: Watch Our 2021 Graduation Video

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 2:06 pm
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An item from a Canadian-based K-12 online learning program.

Vista Virtual School: Watch Our 2021 Graduation Video


Watch Our 2021 Graduation Video

Vista Virtual School celebrated its first ever fully online commencement ceremony on June 4, 2021 at 6:30 pm. A full video of the 2021 ceremony Read more…

Webinar on Beyond Pandemic Pedagogy: What Lessons Have We Learned for the “New Normal”

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 12:06 pm
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PDF of the flyer

Newsflash 2021 July

An item for our European colleagues.

July 2021 
400 Delegates from 57 Countries – EDEN 2021 Virtual Annual Conference
Great Success Again!
Dear EDEN Members, Partners and Friends,

With nearly 400 delegates from 57 countries, the EDEN 2021 Virtual Annual Conference officially closed! #edenconference #eden2021 Thank you to UNED – Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia for being our wonderful host, Blackboard honouring us to be the Principal Sponsor of the event, and huge thanks to all participants, keynotes and supporting staff to make these three and a half days meaningful and unforgettable. See you next year!.

Rewatch the Sessions and Ceremonies here
The Conference in Numbers
Rewatch the Keynote by Georgi Dimitrov on “Digital Education for EU’s Digital Decade:The Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027” 
EDEN Annual Conference Principal Sponsor
Eden thanks to  Blackboard
as the Principal Sponsor
of the 2021 Annual Conference.
Asknet Solutions is a strategic partner for Blackboard
in the German-speaking DACH region
(Germany, Austria and Switzerland).
“I know we all have digital fatigue. But we are not going back. Students got used to it, the demands will never be the same. We cannot just duplicate classroom lectures online in the future, but I’m sure it is possible to do it well.”  Quote from the June 22 presentation of keynote speaker Darcy Hardy, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, North America Higher Education, Blackboard Inc.
Rewatch the presentation of Darcy Hardy here
EDEN Senior Fellow and Fellow Awards
bestowed at the Madrid Conference
The Conference Welcome Ceremony of the EDEN 2021 Virtual Annual Conference on Monday, 21 June at 18.00 CEST was remarkable on many levels. Besides officially launching the three and a half days Conference hosted by UNED, Madrid, the President of EDEN, Sandra Kučina Softić presented the annual recognition: the EDEN Senior Fellow and the EDEN Fellow Awards. Read more here.
Rewatch the Award Ceremony here
Best Research Paper Award, Young Scholar Grant
and Young Scholars’ Best Paper Award bestowed
at the Madrid Conference
Since 2008, EDEN has been continuously granting the Best Research Paper Award at the EDEN Annual Conferences as well as at the bi-annual EDEN Research Workshops. The selection process took place in collaboration with the Ulrich Bernath Foundation for Research in Open and Distance Learning.
Rewatch the Award Ceremony here
30th EDEN Annual General Meeting
Changes in the EDEN Executive Committee
At the EDEN 2021 Virtual Annual Conference, the dedicated work of EDEN leaving Vice President Diana Andone, and Board Member Ebba Ossiannilsson was thanked. New members elected to the EDEN Executive Committee: Don Olcott Jr. and Willem van Valkenburg.  Read more here.
Changes in the EDEN Fellows’ Council
The EDEN Fellows Council Meeting, embedded in the EDEN 2021 Virtual Annual Conference, was held on 22, June, 2021. Besides the impressive turnout and good spirits some significant management and membership changes have been voted during the event. Read more here.
Remarkable Moments at the Conference

EDEN Webinar Recording available

The recording of the last EDEN #onlinetogether webinar titled “No. 5 – Embracing New Pedagogies for New Times: The Rainbow After the Storm” is available here. 

Open Classroom Conference
22-24 October 2021, Athens

its next conference entitled
Real change takes place in deep crisiswith f2f, virtual and inworld participation on

22-24 October 2021

The event is jointly organised with Ellinogermnaiki Agogi, Athens, the Institute of Educational Policy, Greece, the European Distance and E-Learning Network and the EDEN Digital Learning Europe in the framework of the Reflecting for Change project.

The aim of the OCC 2021 is to explore the idea of “Open School” as an engaging environment that effectively introduces novel methodologies, tools and content by re-designing learning to accommodate and include difference and by bringing together families, community groups, local businesses, experts, universities, into an innovation ecosystem.

Proposals are invited for Papers on the themes of the conference. Abstracts and inquiries about the conference content should be sent in electronic form (by e-mail) to by 19/9/2021.

