Remote and Hybrid Learning May Be a Permanent Strategy: How Will We Know Whether It Is Successful?

Mother helps daughter use laptop.

By Tammie Knights

April 13, 2021

A little over a year ago, students and teachers across the country were told to go home and await information about how they would continue learning and teaching due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The education world was thrown into a tailspin. Now, the variations of schooling still range from all remote to all in person or some type of hybrid schedule, with no clear direction that all students will be back in person full time in the fall of 2021. Based on local community factors, schools opted to provide redesigned school days from remote learning to hybrid to gradually having all students return to school. Now that schools have experienced this new way of delivering instruction, many are rethinking what school could or should look like in the future. Is remote and hybrid learning only for times such as a pandemic or does it meet learning needs of students that have not been considered before? A recent community of practice (CoP) led by the Region 1 and Region 9 Comprehensive Centers (R1CC and R9CC) tackled the challenge of measuring the effectiveness of remote and hybrid learning, uncovering three key learnings and developing two tools that can inform current and future implementation.

The Challenge: Assessing Remote and Hybrid Learning

As states and districts quickly assembled plans for implementing remote and hybrid learning, R1CC and R9CC heard loud and clear that states, districts, and schools wanted support in how to assess the quality of their remote and hybrid teaching models. Moving school systems to a remote learning environment was not just a technical problem. It was a pedagogical and instructional challenge. School districts quickly discovered that teachers needed a high level of support to transition to teaching online, which requires a specialized skill set such as understanding how to conduct classes in a virtual environment, how to best present and teach content, and how to monitor student progress. As conditions continued to unfold, remote and hybrid learning became a longer-term solution, and districts turned their attention to identifying methods to assess the impact of learning in this manner.

Final Framework Topics

Teacher Working Conditions and Well-Being

  • Time
  • Learning environment and resource management
  • Supporting the social and emotional health of students and school staff
  • Professional learning and teacher leadership

Student Engagement

  • Communication and contact
  • Resources and support
  • Participation in learning
  • Sense of belonging

Solution: Develop Tools to Assess Remote and Hybrid Learning

To support this need, R1CC and R9CC partnered with state and district education leaders in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont to form a CoP that would develop a set of frameworks for assessing the quality of remote and hybrid learning.

R1CC and R9CC convened school, district, and state leaders four times from October 2020 to February 2021 to explore existing measures, identify new measures, and develop a set of frameworks that CoP members and other districts or school leaders can use to assess their remote and hybrid learning models. The CoP prioritized the constructs of student engagement and teacher working conditions and well-being because R1CC and R9CC heard from the field that these two constructs were priorities for states and districts. These two constructs also have been well developed in the traditional learning space so the CoP could draw upon existing research to assist the framework development.

Key Learning 1: Less Is More

Districts’ early feedback to the framework project was that leaders wanted a tool that was streamlined. The results were two frameworks targeting specific concepts pertinent to student engagement and teacher working conditions and well-being in remote and hybrid settings.

Key Learning 2: Streamline Implementation

It was critical that the tool helped schools and districts streamline their analysis of remote and hybrid learning. The project team embedded a data collection and analysis protocol within each framework and included examples that encourage users to prioritize the topics most pertinent to their context as well as to be strategic about using current accessible data. The protocol describes the five steps for collecting and analyzing data for remote and hybrid settings:

  • Step 1: Identify a problem of practice to explore.
  • Step 2: Determine what data sources are available.
  • Step 3: Prioritize which data and components will be analyzed.
  • Step 4: Analyze data collected.
  • Step 5: Create an action plan.
“The framework was incredibly useful to our team because it forced us to look critically at our data collection practices at our school and how those practices connect to our School Improvement Plan.”
—Spencer Brown, school leader CoP participant

As Spencer Brown, a school leader participant, said, “The framework was incredibly useful to our team because it forced us to look critically at our data collection practices at our school and how those practices connect to our School Improvement Plan. There were several occasions where we questioned our practices and resolved to make a new procedure when we saw that the data we were collecting did not help us impact any specific goals.”

Key Learning 3: Remote and Hybrid Learning Is Here to Stay

The student engagement and teacher working conditions and well-being frameworks and the data collection and analysis protocol created through the CoP are beneficial to school districts in the following scenarios:

  • Remote and hybrid instruction can be a useful instructional delivery method and might even be more impactful than in-person models for some students. Implementing tools like the frameworks and protocol will guide districts to evaluate the efficacy of their programs and to assess the benefits to certain groups of students. Many districts are considering creating virtual academies that will exist even after the pandemic. Districts also are considering how remote learning may allow them to maximize instructional time during weather-related school closures, excused absences where students can still participate, summer school, or even when students cannot participate in school due to disciplinary policies.
  • Measures of student engagement and teacher working conditions and well-being can be quickly designed to meet dynamic and fluid instructional delivery scenarios. Many CoP participants shared that they conduct a teacher working conditions survey annually or every other year as a standard practice. Due to the pandemic, school districts had to shift their focus on what and how to measure in order to understand what was going on in real time compared with when school was in open session. The frameworks and protocol shared here can provide schools, districts, and states the ability to gather and analyze formative data in these areas throughout the year in a responsive manner depending on their local context and needs.

Whether your school, district, or state is currently in the process of implementing reopening plans, continuing a hybrid model, or providing remote learning, we are all trying to figure out how to best serve all our students and support teachers. These two frameworks and the data analysis protocol will help you evaluate student engagement and teacher working conditions and well-being now and into the future.

Tammie Knights leads the Region 1 and Region 9 Comprehensive Centers’ District Metrics for Quality Remote/Hybrid Learning Community of Practice and is a principal technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research. Knights has more than 20 years of experience supporting school improvement as a former educator, school leader, and district leader.

Photo courtesy of Pexels/August de Richelieu.