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How to manage open and distance learning (an administrator’s guide)

Amanda ClarkAugust 5, 2020

teacher working on a computer

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

You created your distance learning curriculum — congrats! Now onto the next task: how to manage open and distance learning. Beginning your distance learning program is only part of the journey. Now, you need to keep it up and running.

Take a deep breath; you set it up from scratch, so we know you have what it takes to move forward. We’ve even made things easy for you by breaking our guide down into sections.

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But first, what’s the difference between open and distance learning?

Open learning refers to an academic program that allows students to enroll at any time in distance or online programs. Open learning commonly uses student centers and tutors, while distance learning is a delivery method that offers courses without face-to-face interaction.

We’ve put together some practical strategies to help you manage open and distance learning. Check out our suggestions below:

1. Provide alternatives to screen time

Have you ever stared at a screen all day? Did you enjoy it? Although technology and screens enhance open and distance learning, using them can also get old. To maintain student engagement, try switching it up with lessons and activities that don’t include any blue light. 

Alternatives to screen time

  • Use print materials: We’ve talked about this before — you can still use print materials in open and distance learning (think textbooks, worksheets, and more)
  • Integrate exploratory activities such as field trips or photographing landmarks
  • Conduct interviews: Ask students to interview notable experts by phone or in person while respecting social distancing for their safety. 

2. Collaborate with students and families

Just like in traditional classrooms, administrators and faculty need to collaborate with students and their families to get the most out of this new program. Open and distance learning don’t require complicated communication in regards to grades, assignments, and modified procedures and policies.

Here a few ways to effectively communicate with students and families:

  • Send out a weekly newsletter (digital or hardcopy) with important announcements, updates, challenges, and more
  • Email a daily recap of what was completed in class and any additional homework
  • Utilize a wiki, blog, or class website and keep it updated so families can check it anytime
  • Resume teacher-parent conferences on a scheduled and as-needed basis.

3. Work with tech-savvy staff

This one is a biggie. If your school utilizes a learning management system (LMS), you may already have access to customer service. Take advantage of it! However, distance learning programs still require technology maintenance. 

For this enormous task, use your tech-savvy staff members as go-to volunteers (with their permission) or encourage them to host virtual workshops to assist their struggling peers. On another note, you might want to hire an instructional technologist who specializes in fixing and monitoring (managing) distance learning programs. 

4. Watch your budget

You’ve probably already spent a pretty penny on getting your open and distance learning program up and running. But your budget remains an integral part of managing your open learning program. Keep track of your spending, such as new online subscriptions, LMS fees, and internet usage.

  • Hold budget meetings
  • Check that you’re distributing funds to the right places
  • Keep track of unused programs and resources (For example, maybe a subscription to a premade course is not going as well as you thought it would, or you discover that your LMS is much more expensive than what you really need.)

Don’t forget, you can make changes in the future in order to save your school money. On the flip side, you may also find that you have room for improvement and need to allocate more funds to certain areas.

5. Provide ongoing teacher training

As you know, technology is always changing, and so are teaching methods. An open and distance learning program faces both of these challenges. Because of this, you’ll need to keep the lines of communication with your staff open and supply the support and training they need. 

Here are some suggestions to keep your staff learning and motivated within a distance learning environment:

  • Have staff list their concerns and what they would like to improve on. Use this information to design a refresher course, in person or online.
  • Do a bit of research to find training resources that are readily available in your LMS system, online platforms and games, or other programs and subscriptions.
  • Ask technology-savvy employees to conduct online teacher training workshops (with potential incentives).

6. Establish office hours for all staff members

Virtual learning requires office hours, too. To manage your open and distance learning program, faculty and students alike need designated times for communication, especially when it comes to email.

To avoid cases of serious teacher burnout:

  • Implement office hours so that your teachers aren’t on call 24/7
  • Make sure students and parents are aware that phone calls, emails, and other forms of communication may not receive quick responses except during office hours

7. Continue to reflect and expand on your curriculum

Your open or distance learning curriculum is not set in stone. There are bound to be hiccups, so take note of what works and what needs improvement. Also, as teachers and administrators get comfortable with your virtual program, you should look for opportunities to expand your curriculum so that you don’t stagnate. Managing an open and distance learning program means keeping what works well and modifying what doesn’t.

8. Fostering the community

Some schools have a difficult time fostering community in a distance learning or open setting. However, according to Walden University, community fosters participation, decreases anxiety, and is a vital aspect of any educational program, whether in a traditional or online environment.

Here are some ways you can foster community in your distance learning program:

  • Host Zoom “parties” with teachers and classmates. (Okay, maybe parties isn’t the right term — let’s clarify). Participate in Zoom meetings that have nothing to do with education, where the sole purpose is to learn more about each other. Teachers could even bring a list of questions to ask students about their lives.
  • Ask for feedback from parents and students. Although we mentioned it above, this point deserves another mention because it sets a collaborative tone for your distance learning program.
  • If you’re able to, host in-person meet-and-greets. Ice cream anyone?
  • Utilize collaborative online tools such as wikis, discussion boards, and classroom chat rooms.

9. Learn the ins and outs of your learning management system and other technology you’re using

Not every distance learning program has a fancy LMS; however, if you do, get familiar with how it works. This will take time, but as an administrator, you should be familiar with tasks on your LMS so you can discuss the pros and cons of this system with students and teachers.

To become more comfortable with your distance learning program, you can try customizing or modifying your LMS as needed. If you don’t have an LMS, you likely have other online applications that you can take advantage of.

The bottom line

Managing your open and online distance learning program is a lot of hard work, but if you stay focused, and continuously reflect and expand on your current curriculum, your distance learning program will set up your students for academic success.

 Like with a traditional school setting, starting your program is only a small part of the journey. Managing your curriculum, staff, delivery system, and technology will be well worth the final outcome!

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