Remote Learning and Making Plans

by admin

The reality of the Covid pandemic has seen millions of pupils thrust into a position remote home learning. A stark truth is that pupils learn most when they are in the classroom. Remote learning, homework and similar, is simply hard work – for both pupils and teachers.

Very quickly, and resourcefully, schools have responded to these new circumstances to support remote learning as effectively as possible.

My organisation, the Education Endowment Foundation, undertook a rapid review of remote learning (read it here). When you dig into the detail of the evidence within the review, you find some helpful insights. Rasheed et al (2020), in their review on the ‘Challenges in the online component of blended learning: A systematic review’, state:

“Self-regulation challenges and challenges in using learning technology are the key challenges that students face.”

Self-regulation is your ability to control your behaviour and emotions, along with knowledge of your strengths, weaknesses, and more. Motivating yourself and maintaining the hard thinking demanded of remote learning is no doubt difficulty and pupils’ experience of isolation can worsen their ability to self-regulate.

One of the simple manifestations of self-regulation is your ability to successfully plan your time.

In their research on US college students, Hartwig and Dunlosky (2012) showed that planning and time management helped differentiated between the successful and less successful students. They state:

“Differences in scheduling did arise between the highest and lowest achievers, with the lower achievers focusing (a) more on impending deadlines, (b) more on studying late at night, and (c) almost never on planning their study time.”

Now, these are US college students, so we should be careful making any comparisons with UK schools. A closely aligned personal experience struck me. In the last week, my typically conscientious daughter floundered with the future prospect of a music exam. She catastrophised in the face of the imminent test.

We spend a little time working out a practice schedule and helping her plan her time and her emotions quickly lifted. With a little scaffolding, she has been able to independently self-regulate and manage her learning along with her stresses about the exam.

Of course, we recognise that many pupils simply will not have the same supports at home for lots of reasons (e.g. parents busy home working). Schools may need to model and support self-regulation as much as they focus on the content of remote learning.

In the EEF ‘Metacognition and Self-regulation’ guidance report, it shares the helpful work of Zimmerman (2010) who offers these elements of a self-regulated student:

  • Setting specific short-term goals 
  • Adopting powerful strategies for attaining the goals 
  • Monitoring performance for signs of progress 
  • Restructuring one’s physical and social context to make it compatible with one’s goals 
  • Managing time-use
  • Self-evaluating one’s methods; and 
  • Attributing causation to results and adapting future methods   

‘Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview’, Zimmerman, B. J. (2010) 

I think of my daughter and her music learning. My partner and I have helped her shape her short-term goals and my partner has supported her through practice sessions, giving her precious feedback. Her test has been broken down into small steps by her musics teacher. Her new practice schedule adorns her bedroom wall.

In short, her planning, her time management – and her self-regulation – has been supported. With this guidance and scaffolding, independent learning becomes easier and likely will be better sustained.

So, what conclusions can we draw more broadly for remote learning and school closures and more generally?

  • Self-regulation is going to be a challenge for every pupil during lockdown and even when pupils return;
  • Explicit support for planning your time (checking and evaluating those plans) is likely to be a useful support for many pupils;
  • Model and scaffold such planning and time-management; make it social, talk about it and evaluate it.


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