Home Blog On Distance Learning, A Teacher's Words of Advice: Keep It Simple

On Distance Learning, A Teacher’s Words of Advice: Keep It Simple

So, I’ve been doing this virtual learning thing with students for a week (really three days, but who’s counting?). After a ridiculously short amount of time, I would like to provide a quick point of advice for teachers who are just preparing to either take part in a lot of professional development on new technology to use during virtual class or are readying their classes for virtual launch. I wish I’d been privy to this information before starting, so I figure it may be helpful to at least a few other teachers out there.

Over the past two weeks, I have taken part in several different sessions (seven, I think) introducing new software that we can use to enhance our virtual lessons. It was truly like drinking water from a fire hose. So much information and very little, if any, time to apply what I’d learned before moving on to another new program. It was overwhelming and frustrating and soured my attitude on using any of the programs at all. On top of learning about programs (such as PearDeck, Edgenuity, SchoolsPLP, Screencastify, Webex, and more) my district was also transitioning to a new learning management system (Schoology). So, while learning about Schoology became a priority, I continued to contemplate (read that as ‘worry’) how I could use these other programs to enhance my online instruction. I was overwhelmed. I was frustrated. 

That leads me to my major point:

Keep it Simple.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was losing focus. My instruction was increasingly becoming about figuring out how to incorporate the new bells and whistles and less and less about the content. If I’m spending more time planning for and learning how to implement some software than I am about the actual material to be learned, I’m not on the right track. 

Keep it simple. 

Instead of planning the material around programs, plan the use of programs around the content. Maybe ask yourself if using PearDeck, for example, will really enhance instruction, or is it just for show? If it isn’t enhancing learning, don’t do it. 

Keep it simple. 

I would go so far as to recommend starting bare bones with your lessons. Obviously, make sure you’re adhering to the expectations of your administration, but outside of that, use as few new ‘toys’ as possible for the first few weeks. Streamline instruction and make it about the content for both your benefit and for the benefit of your students. 

As overwhelmed as I felt learning about the new software and attempting to configure my classes around it, at some point I tried to view this whole experience through the lens of a student. At least I know the content. I’ve got the content down. Students, on the other hand, are tasked with learning about these new bells and whistles while also learning new content every day. And not just from my class. In my case (we’re on a standard block schedule), my students don’t only have to learn what to expect from my instruction and how to interact with lessons, but they have to do this for three other teachers…while also figuring out how to navigate each teacher’s manner of placing material into schoology (which, more than likely, is very different for each teacher). And then throw into the mix that many of my students may have a job, or siblings to care for, or lack of resources, or any other real-life experience that interferes with virtual school…as overwhelming as this is for me, it pales in comparison for the students.

Imagine for a second if you were given four brand new preps this year that you had to cover everyday; totally new material you’ve never taught before. Can you feel your blood pressure rising? Overwhelmed? Essentially, that is what our students encounter. Four new lessons daily of new information that they have to learn…again, on top of learning how to use all of the new programs.

Please, please, please keep it simple.

Now, perhaps after a couple of weeks of instruction, you and your students are feeling more comfortable with everything…you’ve got the basics down. Maybe then begin incorporating more bells and whistles, slowly but surely, while also remembering to stay focused on the material and the learning. Does this really enhance instruction? Does it provide a better way for explaining, demonstrating, or assessing knowledge? If the answer is no, seriously consider why you are using the bell and/or whistle. 

Keep it simple. For your sake. For your learner’s sake. 

***I do not mean to be negative against the use of any of the programs (or appropriately applied technology, in general) mentioned in this post. All of the software can be beneficial to learning. I’ve got nothing against the technologies. Keep doing your thing, tech companies.

This piece first ran here at the author’s blog.

What Do You Think?
Blake Harvard
Blake Harvard is an AP Psychology teacher in Alabama. He is passionate about incorporating findings from cognitive psychology in the classroom to improve instruction and learning. You can find him on twitter @effortfuleduktr


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