Expert point of view
Five keys to ensuring student equity in online learning
Online learning can be an important tool in advancing student equity by providing students with educational opportunities that were not previously available to them. For example, students in many school systems (especially in high-poverty areas) do not have access to qualified teachers for computer science instruction, Advanced Placement® courses, and other learning opportunities that may lead to well-paying careers. For these students, online learning can help level the playing field.
However, this is only true if certain conditions are met. As we have seen during the pandemic, online education can sometimes widen equity gaps if the circumstances are not right. For online learning to support student equity, here are five essential elements that must be in place.
The right technological infrastructure
Whether learning takes place at school or at home, students need technology tools to effectively support online learning. These include a rugged digital device (not just a smart phone) and high-speed connectivity.
The device used by the students should be suitable for the type of instruction being given, but it should at least include a keyboard and a screen large enough for the students to interact with the content.
One of the main reasons learning gaps widened when the pandemic forced the shift to distance learning last year was the lack of high-speed internet service in many low-income or remote households. . The new infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden could help, as it includes $65 billion to improve home broadband access. School systems can also take steps such as distributing mobile hotspots to students who need them.
Time and space to learn without interruption
Another reason learning gaps widened during the pandemic was because some students didn’t have a quiet place to learn from home, or were forced to share a computer with siblings during school. ‘Distance Learning.
When expanding opportunities through online learning, school systems can minimize these distractions by scheduling time for students to take online lessons while they are in school during the regular school day. , or after school hours. If that’s not an option, asynchronous online classes (which don’t meet at a certain time of day) would allow students to log in and complete their work at a time that’s most convenient for them, allowing them avoid distractions as much as possible. .
Accessible learning content
Students need accessible online learning content regardless of the type of device they use or if they have learning disabilities. Content should be device-agnostic, meaning it can be played equally well from any device – and it should be designed with accessibility in mind.
VHS Learning helped develop the National Standards for Quality Online Learning, which includes standards for accessibility and usability of online content. Content that aligns with these standards is also accessible to all students, so all learners can easily navigate and interact with all course components.
Engaging and high quality teaching
Not all online courses are designed with the same level of quality. To give every student a chance to succeed, students must be able to benefit from high-quality instruction from a talented and well-trained teacher using the best online learning practices.
High-quality online learning puts students at the center of the learning process. Learning should be engaging, collaborative and activity-based, with students learning and applying key skills through authentic, hands-on projects. Strong relationships between students, their teacher, and their peers are essential for success, whether teaching takes place in person or online – and a high-quality online learning experience should foster high interactivity.
Full student support
Students need comprehensive support to ensure they remain active and engaged learners, and this is especially true in an online environment. Teachers should work closely with students, providing frequent check-ins and feedback to ensure students don’t feel lost in class. In VHS Learning’s online courses, school staff serve as local site coordinators to provide additional support to students.
One of our core beliefs is that all students deserve access to high quality learning opportunities. With these five elements in place, online learning can help level the playing field and advance equity among students.
Storie Walsh has been Vice President of Technology for VHS Learning, a nonprofit provider of full-time and supplemental online education for high school students for 25 years.