Introducing the Connected Learning Model: Mitigating COVID-19 Learning Loss

The unprecedented disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic to our classrooms has, out of necessity, accelerated the implementation of widespread virtual teaching and learning as we aim to bridge distance and continue momentum.

The challenges of this “new normal” are deeply felt. Still, we are seeing amazing examples of strength, dedication, and passion in the K–12 space—teachers and students bringing the classroom online and navigating new, and often imperfect, systems to connect with one another; communities working tirelessly to ensure children are safe, fed, and emotionally supported; districts operationalizing quickly to reach students across a wide spectrum of at-home circumstances with differing levels of connectivity and access.

While teachers frequently grapple with the “summer slide” during the back-to-school season, when students return to school this fall, whether in physical buildings or not, they could return with losses that are much deeper. Of critical importance, these disruptions will have a greater negative impact on students from high-need communities and on those with special needs.

There is no doubt in my mind that educators are among the great heroes of our time—always, but especially now. And as we move toward the close of the traditional school year, it is important to think about how we can harness the learnings and unexpected realities of this time to innovate our systems and serve all learners, with equal care for social-emotional needs and academic growth.

Looking Forward

I recently shared my thoughts about the impact of COVID-19 on the future of K–12 education, and I invite you to read more here on Shaped. I noted that we are on the cusp of a new era—the era of connected teaching and learning. Well-established research tells us that teachers have the greatest impact on student outcomes.

In this new framework, the digital medium becomes a primary delivery mechanism for instruction, empowering educators and allowing all members of a learning community to connect more deeply. And as we adapt to online learning and grapple with the injustices of the digital divide, it is essential that the entire teaching and learning community be connected—not as an aspiration but as a necessity.

Technology will propel us forward on this path, but “connected” learning is rooted in both the structures and culture of our learning systems. Yes, our go-forward approach should be woven from digital solutions—including elements like device access, AI-powered software, and the integration of ongoing assessment—but it goes beyond this. We need to think holistically about how to connect the entire education infrastructure in a way that supports all learners. This will necessitate the right people, support systems, digital platforms, policies, and more.

A New Research-Based Resource

Today, we are proud to share a new and important resource: The Connected Learning Era: Mitigating the COVID-19 Learning Loss.

Written by HMH’s Learning Sciences and Research teams, this white paper covers critical areas, offering concrete guidance and new thinking around ways to mitigate learning loss and reimagine the structure and culture of our schools and districts, including:

  • What established research says about interrupted schooling and learning loss, and how this can be applied to prepare for the challenges ahead
  • The introduction of a new Connected Learning Model that places student well-being and growth at the center and empowers educators
  • Actionable recommendations around prioritizing social and emotional learning, assessing individual learner needs, using data to inform decision making, leveraging high-quality curricula and learning sciences to accelerate academic growth, and more
  • How to plan for a connected learning environment in your district, this fall and beyond
  • Key takeaways for engaging students, educators, families, and communities

Connected learning combines the best from in-person, virtual, remote, distance, and online learning to move beyond short-term fixes and get to long-term solutions. We hope this important contribution to the urgent conversation around the “COVID slide” will deepen partnerships across learning communities and help us address the unpredictable challenges ahead together.

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