The shift to remote learning rather than 'online schooling'

Why we should all be talking about home-based remote learning rather than online schooling, and how we define this
The shift to remote learning rather than 'online schooling'

There are currently over a billion children affected by school closures globally, and 9.8 million in Spain alone. The concept of remote learning and how to support parents and families with their child's learning has never been more relevant. And parents the world over have been frantically sharing memes and posts on social media showering praise for teachers, often accompanied with cries of "how do they do this?" or "Teachers aren't paid enough!"

We'll be sharing more thoughts in the coming days on how to support families and educators at this time. But before we share more on the topic of family wellness, let's discuss the implications of this shift to remote learning. We’ll also clarify exactly what we mean by remote learning and shake off some of the misconceptions of how this is being confused with 'online schooling' (the main theme of discussion during our [RE]LEARN event held earlier this week).

The shift to remote learning

Amidst examples shared recently of parents dressing their children in school uniform to "get them into the right mindset to learn", we can't help but wonder, isn't now, more than ever, a time for creativity, rather than conformity (in the learning sphere that is)? Doesn't a time of intense change like this, demand more flexibility than ever, and even, a simple parental choice to keep sane at this stressful time (especially if trying to maintain a family income while balancing a desire to be fully present in the home) by choosing to 'pick which battles' to engage in? With parents having more time with their children than ever, and yet less time in a day to themselves than they might have ever experienced, it is important to help learners express and find their own creativity. As parents, we want to be cheerleaders, coaches and mentors, and this requires letting go, giving up control and not sweating the small stuff. Easy in theory, right?

This shift to remote learning has shown family wellbeing and the relationships between school environment, learners and families as more important than ever. Open communication and trust between learners, learning guides (teachers, in the traditional term) and parents, is built fundamentally on strong personal relationships between all key players. It demands high levels of empathy and intuition from educators, but crucially will enable enriched skills development for learners based around their key passions and personal projects, and ultimately, will allow students to become better self-directed, lifelong learners. In a volatile and changing world, this ability to adapt and relearn is critical.

Types of Online Learning

In the meantime, below is some food for thought on the various definitions of different types of online learning. Where do you see yourself, your organisation or your family on this spectrum?

Emergency Response Teaching (ERT)
(Online Schooling)

First response to the need to go online for the sake of schooling continuity. Many schools achieved this jump in minimal time. A common version is to recreate the current timetable online & some video conferencing may be used. Require devices & WiFi. 

  • Risks: little experience in online realm can lead to rapid teacher burnout, student disengagement & stressed families. Timetables are forced on to families & can be very rigid & unworkable if parent/s working or other siblings have conflicting schedules. Content is often prioritised over connection and relationship. 
  • Reality: not a good long-term proposition & not really online or remote learning.

Online Teaching

Refinements to ERT lead to longer-term planning by teachers seeking to cover mandated curriculum 

  • Risks: without a clear school-wide philosophy of online pedagogy & model, the individual experiences are subject to teacher capacity & family access to devices and WiFi. 
  • Reality: a step along the path toward a more designed online/remote learning policy &  practice. Likely not a sustainable model. Teacher dependent.

Online Learning

The learning model is likely more flexible, able to accommodate differences & differing learning contexts. Choice & agency is included in the model & individuals are more able to choose their own schedule. 

  • Risks: very dependent on teachers, their capacity & creativity. 
  • Reality: many online schools & institutions have been offering online learning courses of variable quality for many years.

Home – Remote Learning

Learning is co-created between families, children & teachers. A clear model for learning is articulated, understood & shared. Family context influences the shape, timing & outputs. Less rigid schedules – families able to select suitable times. Synchronous & asynchronous. Highly personal. Online & offline activities. Core concepts focused on as needed; creativity encouraged at every point. 

  • Risks: teachers & parents need to feel confident that home learning will cover skill development & plan for that; teachers need high intuition & advanced relational skills
  • Reality: a more sustainable long-term proposition; allows for community well-being in practical ways; agency, choice & empowerment tangible & visible


To learn more about remote learning in today’s society, check out our [RE]LEARN highlights.

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