Remote learning: making the transition

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a fast deployment of hardware and software solutions for remote learning. What behaviour change is needed for the technology to be used effectively?

Author details

Hamish Mackenzie is founder of Digital Resilience UK, an agency that supports schools with digital strategy and online safety. He also works part-time as Director of Digital Strategy at the...

Many schools have been forced to rapidly implement remote learning systems and procedures. Access to robust technology which promotes a meaningful learning experience is of course important. But schools also need to emphasise the protocols and behaviours that support the transition from bricks and mortar to online learning.

There are two sides to the coin:

  • will the tech work?
  • can the people use it?

The disruption is likely to last several months, so any programme introduced in the coming weeks needs to hold for a long haul

Core pedagogies to replicate remotely

We have identified six core pedagogies that teachers look to replicate in a remote learning context.

  1. Maintaining human connection and interaction via face-to-face video contact.
  2. Teacher to group video conferencing for leading group discussions.
  3. Resource delivery e.g. slide decks, research resources, worksheets, office documents, video or weblinks.
  4. Resource narration e.g. talking, annotating or vlogging over the shared resources or digital whiteboard work.
  5. Checking learning via quizzing and assessment.
  6. Marking and feedback.

The major tech platforms can all deliver remote learning versions of these pedagogies, with third party VLEs often only being able to provide parts of them. However, the most important factor is that staff feel confident in delivering their lessons and the traditional pedagogies in the new remote world.

Be realistic

The most important aspect of any sustainable tech deployment is user confidence and competence. If staff recognise problems they are facing, and the value of the tech as a solution, they are far more likely to adopt successfully.

Consider what is realistic for staff in terms of teacher-pupil interaction and what parents should expect from schools. The disruption is likely to last several months, so any programme introduced in the coming weeks needs to hold for a long haul.

The expectations should be lowered slightly from what can achieved in a brick and mortar setting

The most important aspect will be maintaining meaningful connections between staff, pupils, colleagues and parents. Lessons don’t have to be ‘all singing, all dancing’ but pupils need a variety of stimuli from their teachers in order to keep connected.

Remote learning allows a world of deeper experiences beyond the hurriedly constructed worksheet packs or revision guides, but the expectations should be lowered slightly from what can achieved in a brick and mortar setting. Teachers and pupils will be learning new ways of interacting and new parameters will need to be established.

Synchronous vs asynchronous approaches

Every school will need to decide which camp to occupy in the coming weeks. The more challenging approach is synchronous real-time lessons delivered through platforms such as Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts. Asynchronous is less pressurised but provides a more passive experience for pupils.

Synchronous learning allows students to progress through the learning in specific real-time slots, often mirroring a normal school timetable. The pupils and teacher are present online at a scheduled time and progress through a lesson as if they were meeting in person. Learners can interact via audio, video and chat functions and a live group dynamic is established from the get-go. This model requires confident teachers and a stable, reliable technology (devices and cloud). It is relatively high pressure for the teachers but has the capability of delivering a rich learning experience. Asynchronous learning allows the progression at own pace. Teachers curate a series of resources and stimuli for pupils to progress through. Assessments and feedback occur at specific points but the live interaction is limited. This method is easier to manage for students, parents and teachers but does not deliver the same level of interactivity or personalisation.

Platforms – the importance of the cloud

Both Google and Microsoft are offering complete ecosystem solutions via G Suite for Education (Google Drive etc.) and Microsoft 365 (OneDrive etc.) and Teams. If schools are already in the cloud with these providers, the obvious choices are Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams.

Both platforms are device agnostic and will work well on browsers, tablets and smartphones. There are support guides available for all aspects of deployment and staff training available from both camps.

If your school is using iPad devices without an institutional cloud, there are app collections that Apple recommend that allow the iPad to deliver the five core pedagogies outlined above. See the Digital Resilience UK resources area for links to guidance on each platform.

If you are using a third party platform such as Showbie, Firefly, Frog or Show My Homework it is possible to still deliver a full remote learning programme but the asynchronous path is probably the better route to follow, interspersed with a communication platform. Each VLE will be offering enhanced services in the current disruption. Get in touch with them directly to access support.

Artificial intelligence (AI) platforms

Platforms such as Century Tech, Seneca and Sparx Maths have all seen massive uptake in recent weeks. The advantage of these platforms is that students receive a personalised pathway that responds as it recognises cognitive barriers in learning, rather than a traditional approach that delivers a knowledge acquisition programme.

Home learning protocols

Once the decisions have been made on platform, approach, teacher confidence and scope of programme, the logistics and expectations around remote learning need to be established. We recommend creating a staff and pupil protocol that includes the following.

General expectations: what the school expects of teachers during shutdown in terms of delivering the job of a teacher remotely.
Lesson expectations: how remote lessons should run. The minimum expectations with accountability requirements. This does not need to be prescriptive but should allow for all of the core teaching pedagogies to be delivered.
Safeguarding considerations: clear guidance and lines of communication for concerns.
Communication and tutoring expectations: how teachers contact pupils and parents, timing, frequency, locations, professional dress, accountability.
Online behaviour guidance: if teachers are being asked to innovate, pupils need to agree to keep all communication within the institution and not repost or republish elsewhere.
Team leaders: what are the expectations for middle leaders? How will teams be managed in a remote context?
Support: clear lines of support for technical and managerial issues.
Helpful guidelines: share what works! Schools in Asia have been closed for 10 weeks already. Lessons learned in Hong Kong schools can be applied to a UK context.

Any protocol or system needs be flexible enough to take into account teachers’ own responsibilities, particularly those with young or additional-needs children.

Communication and safeguarding

Perhaps the most important element remote teaching is safeguarding. The DfE have published safeguarding guidance specific to online safety in a remote learning context (and includes links to useful resources). It is important for schools to share best practice with staff and give clear guidance and a policy position. This may include expectations such as:

  • professional dress
  • location of video conferences
  • keeping all communication within institutional cloud platform
  • the ability to face-to-face video call with student or parent
  • the requirement for all lessons to be recorded.


Pupils, parents, teachers and leaders will all need support over the coming term. It is important that technical support is provided a format that is accessible – be it cheat sheets, telephone support, online training or tips and tricks from more confident practitioners.

Parents will want to feel reassured that they can still communicate about the needs of their individual child

Perhaps more important than the technical support is the emotional and pastoral support. Teachers and pupils need to feel that they are still connected to part of a community. Consider how to maintain the team spirit of a staff room or the dynamic within a classroom. Parents will want to feel reassured that they can still communicate about the needs of their individual child rather than just being on the receiving end of work-setting.

The summer term in schools will be a brave new world. Remote teaching offers the opportunity for sustaining meaningful learning experiences despite enforced geographic isolation.

Further reading

Last Updated: 
20 Apr 2020