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Distance learning doesn't need to feel distant

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

Since we last checked in, life has continued to react to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Contingency plans and difficult decisions abound, as basically all of the institutions that have long contributed to our sense of “normalcy” have been quickly adapting to fit with principles of social distancing. #Distancelearning; #onlinetutoring; #oneonontutoring; #covid19;#remotelearning

In this post, I'll

  • analyze the different faces of online learning,

  • share insights from students whose schools have already made the switch, and

  • investigate the differences between online schooling and online one-on-one tutoring.

For children and young adults everywhere, the rug has been pulled from beneath their feet as the familiarity of the typical school day gives way to distance learning. Although there is no disputing that these changes are needed to help slow the spread of the virus, it’s hard to ignore the inherent challenges in educating young minds from a distance.


How does distance learning work, though?

Although the specific approach varies from school to school, there are a few basic considerations in how fully-online courses can be structured:

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

If I were helping a student with a reading assignment and one of these two words popped up, I would ask the student if the word looks or sounds similar to a more familiar word. Personally, I think of two things. First, the scene in a spy movie when the leader of a rescue team tells the other jumpsuit-clad heroes to “synchronize their watches”; second, I think of synchronized swimming. What do both examples have in common? They involve multiple people doing something at the same time. Synchronous online classes are similar to traditional school in that students participate in learning activities and assignments at the same time; for example, students might watch live

video of the teacher introducing new content, then share their perspectives in a live chat, and finally take a timed quiz online. Asynchronous classes, on the other hand, do not require students to be participating at the same time, instead giving students general deadlines (daily, weekly, biweekly, etc.) for when to complete all learning activities and turn in all assignments.

How do teachers deliver content?

In addition to the question of when learning takes place, online classes must also factor in how teachers can teach their subjects. Common platforms like Google Classroom and Canvas work like content databases, allowing teachers to organize and distribute their lessons to students. The lessons themselves can be presented through pre-recorded videos or audio, live video or audio (Zoom, YouTube Live, etc.), slide presentations, or text (Google Docs, online articles, etc.). Not all teachers have access to the same resources, though; for example, a culinary arts teacher I know was simply given a Google Classroom account and advised to focus more on theory than application during school closures. In addition, many experienced classroom teachers are unfamiliar with educational technology and may struggle to maintain the quality of their teaching despite their best intentions. Students who learn most effectively through doing or hearing will suffer greatly from the inevitable switch to text-based lessons and online worksheets, and the lack of face-to-face support. Lily, a senior at the Waldorf School of Orange County, reflects after three days of synchronous online classes that

“if you’re not a book learner, this is a really challenging time.”

Lack of consistency may also be a challenge for students; according to Eva, a junior at Mater Dei High School, two of her classes are using live video,

“but [her] math teacher just posted videos on YouTube and it’s hard to learn.”

How do students participate in lessons?

Online participation for students might range from watching videos and reading online articles to typing up responses to discussion board questions and solving multiple choice math problems. Whether a student’s online school day involves sitting at a screen watching live videos, sitting at a screen replying to classmates' posts, or sitting at a screen taking a chemistry quiz, there is sure to be a lot of sitting and looking at screens. Regardless of how the online school day is structured, it will be difficult for young adults to be engaged in their learning while confined to the same chair all day. Newport Harbor High School senior Cori notes that although they have been given a set schedule for classes starting next week,

“no one’s willing to take it seriously as of now...from what [she’s] seen.”

Cori specifically points to a lack of “self-discipline” in her peers as a concerning factor. In addition to academics, students will miss out significantly on the valuable social aspects of school. There are ways to make up for that loss in the age of social distancing - group Zoom calls, for instance - but it’s important to acknowledge the potentially damaging effects of teens being physically isolated from each other.

Online classes, while indisputably necessary right now for the sake of public health, clearly have some flaws that contribute to a less personalized education.


The good news is that we can help.

By providing one-on-one online support to students, our tutors can seamlessly continue their personalized, tailored approach to teaching, focusing on each student’s unique learning style, strengths, and areas to work on. We utilize educational technology like Zoom and Kami to maintain active participation and face-to-face communication with students during sessions. We share laughs, introduce each other to our pets, and build very personalized mentorships as we annotate together on our screens.

Online does not mean distant at Strive - it means customized and personal, and always interactive.

Are you a student struggling to make sense of your current precalculus unit on matrices (long story short: Keanu is the One) without in-class guidance from your math teacher? Our math tutors can help demystify those crazy rows and columns. A sophomore or junior looking to get ahead on SAT/ACT prep and college planning? Our test prep tutors will guide you through the ins and outs of content and strategy and our college counselors will light the path to a good-fit college experience. We even have tutors who can help you foster effective study skills and time management, crucial factors for success both now (distance learning) and later (college courses).

In all cases, our tutors and college counselors do what they do because they value mentorships and enjoy building connections with our students. That’s what makes Strive to Learn different, and it's how

we can help distance learning feel not so distant.


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