Other Opinion: Distance learning has begun. Please be patient.


Children have some advantages over adults during a crisis like the one we're enduring right now. They worry less than their parents. They don't pay mortgages or utility bills. Plus, they have less of a sense of their own mortality — which is a nice way of saying that they don't spend much time pondering worst-case scenarios.

Furthermore, kids are resilient. They bounce back. The inherent optimism and innocence of youth at least partially inoculates them against the fear that is taking a heavy toll on our nation.

So, amid the ever-worsening global tragedy that is killing tens of thousands and pushing millions of Americans to the brink of financial disaster, we're not sounding any big alarms about the possibility that students might go six months without setting foot in an actual school building.

They'll recover. Even if they were to do no academic work between now and Labor Day, we're confident that one year from now, students would be right back on track.

Fortunately, they're doing something right now. “Distance learning” is underway statewide. Expect some glitches.


Our state's teachers, administrators and technology coordinators got roughly two weeks notice to completely reinvent their lessons plans, teaching strategies and delivery methods. That's a big ask. Good teachers are part performer, part psychologist, part role model and part motivational speaker, and their training for this role was hinged on being in a room with students.

Suffice to say that teachers are going through a crash course in online education right now. Providing equal online educational opportunities for all students will be the biggest challenge many districts face.

In the long run, however, this sudden plunge into online education could prove beneficial. Necessity is the mother of invention, and perhaps the best way to fully embrace technology in Minnesota's educational system is to simply jump into the deep end and start swimming.

While there are plenty of unknowns right now, we're absolutely certain that four weeks from now, we will have a much clearer picture of what works and what doesn't work in remote learning. Districts will recognize the gaps and equipment needs in their networks. We'll know what kind of training our teachers need to lead virtual classrooms. Many parents will have little choice but to embrace technology that their kids mastered long ago.

With this experience under our belts, our state will be better prepared for the inevitable mid-January week when the temperature is -25 and schools are closed. Students who are sick for a few days will have greater opportunities to keep up with their school work.

But that's down the road a ways. For now, the best advice we can offer parents is to be patient and not to worry when your child can't connect to a virtual classroom, misses an assignment or is confused by a teacher's instructions. Online learning is very much a work in progress, and trial-and-error is seldom pretty.

Families are going to get to know each other very well over the next month, and that process could prove to be just as educational as what's happening in any virtual classroom.

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