A momentous year in education

Students raising hands

Published: December 28th, 2021

2021 has been a momentous and consistently evolving year in education. We’ve covered a wide variety of themes this year on our blog to help enhance our audience’s expertise and approaches to teaching and education from multiple perspectives. Topics included student engagement, the future of education and the future of classroom design, the rise of mobile learning (mLearning), approaches to gamification in education, the future of personalized learning, social-emotional learning (SEL), and learning loss.

As Promethean explores what’s to come in 2022, we predict that the areas of SEL and learning loss will continue to take center stage. We are proud to offer powerful edtech products that when coupled with strategy and support, can aid in addressing both.

As the saying goes, you can’t know where you’re going until you’re clear on where you’ve been. Educators know the importance of this best, especially when they think about how to ensure future student success. Let’s explore why measuring student engagement is crucial as you evaluate the school year thus far.

Measuring student engagement matters

While schools are committed to ensuring that their students are engaged, few schools have formalized an approach to measuring student engagement. Measuring student engagement can be difficult as the dimensions are multifaceted and there is no “one size fits all” approach or measurement tool. Hybrid and remote learning further complicates things, as little or no in-person interaction can make it difficult to measure engagement by way of observing students in a classroom environment with their peers.

Nevertheless, understanding student engagement, whether it be at the individual, classroom, or district level, remains fundamentally important. Understanding how and when students are engaged is crucial to ensuring future and prolonged student success. Student engagement is predictive of key student success metrics including test scores, dropout rates, and graduation rates. Ongoing measurement of student engagement levels can reveal actionable insights to help schools meet these essential objectives.

The education system is currently undergoing the biggest transformation we’ve seen since the industrial revolution. In order to navigate this shifting landscape, it is critical that educators take the steps towards measuring engagement seriously and gather actionable insights into what’s working and what’s not. With this information in hand, educators will learn what is advancing student engagement versus what’s hindering it, and what steps they can take to best ensure student success. Be sure to define both macro and micro levels of student engagement, as schools will benefit from taking the two perspectives into account. Carry this further by examining behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement. Don’t forget to look at student wellness. 2021 offered stronger evidence than ever before on just how important mental and physical health is to learning. A holistic evaluation that includes all of these components will uncover the full picture of student engagement and how to proceed.

Preparing students for what’s next

Students are more academically engaged when they are empowered to direct their own learning experience. Student-led learning is centered on active student inquiry and exploration. This style of learning not only engages students in their learning experience, but also helps students master the art of learning how to learn. Incorporating edtech into the classroom is a critical component to increasing engagement and expanding opportunities for student-led learning. By leveraging edtech to facilitate a more student-centric classroom, educators can engage students with the tools that appeal to them most while preparing them for the future.

In a rapidly evolving world, students must be equipped to adapt and grow. Subject matter mastery is important—but so is developing the competencies needed to be successful lifelong with social-emotional skills. Edtech-supported student-centered learning helps students develop the skills and agency they need to grow into self-actualized adults who are capable of navigating challenges, making tough decisions, and forging new paths forward.

The Next Chapter is Personalized Learning

Studies have shown that tailoring students’ learning experiences to their individual needs can drive significant improvements in academic achievement. As student-centered pedagogies continue to gain traction and education technology grows increasingly sophisticated, personalized learning is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the future of education. By now we’ve collectively come to the realization that for some students, remote learning is here to stay. This promises to be a good thing; remote learning may be better suited to the needs of students requiring more flexibility. As learning becomes increasingly personalized, we expect to see a proliferation of technology designed to support flexible learning beyond the classroom. And remote learners aren’t the only students who will benefit. In the future, we’ll see technology-powered learning integrate into life outside of school for all students, making it possible for meaningful learning experiences to happen anywhere.

All of these advancements will serve to further enrich the moment of learning, empowering teachers and students alike. Emerging technology will support a new level of parent-teacher communication, allowing more effective collaborations to take root. And students aren’t the only ones who benefit from customizable classrooms—teachers benefit as well: the more flexibility there is in the classroom, the easier it is for educators to align pedagogies and physical environments. While personalization can happen without the support of technology to a certain extent, adequate access to technology unlocks an unparalleled level of differentiated instruction essential to help every student succeed.

