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Image by Margus Pedaste.
Report CO:RE Short Report on Key Topics CO:RE at UTARTU Published: 13 Jun 2022

Do we need to keep schools open or turn to online learning in the case of a pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders in many countries recommended to keep the schools open as much as possible. It was a wise decision in that situation. However, would it be best forever?


Schools closed and schools open

The Ministry of Education and Research in Estonia instructed in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that schools should be open as much as possible. The school principals had to consult with the health protection agency to turn to online or hybrid learning. Sometimes the class was at school, but the teacher had to teach from home. Eventually, it turned out that the crisis had a significant negative effect on students’ learning outcomes [1, 2]. Why were the learning outcomes worse, and why was it indeed a good decision to keep the schools open during the next waves of the pandemic?

Digital competence = knowledge and skills + behaviour and attitudes

The Estonian DigiEfekt project showed that we should re-conceptualise digital competence specifically in the context of learning. Digital competence for learning is needed to successfully learn in online settings when schools are closed, but also at school when everyone can benefit a lot from meaningful classroom digital technology integration. Digital competence for learning is not just skills for performing operations with digital tools, communicating in the digital world, creating digital materials, or even programming digital content. It is also about following rules and protecting oneself and others in the digital world. In addition, competence includes various categories of attitudes. Read more from the recently published short report on the potential of digital learning in achieving learning outcomes.

In addition to a low level of programming skills, Estonian students had a low level of operational skills that need to be applied in the context of learning. Furthermore, they did not prefer digital learning to face-to-face or paper-based activities. Unfortunately, many students did not know the rules that need to be followed in the digital learning environments. Thus, even if the students had quite good knowledge and skills for creating digital materials and communicating with others using digital solutions, they were not sufficiently prepared for online learning. This became clear in a self-regulated learning situation where students need to regulate their thinking processes but also learning management, motivation, and emotions.

Teaching and learning with technologies should not be a copy-paste of what works in face-to-face settings


Learning with digital technologies, obviously, is different from traditional approaches. The key is focussing on teaching and learning activities when using digital technologies. In the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers often simply shared materials with students and asked them to learn the topics, sent back completed and graded worksheets, and checked what students had learned. In addition, teachers often opened a video conference session and explained the topic. During the pandemic, many teachers realised that they should modify their teaching activities, or even redefine them, because technology allowed to adopt completely new learning activities that were impossible without technology, for instance, hybrid learning, or collaborative writing or creation of artwork. Students of these teachers probably achieved better learning outcomes. However, based on the DigiEfekt project, these activities were not common.

Back to the future: Merging online and face-to-face schooling

In conclusion, teachers need to design learning activities in a mutual shaping of purpose, context, values, and technology, as described by Tim Fawns [3]. However, they also need to systematically focus on reflecting students’ digital competence for learning in the new contexts. Online and face-to-face school both have their benefits in our toolbox, and we need to learn to use them properly to open their full potential. Teachers and students have practiced for a long time how to learn in face-to-face settings. Now, to be as fluent in online settings, they need to plan the learning process accordingly, for instance, by supporting collaborative learning in online settings.

  1. Pedaste, M., Reisenbuk, E., & Ilosaar, A. (2022). Lühikokkuvõte 2021/2022. õppeaasta loodusõpetuse I kooliastme tasemetöö tulemustest [Summary of the national science test for the first school grade in the study year 2021/2022].

  2. Pedaste, M., Reisenbuk, E., & Ilosaar, A. (2022). Lühikokkuvõte 2021/2022. õppeaasta loodusõpetuse II kooliastme tasemetöö tulemustest [Summary of the national science test for the second school grade in the study year 2021/2022].

  3. Fawns, T. (2022). An Entangled Pedagogy: Looking Beyond the Pedagogy—Technology Dichotomy. Postdigital Science and Education, 1-18.

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Margus Pedaste

Dr Margus Pedaste is a Professor of Educational Technology at the Institute of Education, University of Tartu, Estonia. He is also the Head of the Pedagogicum of the University of Tartu. His main research focus is on teachers’ and students’ use of educational technology. He has been coordinator of several international and national research projects and is Associate Editor of Educational Research Review.

University of Tartu
University of Tartu
Key Topics

The team at University of Tartu identifies and monitors the most relevant topics in the broad field of digital technologies in the lives of children and young people. In collaboration with experts from different disciplinary backgrounds, the team publishes a series of blog posts and short reports.

Beyond that, the team actively engages all main stakeholders, including academics and students, policy makers, professionals working with children and young people, caregivers, ICT industry and public media, to continuously report on their perceived hot topics and blind spots in the field.

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