Seven lessons learnt from teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

About a year ago COVID-19 caused a huge disruption in the field of education and training. Educational institutes and teachers were forced to provide online education and training in a short time. This was quite a shock, even for organisations and teachers who were used to applying different forms of blended learning. What are the important lessons that we have learned from this kind of education?

In my opinion there are seven main lessons.

Digital divide is a persistent social-economic gap

In the Netherlands, internet is ubiquitous. Furthermore, nearly every household has its own computer. If you have to use a computer sometimes, it is enough to own one device. During the corona crisis we have realised that this is not enough if complete families need to work and learn from home all day. Not all learners have the same facilities for online learning at home, like several devices and high-quality internet connections. This depends mainly on the family’s income. Therefore, local governments and schools often provided laptops to families who did not have sufficient facilities for home learning.

Online learning needs different ways of scheduling

Several schools did not adjust the schedules, when teachers had to switch from face-to-face to online. Instead of face-to-face lessons of 50 or 60 minutes, students had to attend live online lessons for the same duration. However, in general, live online lessons in Zoom or Teams of 50 minutes can be exhausting. We cannot schedule lessons in the same way as we normally do. Teachers and students need more space in the daily program. It is not healthy if we get stuck behind our computers all day, and are not moving around much.

Application overload can be a problem

Especially in the beginning of the pandemic, several teachers were looking for applications to facilitate online learning. Not all educational institutes have appropriate learning technologies and policy in selecting learning technologies. Teachers did not always discuss the use of applications among themselves. As a result, students could be confronted with an excess of applications. This may lead to cognitive overload, since students have to learn how to use all the functionalities.

Synchronous online learning is widely used

Since March 2020, applications for synchronous online learning, like Zoom, are used massively. However, the question is if teachers use the affordances of these applications adequately. These applications can be used for interaction, collaboration and immediate feedback. Instead, applications for synchronous online learning are mainly used to provide information.

Improve ‘Emergency remote teaching’

When teachers were forced to provide online education, there was no time and not always support to develop different learning designs. The one-to-one translation of classroom teaching to online education is called “emergency remote teaching”. Therefore, from a pedagogical point of view, there is a lot of room for improvement.  In addition, when students were able to attend school in small groups, ‘simultaneous teaching’ was also introduced. In this concept half of the students attend lessons face-to-face, while the other half attends the lessons online. Simultaneous teaching is a complex approach that demands a lot from the organisation (e.g. large screens to view online students), pedagogy and engagement. There is a risk of treating students unequally, since online students experience a larger psychological and communicative distance than students who attend lessons face-to-face.

My advice: use learning technology to apply and enhance building blocks for effective teaching and learning. I wrote twelve blogposts in which I describe how to use learning technology to foster these building blocks.

Foster social connectedness

During online education in corona times, we have learned how important and complex it is to promote social connections online. Nevertheless, the more we learn online, the more essential it is to invest in online activities that promote relatedness and a sense of belonging. This can be done by using assignments that require collaboration, by creating opportunities for non-task related interactions (e.g. online tea time) or by using brief online videos in which teachers stimulate students to learn.

Stimulate self-regulation

Online learning requires an appeal to the self-regulating capacity of learners. During the pandemic we have realised that not all learners are able to regulate their own learning very well. Therefore, we have to invest in the development of this metacognitive skill. Students need to learn how to plan, how to manage their time, how to set goals and how to avoid distraction. Self-regulating should be part of every curriculum (implicit or explicit).


Wilfred Rubens

Wilfred Rubens currently works as independent consultant, projectmanager and teacher in the field of technology enhanced learning. Furthermore he works parttime for the Open University in The Netherlands (as project leader, business developer and teacher).