Due to remote learning and teaching, collaboration and collaborative learning has become one of the strongest core philosophies operating in classrooms and virtual classrooms today. Over 1.2 billion children worldwide are learning outside of the traditional classroom.

A recent study stated that 73% of the schools surveyed implemented remote and hybrid learning for the 2020-2021 academic year. We live in an era of constant digital communication. With the tap of a button, we can share updates, events and collaborate with people all over the world. Due to the pandemic, remote learning has become the new normal that schools are constantly learning to adapt to. And it’s not always easy to make collaboration work in remote learning.

So what are the challenges commonly faced by teachers and students? And how can we improve collaboration during remote learning?

remote learning challenges

Challenges of a remote learning environment

Distance learning often leads to isolation and independent learning. During the pandemic, many students stated that they felt loneliness and a sense of disconnect. This disconnect is amplified when online courses are designed with only individual work in mind. This results in students missing out on developing critical soft skills such as communication, problem solving and creative thinking.

Moreover, many students lack internet and technology access at home. Globally, 31% of students cannot be communicated with or reached through remote learning.  75% of students worldwide who cannot be reached through remote learning come from low-class backgrounds, poor households or rural areas.

Despite challenges like this, educators are finding ways to use the tools and softwares available to reach their students, and support families in need to ensure that remote learning becomes as equitable as possible. Equitability in remote learning can be achieved by regularly checking in with students, helping your students’ family build the connection between their homes and the school, choosing apps and tools that are mobile and user-friendly, and doubling down on project-based learning.

1 - Prioritize collaboration

Remote and distance learning doesn’t mean we have to be relationally distant. Teachers need to communicate and ensure that their students are given plenty of opportunities to connect, communicate and collaborate in pairs or small groups. This will help solidify concepts and ideas, and can demonstrate whether or not students understand new material.

Unlike learning opportunities in traditional classrooms, online learning environments nurture additional learning experiences. Students can interact, collaborate, and take initiative of their own learning. Developing effective collaborative online activities begins with understanding the research and how students process information when online. Educators of online learning environments must focus on instructional best practices in order to deliver effective online instruction.

2 - Cooperation and Collaboration go hand-in-hand

Student collaboration is critical. Social distancing is taking its toll on student learning, particularly when it comes to students working in groups. In remote learning, students usually interact with one another without actually engaging in collaborative work. This means they are cooperating rather than collaborating. Understanding the difference between cooperation and collaboration and how to integrate them into your remote teaching and virtual classrooms can help you improve students’ learning experience and their level of cooperation and collaboration.

Cooperation is independent and often short term. It begins with mutual respect, requires transparency, includes shared goals and involves the sharing of ideas as a group. Whereas collaboration is more interdependent and mostly long term. Collaboration begins with mutual trust, requires vulnerability, includes shared values and involves generating entirely new ideas together.

However, both collaboration and cooperation are necessary in remote and hybrid learning. Cooperation without collaboration can lead to detachment or division. While collaboration without cooperation can lead to collectivism or conformity and a loss of individuality.

The key is to create learning experiences that can make the most out of collaboration and cooperation. This can be challenging, but it can help students become better self-starters and self-managers in their small groups.

3 - Adopt synchronous and asynchronous communication

Synchronous communication happens in the moment and is real-time, making it a faster and more dynamic form of communication. This works best for when you are aiming for active participation and interactive discussions within small groups. However, educators need to bear in mind that this can be great for brainstorming sessions or interactive classroom discussions, but it can cause recurring interruptions or distractions. Generally categorized under synchronous communication are: phone calls and video meetings.

Whereas asynchronous communication doesn’t occur in real-time but can happen over a longer period of time. It does not need to be scheduled or agreed upon ahead of time. This provides more room to communicate at your own pace with little to no disruptions. And allows communication to flow even when internet connection is unstable or when participants are not in the conversation in real-time. It also supports permanent recording of the communication in any relevant format. However, this doesn’t work well when it comes to urgent matters or issues that need to be addressed in the moment and ultimately feels less interactive. Common forms of asynchronous communication are: emails, chatting apps and platforms, and collaborative documents.

Some communication platforms blend synchronous and asynchronous whilst other schools prefer to integrate separate synchronous and asynchronous communication platforms into their schools. Regardless, both synchronous and asynchronous communication are necessary for collaborative work.

4 - Stay consistent with your communication tools

Constantly switching between multiple communication tools every other week will not help you or your students achieve successful communication, especially during remote learning. When it comes to school communication, consistency is key. Identify and select the communication tool you believe would benefit your virtual classroom and help you communicate with your students as seamlessly and efficiently as possible.

Communication tools should encourage collaboration and help you save time. 56% of teachers surveyed stated that they were only able to cover half or less than half of the curriculum they were intending to cover. Even though 25% of teachers included in this study conveyed that they had the same schedule as the previous year. If it does the opposite, you know it’s time to find the right one that fits your communication needs and what you want to achieve.

5 - Empower your students

Keeping students engaged, motivated and empowered can prove to be difficult, especially when you have to do so from a distance. One way you can keep them motivated is by setting clear goals for learning, communicating from home, and involving them in this process. Teachers should also keep in mind that each student’s learning needs are different from one another. Educators can recognize and highlight milestones that these students have achieved, which in turn can empower them to take initiative in their learning growth and continuous improvement. Regardless, don’t forget that empowered students still need frequent check-ins and guidance to grow.

6 - Feedback is fundamental

Students’ growth and improvement also relies on your feedback. Qualitative feedback is important, yet is often forgotten or dismissed when teaching in a remote learning environment. You will usually find that students turn to teachers when they want to know how well they’re doing and how they can improve whilst in remote conditions and seek validation and reassurance that their remote work has purpose.

The pandemic led to schools around the world deviating towards remote teaching and many are still practicing remote learning. This shift allowed teaching and learning to continue, but it also caused struggle in many aspects. Such as the disconnection students felt, less engagement in class, and rising concerns about equity, accessibility and diversity.

Communication, cooperation and collaboration are essential to successful remote learning classrooms. Collaboration provides students with valuable skills that will inevitably be required in their future careers. Collaboration cannot effectively exist without better communication which in turn leads to better education.

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