Level up learning to get in the game

The future of education continues to show us how we can build on traditional approaches to better prepare students for life beyond the classroom. Mobile learning, or mLearning, is an approach that has helped further expand educators’ toolkits and is a great complement to proven education technology such as interactive displays. With mLearning, a student receives his or her lesson through a smartphone or tablet. This style of learning continues to gain traction and is expected to reach $80.1 billion by 2027. While mobile devices have been ubiquitous, finding the best way to integrate mLearning in education can be a journey. Make the most of mobile technology in your classroom with strategies designed to help students shine!

Consider the use of immersive technology in mLearning, as it can unlock doors for types of engagement that are harder to recreate in other learning environments. Examples of this include AR/VR and gamified learning. AR/VR brings abstract concepts to life, such as chemistry molecule models. Take students on an adventure like virtual scuba diving to showcase marine biology underwater. This helps teachers unlock an array of learning techniques to support personalized learning and gives students control of their learning experience, lending the flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere. Gamification also provides the kind of motivation that only things like points and rewards can.

MLearning can be a big investment but is worthwhile. In addition to supplying devices for each student, there is the time needed to train everyone on proper use, not to mention implementing the right technical architecture to make sure any mLearning environment is secure, safe, and accessible. As part of the complete edtech solution including panels and strong professional development resources, mLearning allows for in-classroom time to be more productive and meaningful. It frees up teacher resources to use in-classroom time for the parts of learning that can’t be substituted by anything else.

Gamification introduces elements of game design to non-game scenarios, in this case, like the classroom. Applying the principles of game design within a classroom setting is nothing new; after all, the concept of incentivizing students with a points-based grading system has been around for centuries. But evolving tools, technologies, and approaches to education have put gamification at the forefront of the future of education. Gamification can be applied to anything from a short learning exercise to an entire class semester. The perceived benefits of gamification are numerous. Gamifying the learning experience can: drive student engagement through immersive learning, power student motivation through narrative structures and immediate feedback, give students ownership over their learning, and create opportunities for student autonomy and self-directed learning. Further, it can help students visualize academic progress, offering a framework for students to try and safely fail, without negative repercussions. Educators are empowered to create more opportunities for more differentiated instruction by offering students the option to explore their identities through experimentation with projective identities while strengthening collaboration, teamwork, and personal connection. The result is a classroom that is energized, lively, and fun.

One of the continued challenges of this academic school year has been identifying and addressing learning loss. Here’s a recap of this concept from different perspectives.

What is learning loss?

The term learning loss, also known as learning recovery, has historically been used to describe the effects on students of time away from a “typical classroom setting.” Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was more often used to describe the effects of being away from school for the summer. Since the spring of 2020, however, learning loss is used to describe the effects of the pandemic on students and how their learning has been affected by what they missed. The data is clear. Students did not learn at the same rate that they would in a non-pandemic year. A recent report from McKinsey and Company estimates students have lost four to five months of learning on average.

There is disagreement as to whether the term “learning loss” is more harmful than good, how we decide to label “learning loss” is less important than being able to identify what kind of loss of learning it is and what can be done to mitigate it. Some educators have challenged the concept of learning loss as a whole, speaking to concerns that doing so then labels an entire generation of kids as “broken”. Coming from a completely different perspective, alternative interpretations of the learning loss, call for the term to be changed because students still learned during the pandemic. They just learned differently, and possibly in more valuable areas in terms of life skills, e.g., how to reset prior learned rhythms in what a typical day looks like.

Regardless of the terminology, it’s clear that schools must help students make up for the things that they’ve missed. The plan for how to do this should be dependent upon the type of learning that is at stake, whether it be social-emotional or important milestone markers like reading and math skills. Because learning loss is most commonly studied at the K-8 levels, measured most often using standardized tests, it’s challenging to understand the true impact of the pandemic on higher education learners. Overall, what do we know about learning loss in higher education students?

