The Connected Learning Model: Mitigating COVID-19 Unfinished Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has created extreme disruption and extraordinary circumstances for educators, students, and families. Still, we have seen 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, and communities working tirelessly to ensure children are safe, fed, and emotionally supported.

While educators frequently grapple with the “summer slide” during the back-to-school season, the impact of this pandemic has led to an urgent imperative that needs our attention now. Of critical importance, the disruptions from this past year will have a greater negative impact on students from high-need communities and those with special needs.

Looking Forward

A year ago, I 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.

"We can harness the learnings and unexpected realities of this time to innovate our systems and serve all learners."

In this new framework, the digital medium became a primary delivery mechanism for instruction, empowering educators and allowing all members of a learning community to connect more deeply. The current moment hastened the arrival of the virtual classroom. Online learning became essential and nondiscretionary.

Technology will propel us forward on this path, but “connected” learning is rooted in both the structures and culture of our learning systems. Our go-forward approach should be woven from digital solutions, but we need to think holistically about how we connect the entire education infrastructure and how it can continue to evolve in service of support for all learners. This includes people, support systems, digital platforms, policies, and more.

A New Research-Based Resource

Since the onset of school closures, the team at HMH has partnered with the learning communities we serve, which are made up of a constellation of teachers, school leaders, students, families, school staff, and caregivers, to provide the right support and address these unique challenges. In our report "The Connected Learning Era: Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19," you will find concrete recommendations from our learning scientists and researchers to assist you in planning for the upcoming school year, with a focus on a connected vision for teaching and learning.

  • What established research says about interrupted schooling, and how this can be applied to prepare for the challenges ahead
  • Information on a 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 the fall by creating a shared vision, setting up short-term and long-term goals, and establishing a culture of continuous improvement
  • 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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Learning didn’t stop during the pandemic. It just took new forms. This article is part of a series of resources focused on COVID learning recovery and designed to help you plan now for summer school and next year.

This blog, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2021.

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