The 5 Biggest Challenges in Delivering K-12 eLearningPosted on Jul 1, 2020 9:21:15 AM
The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented challenge that has exposed many of the difficulties in delivering quality eLearning, at scale, to students across the country. While some school districts had all the pieces in place to instantly flip to virtual education delivery, many did not. With states shutting schools down in mid-March, a lack of technology resources and preparedness resulted in sub-optimal learning for students and, in some cases, districts were forced to raise the "white flag" and end the school year early.
The magnitude and complexity of this crisis cannot be understated regarding the speed and scale at which it impacted U.S. education. Reasonable arguments can be be made that prior to 2020, contingency planning for an overnight shift to 100% digital learning would not have been a judicious investment of time and resources given other challenges schools were facing. But now that we know that contingency is reality, school leaders and governance boards will need to plan and strategically allocate resources to overcome similar challenges in the future.
Forecast5 has partnered with many school districts to deliver critical information for decision making during the crisis. In my personal discussions with education leaders, I have heard about many of the challenges of delivering successful eLearning, but the following five issues have risen to the top as the ones that are the most significant challenges for school districts to overcome.
1. Students lacking access to computer technology at home
Most school districts in the U.S. do not have a one-to-one technology strategy that provides all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, with a computer that travels home with the student. Many schools were able to overcome the incredible logistical issues and remedied this situation when the crisis began by acquiring new equipment and/or delivering the equipment that had traditionally been maintained in classroom technology carts to students' homes.
2. Districts not having digital curriculum or Learning Management Systems (LMS) that could deliver a robust digital experience at home
Students not having a computer at home was only part of the technology problem. Having digital educational content and a platform to deliver it was a significant additional challenge and, in many cases, a point of failure. LMS technology is costly to acquire, but the real significant investment comes in the process of curating and maintaining the content.
3. Students not having access to high-speed internet to be able to access educational content
Many of us take for granted access to high-speed internet, but it is a fact that many students, especially with low-income profiles, do not have wireless networks in their homes or access to hotspots in order to access content or communicate online with their teachers. So, if a school district had made the significant investments into one-to-one computer access and had invested in a full-blown LMS strategy, the point of failure in the COVID-19 crisis could still be student not being able to connect at home. Many districts overcame this challenge by delivering internet hotspots to student locations.
4. Instructional staff not having the training or experience of delivering a virtual curriculum
There may be some cases in which instructors were not personally prepared or unwilling to make a successful shift from the classroom to the computer, but the reality is that there has never been a stress test like COVID-19 that required 100% of teaching to be delivered virtually for multiple months. It now seems prudent for school leadership teams to consider this contingency thoroughly and provide their teaching staff with the tools and training to successfully teach in a virtual environment.
5. Families not being prepared to support their children in a "learn at home" model
Even if a school district was able to overcome the first four issues, there is no question that many households were not prepared to help their children optimally achieve in a "learn at home" model. Engagement, especially at the K-2 grades, proved difficult, as parents were asked to play a new role in the education process. In addition to most parents not having any experience in supporting a virtual learning process, in many cases they were also trying to manage their own "work from home" responsibilities.
It would be ideal if there were unlimited financial resources to address these five issues. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also created financial uncertainty for schools. In the coming months, school leadership teams and governance boards will be assessing the level of success they had with this set of unprecedented challenges and then trying to map out the best path for equitable delivery of virtual education to all students. For most districts, this process will require detailed financial planning and resulting resource allocation to ensure success in the future.
Mike English is the Executive Chairman of Forecast5 Analytics, Inc.—a technology company focused on software development and data analytics for the public sector. Mike has spent his entire career concentrating on the development of financial and strategic solutions for schools and municipalities. Forecast5 is headquartered in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb 30 miles west of Chicago.