The information is largely anecdotal but there is evidence that they could have underdeveloped study habits, knowledge gaps in specific subjects, as well as challenges with performance in concentration. Research from the University of Colorado indicates that students may have completed courses in high school without retaining much knowledge, which puts them at a significant disadvantage when they have to continue their learning on the subject matter. Research is still being conducted across the U.S. and globally in terms of the breadth of the issue and what strategies are most effective.

Addressing learning loss: identify skills gaps

Quick quizzes and questionnaires administered in the moment of learning can help teachers assess and address comprehension levels in real-time. Tools like the Promethean ClassFlow polling feature allow teachers to quickly and easily assess students to narrow in on areas where additional support may be needed. Using ClassFlow, teachers can choose from eight poll types including multiple-choice, true/false, and open-ended written or drawn response polls to gather critical comprehension data. Students can be empowered to take ownership over their own learning recovery with ongoing self-assessments. Educators are more easily able to connect with each other so that they can exchange information directly to support students’ learning progress. While identifying skills gaps, it’s important to look at the data holistically. Take note of SEL observations, attendance data, and assignment completion rates in addition to academic data.

Acceleration over remediation

When addressing learning loss, consider the application of acceleration rather than remediation. Research suggests that the traditional approach of remediation may do more harm than good and can actually drive further inequities in education. As an alternate approach, acceleration focuses on students focusing on the current content at hand, with additional support provided as needed in the moment of learning—the teacher builds the core concepts of missed/interrupted lessons into the current lesson, rather than having students go backward to engage with those learnings.

Explore Thoughtful Solutions

In addressing learning loss in higher education, you could expand course offerings with the addition of one-credit courses taught by upper-division students. First-year students would be able to benefit from the support from more senior peers on important, foundational courses. Similarly, you could consider offering more options for entry-level writing and math courses to support students who may have gaps in that learning, helping them to stop being prevented from being successful in continued coursework.

As we discussed in our blog with K-12 students, another recommendation for the allocation of federal funding is to hire a large number of tutors or supplemental instructors, whose work focuses on helping students with test prep and projects. These tutoring sessions could be offered in small groups or one-on-one, with flexible options for evenings and weekends in residence halls or elsewhere on campus.

Schools of all levels should also be closely monitoring students’ progress, enabling them to more proactively prevent problems with them getting off track, whether that be a result of pandemic-related learning loss or not. Keeping a close on this can help when needing to pivot teaching strategies. The importance of being patient and flexible in these times is crucial. Be prepared to pivot curriculum if you observe that your students are distressed and overwhelmed. Acknowledge that their anxieties are not unusual and offer support. Better connect by sharing your own concerns, anxieties, and coping strategies. Normalize students’ feelings and destigmatize mental health counseling by encouraging those who need it. Also, consider providing discounted or free access or membership to wellness apps like Headspace or Calm and encourage the use of mindfulness or meditation practices.

Encourage peer support groups. Not only do students have the ability to learn from peers in new and unique ways because they relate differently to them than they do to their instructors, but they also find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in their struggles and challenges, which helps address learning loss differently from a social-emotional perspective. As we noted earlier in this blog, adding gamification to any coursework as it has shown success with students of all ages and can help students with staying engaged and motivated throughout the course. Award both social and emotional learning successes with incentives and rewards which can drive more active and creative participation

Taking measures to improve attendance is one more thing that schools can do to prevent learning loss. Of course, the ongoing pandemic continues to play a role in students missing class, but this accounts for only part of the cause. The root causes of absenteeism are often beyond students’ control; lack of transportation to school, or having to stay home to care for a younger sibling are among the top reasons for students missing school.

Get personal

Personalized learning tailors students’ learning experiences to their individual needs. This differentiated instruction customizes learning to complement a student’s unique strengths and abilities. A personalized approach to learning recovery allows educators to meet each student where they are and to accelerate the process of addressing learning loss by narrowing in on a student’s unique areas of need. For example, employ project-based learning (PBL) by giving students the opportunity to complete a project in the format of their choosing, such as a comic book, a stop motion video, or presenting a live “news report.” This student-centered approach allows learners to engage with course materials on their own terms. For more personalized learning ideas, explore The Future of Personalized Learning.

