Breaking Through with New Approaches to Virtual Learning

Over the course of the COVID-19 related school building shutdown this Spring, I’ve been impressed by the resilience of teachers and administrators (and students and their families), most of whom were thrown into the deep end of the pool of online learning.

One commentator I heard recently said that “In two months, we have all pushed forward about 10 years in terms of working and learning virtually.”

I’ve talked to school leaders at multiple districts in recent weeks and, not surprisingly, the ones who were able to adjust more easily were the ones who already had a one-to-one computing model.  Most of the others, however, had to work on the basic logistics of distributing laptops and devices to students without adequate learning technology at home, and also to ameliorate spotty wi-fi availability.  One district in Florida, for example, equipped its school buses with wi-fi hotspots and sent them out to neighborhoods in the community where few families had good wi-fi as mobile learning labs for students.  Other districts opened up their parking lots for families to drive up and jump on the open wi-fi.  Neither option is really ideal, but they are attempts to increase the equity for online learning.

Likewise, most individual teachers at the K-12 level are working with new learning and communications technologies, checking in with their classrooms regularly, posting assignments, making instructional videos, and simply trying to keep students from falling through the cracks and checking out relationally and emotionally.  CareerTech teachers, who depend on hands-on learning and equipment use as a major part of their instruction, have been particularly challenged to adapt their instructional practices to the virtual environment.

Here are some recent articles I’ve seen in ACTE’s SmartBrief newsletter highlighting innovative practices.

Career and technical education teachers at a Massachusetts high school are innovating and thinking differently about instruction to help teach typically hands-on lessons virtually. That includes a teacher who is recording YouTube videos of plumbing work he is completing at home, and another who is filming videos of construction work being done in his neighborhood. 

Full Story: The Herald News (Fall River, Mass.)

Students from 20 school districts in Ohio on Friday participated in a virtual tour of an automotive service area as part of a weeklong event to showcase various career opportunities for students. This year the typically in-person visits were replaced by the Mahoning County Educational Service Center’s Virtual Exploration Tour 2020 event.

Full Story: The Business Journal (Youngstown, Ohio) (5/18) 

Students who are enrolled in the Industry Advisory program at a Wisconsin high school — launched in partnership with the Building2Learn Consortium and the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters — have been focusing on preparing for job interviews during prolonged school closures. The interviews were conducted online with construction companies via Zoom, and an industry signing day is being held. 

Full Story: WUWM-FM (Milwaukee) (text and audio) (5/12) 

Looking Ahead

The future of education in the U.S. is very murky.  Until we have a widely distributed vaccine to stop or at least slow the spread of COVID-19, education will be some sort of mash-up of low-density classrooms with a portion of the student population, combined with online, virtual learning.  It’s May right now, and most of the administrators I’ve talked with recently don’t have a firmly established plan for what August and September will look like.

And even after the immediate health crisis is past us (maybe Spring 2021), how we structure and deliver learning may never be the same.  Why would we just cast aside all the new skills and delivery systems we’ve become accustomed to?  Virtual learning alone doesn’t seem to be workable for all students, but we’ve been talking about “blended learning” and “flipped classrooms” for years.  Perhaps this will push us forward ten years in learning how to better integrate learning technologies to make education more personalized and efficient, while still protecting and even bolstering the important social and relational aspects of schooling.

Finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to our teachers and education leaders (and the families that have tried your best to provide a safe and positive learning environment at home for your kids).  Please know how much you are appreciated, and we thank you for keeping up the fight to prepare our children and young adults to navigate an uncertain future.


Please let us know what innovative practices you’ve implemented or observed in your work by adding your comments or emailing me at [email protected].

Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education. 

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