Registration and further information are available at the conference site:

EURODL – Call for Papers

European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning (EURODL) is the journal of the European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN) since 1995. It is an open access journal that presents research outcomes, scholarly work as well as solid information about open, distance, online and e-learning in technology-enhanced education and training in its most inclusive definition. It is published by Sciendo.
If you want to share your important research in the subject field(s) of the journal with a large community of readers, please submit your article here. After a double blind peer-review process we will publish papers of high quality on a continuous base.
As the subject areas of EURODL are quite broad, we need a wide variety of reviewers to assist us in assessing the quality of the submitted articles, and to help us keeping up with high academic standards for publication. In case you want to contribute to this important work, please make yourself known as potential reviewer here.

EDEN cooperation in organising CECIIS and the EDEN PhD Symposium on 14 October 2021, Croatia

We cordially invite you to join us at the Faculty of Organization and Informatics (FOI), University of Zagreb to attend EDEN PHD SYMPOSIUM that will be held on 14 October 2021 in co-organization of University of Zagreb, Faculty of Organization and Informatics and European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN). The Symposium, held in previous years in Barcelona (2018), Bruges (2019), Dublin (2019) and Timisoara (2020) has been designed to foster the exchange of experiences and knowledge among doctoral students doing research in the area of technology enhanced online, digital, open and distance learning, providing a valuable forum for the advancement of doctoral research. The Symposium is led by a panel of international experts.
PhD students are invited to submit abstracts before 1st September 2021!
Call for presentations and registration here.

Community Update

Succesful R4C workshop

A highly successful R4C workshop WAY TO MAKE YOUR SCHOOL E-MATURE AND OPEN was organised at the EDEN 2021 Conference to bring together policy makers, teachers, school leaders, researchers and representatives of the K12 sector of education on wider benefits of making their schools digitally mature, open and innovative.
The workshop examined how schools can be supported in using self-reflection tools to understand the current position of the school as an organisation and build on the results to define and implement a concrete set of actions by providing a step by step support mechanism for school heads and teachers. Presentations of representatives of the EU Joint Research Centre, Nikoleta Yiannoutsou and the Institute of Educational Policy Greece, Georgia Fermeli highlighted the event.

The workshop attracted 48 online participants and 87 YouTube followers.
Watch the recording here.

European Commission Corner

Launch of call for tender:
Supporting the development of the Digital Education Hub

The Digital Education Hub is an overarching action of the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) , reflecting the long-term objective to increase the effectiveness of cooperation and exchange in the field of digital education at the EU level.
It aims to promote cross-sectoral cooperation bringing together people and organisations working in all sectors in the field of education, interested in innovation and the development, use, distribution and mainstreaming of digital education.Tenderers should propose the methodology they consider the most appropriate for the successful performance of the different tasks.

The deadline for applications is 3 September 2021.

EDEN is planning participation in the Call.


OER for Education, Business and Innovation

The European Network for Catalysing Open Resources in Education (ENCORE+) supports the uptake and innovation of Open Educational Resources for education and business. ENCORE+ is a ERASMUS+, Knowledge Alliances project co-founded by the European Comission.
ENCORE is now conducting a survey which is directed to find out which value propositions stakeholders from businesses and higher education attribute to OER.
The office of the EDEN Secretariat will be attended without interruption during the summer months.

EDEN 30th Anniversary – Three decades of serving modernisation in education

Like us on Facebook Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Twitter
Visit our website Visit our website
EDEN is supported by the ERASMUS+ Programme of the European Union. The publication reflects the authors’ view, the EACEA and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
The European Distance and E-Learning Network is co-operating with EDEN Digital Learning Europe MTÜ (Estonia), in order to sustain the legacy of the EDEN Association brand after the United Kingdom having left the EU, to ensure continuity of services and activities for the benefit of the European academic and professional community in open, distance and online learning.
EDEN 2021
You are receiving this Newsflash as member of the EDEN Network of Academics and Professionals. To read about the benefits and services of the EDEN Membership, visit this link.

EDEN Members are kindly encouraged to send relevant brief news for the next issue of the Newsflash.

The archive of previous Newsflash issues can be found at the EDEN NAP Members’ Area, further you have free electronic access to the latest EDEN conference proceedings.

Tel: +36 1 4631628

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Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 8:06 am
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An item from another one of my open scholarship networks.

[PDF] Connections/Communities Impact on Online Learning

T Gerard, S Brathwaite, J Lawrence, W Barber – Journal of Educational Informatics, 2021
Building a sense of community within online learning environments has taken on
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