Across the country, educators and parents are grappling with a new reality: remote learning with an indefinite end date. Because schools haven’t faced a global pandemic like COVID-19 in a century, data and evidence of what works in a sustained distance-learning environment are sparse to nonexistent. It’s difficult to know exactly how long children will be studying at home via computers, tablets, and public television programming, but some public health experts predict second and third waves of the virus that will necessitate periods of sheltering in place well past the 2019–2020 school year. The K–12 education field and its research partners will likely need to pilot new remote-learning approaches and measure their impact in real time, using the most rigorous methods available.
None of us have all the answers for how to meet today’s challenge. Instead, we are forced to come together, as schools and communities, and innovate in ways we never imagined we’d need to. We’re doing the best we can with what we have, we’re adapting to a constantly evolving landscape, and, yes, we’re probably making some mistakes along the way.
What’s important is that we figure out quickly what’s not working, and more importantly, what is. That involves collecting and analyzing data, a task that—without the right supports—can feel like a burden when just keeping things running is so hard. But learning what works is what will help us mitigate learning losses for students now and be more prepared in the future. The next time a school needs to close, we want to be confident about what strategies will deliver academic content to students, keep them engaged, and ensure they continue to learn. We might even learn about effective practices that we can implement when school doors open again.
It’s heartening to see how the education research community has already responded to the crisis. Researchers are sharing evidence on effective remote-learning practices based on past studies in other contexts and conducting new research on everything from variation in state policy responses to physical school closures to the impact on K–12 teachers-in-training. But the most important insights will come from professionals in local education agencies and schools who are implementing changes and monitoring their effects on students.
At Mathematica, we’ve developed a free online tool, the Evidence to Insights (e2i) Coach, that districts and schools can use to make progress at improving student learning at a distance. The e2i Coach can be used to determine the effects of different strategies or tools on student engagement, academic achievement, or social-emotional outcomes in a specific community.
In this moment, when educators are driving the innovations, they should also drive the research agenda. They’re in the best position to try new approaches to remote learning, gather data on their impacts, and make modifications on the fly based on what they’re learning.
If you’re interested in determining what remote-learning strategies are working in your context, explore these resources: