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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators across the country and worldwide to shift from the traditional face-to-face teaching to online teaching. Ray (2020) highlights that the pandemic of COVID-19 is impacting more than 376 million students worldwide. Craig (2020) asserts that the media around the globe has been highlighting an online learning “revolution” as hundreds of millions of students from kindergarten through universities now learn virtually, including over 70 million in the United States of America alone. The World Economic Forum sees the benefit that COVID-19 brings to the world of education, citing it as a catalyst that has finally transformed centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching.


Are the three types of learning mentioned above the same? O’Neill (2019) mentions that remote learning is also referred to as distance learning because it gives students who are not in a physical location for in-person education, access to online training materials. Shisley (2020) points out that many professionals who either design or teach online courses highlight that THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ONLINE LEARNING AND EMERGENCY REMOTE LEARNING.

Shisley (2020) states that the phrase “emergency remote learning” refers to what educators are doing right now; an alternative and unplanned method for teaching from a distance because of their inability to be physically located in a classroom with their learners. On the other hand, online learning, is based on a totally different philosophical and conceptual model of learning that always envisions the delivery of instruction online. In other words, emergency remote learning may take place online and share similar components as online learning, but it differs from online learning because of design and structure.

Ray (2020) points out that remote learning gives an opportunity for students and teachers to remain connected and engaged with the content while staying at home. Opportunities for remote learning are typically linked to emergency situations that pose a threat to students’ safety like the pandemic of COVID-19. Remote learning can keep students on their learning track. When the crisis is over and they return to schools, they will not need to complete a lot of make-up work to be ready for any scheduled assessments.


It is crucial for remote learning to have a good structure as its structure will determine the success students and teachers will have with the experience (Ray, 2020). Remote learning is often evoked during a time of crisis and emergency so it is important not to add more duties and stress to teachers and students. Ray (2020) proposes a well-defined structure of remote learning which needs to be in place so it can support a well-developed instructional plan effectively. In doing so, these four aspects must be given emphasis accordingly.

TIME: It is important for schools to determine the time because it sets expectations and boundaries for both students and teachers, particularly, when to start the online lessons and how many hours they will entail. The schedule for online classes must be clearly communicated so students know when the teacher will be available to respond promptly to their needs. It is also crucial to instruct students on how much time they need to spend working on assignments and other activities outlined in lessons. If there is an expectation for students to check in regularly, then that has to be communicated as well (Ray, 2020).

COMMUNICATION: Schools must determine how and when the students are expected to communicate with the teacher. Is it to be done through WhatsApp, Telegram, email or online chat? What if the chosen tool is not working or unavailable? What is the backup plan for communication? Each of these questions should be answered in an introduction document that sets all of the expectations. Moreover, the frequency of the communication must also be determined clearly. For example, it should be made clear when students must submit their assignments.

Communication also takes place when teachers give feedback to their students based on the assignments submitted. Teachers should be given ample time to complete checking and grading the assignments. When assignments are returned to students, comments and notes explaining the grading should be included. The more feedback teachers provide during the grading process, the better the students feel about the work and they will be more confident to do future assignments (Ray, 2020).

TECHNOLOGY: Technology can vary in emergency remote learning environments. If schools allow students to take home ICT devices, then the students should be ready to learn. Some schools do not have devices for students to take home, so they must find ways to access materials provided through technology systems.

Furthermore, schools should provide information clearly on how to access any online platform during remote learning, especially if students, parents and teachers are not accustomed to using such tools on a regular basis. Contact information for additional technical support and clear information describing steps for troubleshooting should be easily available for everyone (Ray, 2020).

LESSON DESIGN: According to Ray (2020), designing lessons for remote delivery is a little more detailed than creating a normal face-to-face lesson simply because in person teachers can read the class and determine if students are understanding and then make adjustments necessarily. In a remote environment, teachers have to assume there will be a lack of understanding and they need to include extensions in the lesson design. Ray (2020) proposes the following components to be included in a typical remote learning lesson:

  • Setting the lesson: It provides context for the lesson and links it to the previous or future lessons. It assists students to understand what they will be doing and why.

  • Define Lesson Objectives: The objectives would be similar with the face-to-face lesson. However, the objectives should be written in the lesson and it is a good practice to bold the words that emphasize the action of the learning and the outcome.

  • Assess Current Understanding: This creates a checklist for students to self-assess what they know. This will help them focus on content they are not familiar with as they move through a lesson.

  • Introduce Content: There are different ways to introduce the content of the lesson. It is up to the creativity of the teachers.

  • Assign Application Activity: Similarly, teachers can decide what is best for their learners to achieve the learning objectives.

  • Assess Mastery: Teachers can determine how to assess their students’ understanding and mastery of what they have been learning based on what suits their students best.

O’Neill (2019) mentions that remote learning also refers to distance learning as it gives students access to online training materials even though they are not in a physical location for in-person learning. Shisley (2020) highlights that there is a major difference between online learning or e-Learning and remote learning. The differences between emergency remote learning and online learning are presented in the Table 1 below.

Table 1: Differences between online learning and emergency remote learning (Shisley, 2020)

Note: Synchronous learning is online or distance education that happens in real time, whereas asynchronous learning occurs through online channels without real-time interaction. Many hybrid learning models will include a blend of both asynchronous and synchronous online learning.

Wrench (2020) has also shared some comparisons between online learning and remote learning which can be understood clearly as illustrated in the Table 2 below.

Table 2: Differences between online learning and remote learning (Wrench, 2020)

The discussions above focus on the differences between remote learning and online learning. It is obvious what students and teachers have been going through since the closure of schools due to lockdowns or partial lockdowns, is remote learning. Wrench (2020) highlights that educators have been working in fairly chaotic contexts and many have no choice but to shift from traditional face-to-face format to online format almost overnight. Wrench (2020) reminds that it is important for all educators to clearly understand what they are conducting right now is not online learning but remote learning.

To enhance our understanding on the type or mode of learning students have been experiencing, let us take a look at the differences between distance learning and online learning. Referring to Table 3 below, Stauffer (2020) has differentiated online learning and distance learning in terms of location, interaction and intention:

Table 3: Differences between online learning and distance learning (Stauffer, 2020)

Berg (2018) also differentiates online learning and distance learning. Online learning is designed to create an online communication between the teacher and learners. Many schools are using e-Learning to complement the learning that is done in the classroom. On the other hand, distance learning is more about the distance between the students and the teacher, and how technology bridges that gap.

Both online learning and distance learning each have a place in education (Stauffer, 2020). Which one is better? There is no fixed answer as it depends on several factors. For an example, one would be better than the other depending on the educators’ and students’ needs and purposes.


It is very crucial that all educators have a clear understanding that when they teach from home they are actually conducting remote learning. No doubt, remote learning is new to all of us and we still have a lot to explore and learn. For a start, at least we label what we have been doing accurately.

There are still diverse questions students, teachers and parents are asking about learning and teaching from home. For sure, there are uncertainties about our future. Both, teachers as well as students need help and more systematic guidance. Hopefully, the relevant authorities will play their roles to ensure remote learning can be carried out effectively and meaningfully, hence, bringing about the desired impacts.


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