Improve outcomes with smart edtech upgrades

Available federal funding means that districts will have access to the resources they need to adopt game-changing classroom technologies to address learning loss with comprehensive tools and tactics. A significant percentage of funding is earmarked for “evidence-based interventions” to address learning loss; now is the time for K-12 schools to upgrade to edtech solutions that directly impact learning recovery. With the proliferation of various modes of learning, it’s important that district leaders seek out research-based tools that are flexible enough to securely support teachers and students during both in-person and remote learning models. Look for an edtech solutions partner that offers a full-service, comprehensive solution.

Promethean offers award-winning interactive displays, lesson delivery software, and expert professional development all designed to increase teacher efficacy, boost student engagement, and improve academic outcomes. For more information, explore Promethean’s new instructional guide, Addressing Learning Loss with the Support of Technology and the Promethean State of Technology in Education Report.

Take a holistic approach

Above all else, it’s imperative that learning recovery addresses the whole child. The learning recovery strategies covered here are most effective when paired with SEL initiatives that ensure that students are receiving the support they need to thrive. Look for opportunities to integrate SEL and culturally responsive pedagogical practices throughout your learning recovery plan. Similarly, educators should also be equipped with the resources they need to succeed. Effective learning loss remediation requires a great deal of teaching expertise. Make sure teachers are set up for success with adequate professional development opportunities. Access to training sessions, learning recovery resources, and technology support is essential.

With a multi-pronged approach to learning recovery and the right partners in place, K-12 schools have the power to meaningfully remediate learning loss and propel students forward. Invite parents and guardians into the learning recovery process with regular updates on the week’s lesson materials.

Research shows that families and caregivers often want to be involved and that when they are involved, student motivation and academic scores increase. Providing ongoing insight into what lessons were covered in a week has the potential to catalyze family engagement and open a dialogue around a child’s individual learning gaps as they’re revealed, giving the teacher more opportunities to address those trouble areas in real-time. Updates can come in the form of a weekly newsletter, blog post on a classroom blog, or via an established online parent portal or app. This also helps teachers tap into parents as an at-home resource. It’s a lot easier for parents to join the remediation effort if they’re kept in the loop about what’s going on in the classroom.

Build future proof foundational skills

Future proof students against learning loss themselves by focusing education on the foundational skills that matter most. The disruptions that cause learning loss are also often the source of emotional distress for students. This emotional distress compounds learning loss: not only are students left to make up the work they missed but they are also tasked with doing so under emotionally trying circumstances, making learning recovery even more challenging. SEL programs will prove to be a critical part of schools’ future-ready strategies to mitigate learning loss. Research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has shown that SEL interventions improve academic outcomes by helping students manage mental health issues, supporting positive attitudes about school, and boosting self-esteem. Establishing alternatives to in-person learning gives schools the flexibility to shift to improved distance learning if needed.

Every student should have access to the resources they need for successful learning in a blended environment. Continued school and government support to ensure internet access, a computer, and a safe, comfortable, distraction-free place to learn from is essential to the prevention of future learning loss. Additionally, ongoing teacher training will also help to advance schools’ remote learning capabilities to ensure future preparedness.

Future-proof students against learning loss by focusing education on the foundational skills that matter most. Teaching students how to think critically and collaborate effectively—versus rote memorization of facts and dates—will make them more adaptable and equip them with the tools they need to succeed beyond the classroom. This widely applicable skill set will also help students be able to more easily jump into new lessons, minimizing the effects of interrupted learning. Many of the pandemic-related learning recovery interventions schools are currently putting in place are the same programs that will protect against learning loss in the future. Building on these learnings, schools have the opportunity to formalize a future-forward plan and ensure that every student has an opportunity to succeed.

Read the other blogs in the series:

Understanding Learning Loss

Accelerating K-12 Learning Recovery

Addressing Learning Loss in Higher Education