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We Need to Call it What it is: Emergency Remote Education

The 2021 calendar year has begun with contingency learning structures that seek to minimize the safety concerns associated with traditional in-classroom instruction during Covid-19. With the availability and ongoing deployment of Covid-19 vaccines, these same systems are beginning to envision a future beyond the pandemic. Transition planning is now necessary to address the post-pandemic needs and expectations of students, parents and staff.

The pandemic has intensified the need for education system change. The findings from an international research project entitled "A global outlook to the interruption of education due to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis" offers a Global Tool and View for Post-Pandemic Education by identifying the need for:

  • personalized learning opportunities for students,

  • equity in education,

  • openness through collaboration and sharing,

  • digital literacy,

  • appropriate uses of technology, and

  • meaningful support for parents that addresses the gender gap.

In developing post-pandemic transition plans, education system leaders will be seeking to first understand the specific gaps in student learning that need to be addressed before considering how post-pandemic education could be organized to address these gaps. In this respect, there is one noteworthy finding from the above-noted research project that has particular relevance at this time. This key finding relates to the need for consistency of terms.

“Educational practices during the Covid-19 pandemic are denoted with different terms in different countries (e.g., distance education, e-learning, online education, homeschooling, etc.). However, these terms do not quite capture what is being practiced during the interruption of education, which can better be described as emergency remote education (ERE).” p.2

Furthermore, “we strongly recommend that the term “emergency remote education” is used to describe the mass changes made during Covid-19 and other similar crises, to denote an activity that arises out of necessity and with necessary haste. The term online or distance education should be reserved for the quality, well-planned activities on which the field of research and practice is based. Educators and institutions are recommended to continue to clearly delineate emergency remote education from online and distance learning in their communications, plans and actions.” p.11

Post-pandemic education will need to facilitate a shift to learner centered systems by building the capacity of students and teachers to utilize a variety of learning modes. This is about creating system structures with learning as the constant and time as the variable instead of time as the constant and learning as the variable. When Emergency Remote Education (ERE) is misleadingly referred to by other terms, it confuses and obscures what could actually be developed once the pandemic is over and ERE is no longer necessary.

Clarification of terms is necessary for any improvement process and will be equally important for successful post-pandemic planning. ERE, driven primarily by the need for student and staff safety, needs to be separated in the psyche and understanding of students, parents and staff from other learning models as a potential future state.

The following glossary from a position paper on the paradigm shift happening in education entitled Education Reimagined: The Future of Learning provides a concise breakdown of terminologies as follows:

“Online Learning refers to learning that is facilitated wholly by the use of digital tools

Distance Learning occurs when teachers, students and classrooms are separate and uses a range of approaches including online usually over significant distances.

Remote Learning has emerged to describe emergency measures to move instruction from physical schools to homes in online and offline modes

Blended Learning involves a “blend” of face-to-face and digital experiences usually delivered as part of a physical classroom experience

Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach that inverts the traditional method of the teacher leading learning, instead handing responsibility over to the student. Students receive and engage with material prior to the classroom learning through videos/ tutorials delivered online.

Hybrid Learning is a hybrid approach that builds on the success of flipped, blended, emote, distance and online learning to intentionally create learner-centered experiences that are profoundly personalized, relevant and engaging.” p. 33

Education system leaders may choose other terminologies, but it will be necessary to confirm language for transition plans that can be developed for the next academic year. Current gaps should be identified and assessed first, before future needs and abilities can be considered. Every education system is unique.

As difficult as ERE has been, there is a silver lining to this. Every education system globally has overseen ERE based upon the same common denominator: namely, the response to a global emergency. In the modern era of education, this has never happened before. As a result, education systems everywhere have a common benchmark to assess their current conditions and share perspectives.

Understanding and articulating the current state correctly also means that the merit of future learning modes can be considered and assessed based upon clearly defined terminologies that truly represent the concepts in play.

We can move forward, with confidence, by calling it what it is right now: Emergency Remote Education.

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