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How to plan open and distance learning (an introductory guide)

Amanda ClarkAugust 4, 2020

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With the uncertainty of COVID-19, teachers and administrators have grappled with how to plan open and distance learning. Fortunately, we’re here to help you with the process.

We briefly looked at open and distance learning in one of our previous posts. In this definitive guide, we’ll expand on the highlights from that discussion to help you plan open and distance learning.

We’ve broken up this guide into the following sections:

  1. Definition of distance learning and why schools implement it
  2. Preplanning: questions to ask yourself before constructing a schoolwide plan
  3. Options on how to deliver content
  4. The importance of reevaluating and preparing your resources
  5. Choosing a schedule
  6. Having IT support in place
  7. Training your faculty
  8. Creating and modifying policies that support open and distance learning

Let’s dig in!

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Here are some ways you can implement open and distance learning:

  • Live video conferencing
  • Premade video clips
  • Phone conversations
  • Premade online courses
  • Online games
  • Discussion boards
  • Wikis

Schools start distance learning programs for a variety of reasons. In the case of COVID-19, the goal was to provide accessible learning safely.

But there are other positive advantages to open and distance learning:

  • Caters to students’ schedules
  • Allows students to learn at their own pace
  • Allows students to study from anywhere in the world
  • Tends to be less expensive than in-person instruction
  • Offers flexibility
  • Enhances technology skills
  • Provides opportunities for individualized learning

But before you get too excited, you’ve got planning to do. Before setting up your schoolwide plan, consider brainstorming the expectations you have for your open learning program.

These questions will help during your preplanning stage:

  • What is our budget?
  • How long will we set up distanced learning for?
  • Is it ongoing or temporary?
  • Can we stop and easily pick up again later?
  • What are our schoolwide goals?
  • How can we maintain our educational philosophy in an online format?
  • How can we cater to all students?
  • What resources do we already have that can be transfered to a distance learning format?
  • What do students and teachers need in order to succeed in our open learning program?
  • Do we have the proper IT management in place?

Content delivery options for open and distance learning

Now that you have a general idea of what you want to see in your open learning program, it’s time to decide on your method of content delivery. Many schools choose to use a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard. 

These are electronic systems that:

  • Track, organize, and evaluate academic information
  • Allow instructors to post assignments and lectures that students can then view and submit 

For example, your LMS could house all your school’s curriculum and provide access to these online resources through student logins. It could assist administrators by tracking grades and student data, while also simplifying report cards.

There are many types of learning systems out there, with various price points. When planning your distanced learning program, you need to decide if you’re investing in an LMS and define a budget since they are not all equally affordable.

Here are a few LMS options

If you’re not opting for a learning management system, then you still need to figure out how to organize and deliver your information.

Here are a few suggestions:

Your choice doesn’t need to be all or nothing. You can also deliver your content in a blended style with a hybrid of distanced learning and traditional face-to-face learning.

Furthermore, you can choose from a variety of content delivery methods. For example, perhaps your school chooses to do one live video class at a specific time of the day and then provides students with print materials such as worksheets, textbooks, etc. for the remainder of the day. Or perhaps you choose to combine a premade video course online with online games from Classcraft.

Once you decide on how you will deliver content, you’ll need to reevaluate and prepare your resources. You might find that you already have a lot of useful resources in place. Don’t know where to start? Take stock of the following tools that your school may already have and compile a list. Then, evaluate if there are resources that will work for your open learning program.

Open and distance learning resources

  • Subscriptions: Teachers may have subscriptions to online programs like Spelling City, Grammarly Premium, Classcraft, grading programs, etc.
  • Online games that students already use. If you’re creating a temporary distance learning program, you definitely want to continue using your familiar programs. Perhaps your students already utilize a variety of online games and programs that could easily shift to your distance learning curriculum.
  • Print materials. Don’t forget about print materials like textbooks, worksheets, etc. You may already have class literature sets; if so, these printed materials can still be used in an open learning format.

Choose a distance learning schedule

We’ve broken down distance learning schedules before, so here’s a quick recap

There are three main types of schedules, asynchronous, synchronous, and hybrid (AKA blended). Below are their definitions. Choose the ones that you think will work best with your school, and remember that these are not set in stone; you can always modify your schedules later.

Synchronous learning occurs in real time. Examples include:

  • Live video classes
  • Teleconferencing
  • Live chats

Asynchronous learning occurs on students’ own time. Studying is self-paced, and there are no live meetings. Examples include:

  • Discussion boards
  • Emailing assignments
  • Premade video curriculum or lectures

A hybrid (blended) schedule, mixes both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Examples include:

  • Students participating in a live video lecture and then posting a summary of the live class on a discussion board. 
  • Students attending a traditional, face-to-face class for half of the week and then completing self-paced online assignments for the other half.

Have IT support in place

Not everyone is a technology master, so once you have your online distance learning program up and running, you’ll need to ensure it stays that way. That’s why you’ll want to consider working with an IT professional whose sole responsibility is dealing with your online learning system and any other tech-related issues.

If you’ve opted to use an LMS that comes with readily available, high-quality customer service, you can skip this step!

Train your faculty

Once you have all the steps above in place, it’s time to train your faculty.

One way to make this as seamless as possible is to involve your faculty in a brainstorming session before the official training. They’ll appreciate the collaborative experience and the fact that you value their questions and concerns.

Here are some questions you could ask them for input:

  • What would you like to see for our distance learning program?
  • What concerns do you have about open learning?
  • What resources could we shift to distance learning?
  • How can we cater to all students?
  • What mode of training do you think would benefit you the most?

After gathering data, form a faculty training plan

For this step, it might be helpful to bring in an outside specialist to teach your faculty. You can also choose to train a few technologically savvy teachers who would be willing to train their peers, or you could conduct a training workshop.

Create and modify policies to reflect distance learning

This is especially important to educate students and parents. Examples of distance learning policies include:

  • Modified curriculum notes
  • Technology expectations
  • Absent/missing work policies
  • Updated grading policies
  • Clearly defining the parent’s/guardian’s role in distance learning
  • Academic integrity catered to an online format

These examples will get you started, but remember: Adapting to an open learning program is an ongoing process, and you’ll discover more policies that need tweaking as you go.

The bottom line

There are plenty of steps involved in planning an open and distance learning program. But you’re a planner and educational ninja. You’re resourceful, and there’s a reason you do what you do. 

No, this task won’t be easy — but it’s more than possible. And by following this guide, you’ll be on your way to creating an open and distance learning program that students can access from anywhere. We applaud you for undertaking this journey!

Photo credit : Google for Education

Intrinsic motivation: 
The key to tiered intervention

When students care about their behavior, a good tiered intervention program becomes great.

Intrinsic Motivation Playbook Mock Up

Distance Learning