By Dan Hawthorne, Ph.D., director of industrial-organizational psychology, PAIRIN.
We’re starting to emerge from our pandemic-induced hibernation, and as we do so it’s important to look back on the past year and learn from our experiences – good and bad. In different ways, every organization had to adapt to the pandemic, whether it was moving to remote-work, accelerating digital-first initiatives, or in the case of education, shutting down schools and creating virtual classrooms.
Without in-person teaching, students have been left to create their own education path. For some this may have been a blessing, allowing them to move ahead (or look backwards) to best suit their education needs, but for others, the lack of guidance and instruction has been a hindrance. In a virtual setting it’s all too easy to hide behind the mute button, remain off video, and even complete other tasks while the class moves on.
Although we’re beginning to see the return to normalcy, there are several key takeaways we can learn from the shortcomings of remote K-12 education.
Remote Learning Shortcomings
For the most part, experts agree that remote learning was not very successful, especially for
younger students and those from lower socioeconomic statuses. Learning losses for K-12 students were examined early in the summer of 2020, and predictions were made to determine the shortcomings caused by remote learning in place of in-person study. Three scenarios were examined, including return to in-person education in Fall 2020, Jan 2021 and Fall 2021. In all three scenarios learning losses were anticipated, ranging from a three to four month loss if students received average remote learning, to a seven to eleven month loss with low quality remote instruction.
Other studies unearthed similar results. In Fall 2020, NWEA conducted Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments for 4.4 million US students from ages 8-14 in the US. The study found that students had slid in progress compared to previous years, and using 2019 as a benchmark, discovered that while students performed similarly for reading-based assessments, they dropped 5-10 percentile points in math skills. These results led to the conclusion that more students were falling behind compared to previous years.
Although remote learning is better than no learning at all, young students are in a delicate stage of life where they need to grasp more than just math, science and reading skills, but also inter-personal skills to develop healthy relationships. Remote learning does not provide the same type of space and environment to speak with peers, navigate social relationships, and better understand non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. This lack of human exposure not only leads to under-developed social skills, but can also impact mental health.
Additional studies were undertaken during remote learning to determine the mental state and well-being of K-12 students. One report identified that 46% of teachers had seen an increase in students’ mental health issues, citing that they were expressing anxiety and depression far more often than before the pandemic. While this may be tied to external factors, the inability to escape home-life and independently create relationships and experiences certainly played a large role.
The main lesson to be learned from K-12 remote study is that there is a strong need for social and emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom. This includes teaching self and social awareness, managing emotions, and relationship building skills. Some may wonder how SEL correlates to career growth, and while it isn’t vocational in nature, it does form the essential building blocks to effective communication skills – a must in any career.
Research in this area is surprisingly vast. For instance, the Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie Mellon Foundation spoke with 400 Fortune 500 CEOs and uncovered that 75% of long-term career success was influenced by the soft skills gained from SEL. In a different study, 95% of students who ranked in the top 20% for the ‘self control’ soft skill graduated high school, while only 58% of students in the bottom 20% of ‘self control’ graduated. Additional research conducted by Stanford Research Center, Harvard University and the Carnegie Foundation, found that only 15% of career success came from technical skills and learning (hard skills), with the other 85% coming from soft skills.
While knowledge and technical skills will never fall to the wayside, companies today are closely looking at the communication, collaboration and teamwork attributes of prospective employees. Return on investment for these skills is much higher than education and technical training, spanning both professional and personal life success. A large part of the reason for these skills being so valuable is their transportability between jobs and positions. While someone may need to learn new technical skills, those soft skills are like luggage we can carry from job to job and they stay evergreen and constantly valuable.
The critical takeaway here is that we should remember that learning is at the core of education – and doesn’t stop at technical understanding and skills. It’s vital that K-12 students also learn how to best interact and work with one another, while also picking transportable skills that will help them across many different careers.