Toolkit: distance learning

The Netherlands was in a hard lockdown in 2020. All schools had to close their doors; with this, schools were physically closed for the vast majority of students. As a result, distant education was inevitable. Distance learning may also be necessary in other situations, for example when a child is on prolongued sick leave. Therefore, it is important to know how to prevent children from falling behind in such a situation.

Education Lab NL, together with the Dutch Inspectorate of Education, has investigated which promising interventions in distance learning can help. For this, we conducted a literature review of overview studies and a series of separate scientific studies. We focused on hard and convincing evidence, i.e. we limited ourselves to studies that meet the highest scientific standards.

Our research shows that with good distance learning and complementary measures at school level, it is possible to deliver effective distance learning.


Based on various studies, we conclude that there are four things that are important when delivering distance learning.

  • Quality of teaching is essential. The quality of teaching is even more important in an online lesson than in face-to-face lessons. As with face-to-face lessons, good teaching involves a combination of giving clear explanations that match pupils’ levels of knowledge and skill, providing structure, clarity and calm, involving pupils in the learning, providing exercises and giving feedback. It is particularly important that these elements of effective teaching are present, and less important how or when the lessons are taught.
  • Organize interactions between learners. These interactions can take place during the digital lessons or outside of them. When the interaction is used during the lesson, it has the greatest effect on learning performance and motivation when it is purposefully designed and implemented by the teacher. Communication and collaboration applications can promote student-teacher interaction, for example Slack, Google Drive and TEAMS.
  • Allow pupils to work independently. More than physical classes, distance learning relies on the learners’ ability to structure themselves and to use appropriate learning strategies. As a teacher you can help by simplifying tasks, breaking them down into subtasks or adapting them so that they require less complex actions, knowledge and tools. In addition, you can provide certain learning strategies that will help students to continue working on the task, for example, having students explain the material to a housemate or creating a mind-map that helps students to organize certain concepts or ideas.
  • Extra attention for vulnerable pupils. Pupils with learning difficulties perform particularly poorly in the online environment. It is important that teachers pay extra attention to the needs of these pupils and the ways in which they can keep them involved in the education. Examples include the proper recording and monitoring of cognitive results and social-emotional wellbeing. But also maintaining more intensive contact with these pupils during or outside the lessons or giving them more support in their independent work, for example by providing checklists.