Where is the overlap between learning at home and online learning?

    Published: 24 November 2020

    The terms remote learning, online learning and home learning are currently used to mean similar things… so, are they interchangeable? Where is the overlap?

    In a nutshell, although they overlap, they are not interchangeable in my view. In the context of primary mathematics, what might constitute ‘remote learning’ could encompass far more than ‘learning online’. In this blog, I will outline where I feel there is overlap, but where there is also distinction. Drawing my examples from primary mathematics and offering some tips to subject leaders, this aims to help clarify how we can foster all-round provision for all pupils in the current context.


    Ven diagram


    Firstly, home learning is not new. Schools have long had homework or home learning policies and encourage pupils to engage in learning outside of school, partly to develop self-regulation and personal organisation skills, as well as furthering and embedding curriculum learning. Some primary schools set weekly homework or home learning and some offer choice-led grids or sets of tasks pupils can select from over a half term. Many expect routines such as regularly reading at home or rehearsal of core knowledge such as multiplication tables.

    What makes the current times different is that, at the moment, learning at home may not be in addition to attending school for lessons, it might be in place of it. So the term ‘remote learning’ might be used currently to indicate the learning that would have taken place at school and in school time, but is taking place remotely (at home).

    In the diagram above, ‘Learning at home’ in the overlapping ovals is used to encompass both the remote learning where pupils might be learning in school time but remotely from the school building and the home learning which might routinely take place outside of school time at home. I’m sure that both of these are open to further interpretation and others may hold different views so this is not definitive. What they share here is that the learning is taking place at home.

    Some home learning and remote learning may be set and completed as paper-based tasks; children working on paper or in books to complete set activities. Other home learning might be creative or play-based tasks; for example to build or make something, to explore or find out or to practice through a game. This might depend on the age of the children and the learning being focused on. I have great fun playing ‘Race to 20’ with my 5 year old son at home, using two sets of hand drawn Tens Frames, a dice and some dried pasta. It has helped secure his understanding of numbers up to 20 and his arithmetic skills with these numbers. We play the game but there is so much thinking and learning happening. Who will get to 20 first?


    Bowl of dry pasta with hand drawn tables


    The HfL primary maths team have a range of free to access games on our YouTube channel, showing how games can be played to rehearse and embed maths skills. Although the videos of how to play the games are on YouTube, the games themselves would usually then be played without a digital device. The videos are there to share the instructions for how to play the game in a digestible way. They are often games that could be played in school or at home. Our own Charlie Harber also wrote a blog specifically about the benefits of playing games as part of KS2 maths.

    Online learning platforms and programmes have also been around for a while. There are a host of platforms, programmes and websites which can be used to support maths learning. However, these have taken on a slightly different role for many schools and children in recent months.

    The publication of the DfE’s Guidance for full opening: schools published earlier this year had a section on ‘Remote education expectations’, which outlined that

    'Where a class, group or a small number of pupils need to self-isolate, or local restrictions require pupils to remain at home, we expect schools to have the capacity to offer immediate remote education.'

    Two of the following 5 bullet points were:

    • use a curriculum sequence that allows access to high-quality online and offline resources and teaching videos and that is linked to the school’s curriculum expectations
    • select the online tools that will be consistently used across the school in order to allow interaction, assessment and feedback and make sure staff are trained in their use

    The Coronavirus Act 2020 Provision of Remote Education (England) also stated;

    Paragraph 6 requires schools, when complying with the requirement to provide remote education, to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Education about the delivery of remote education, for example as set out in the guidance for full opening.
    Paragraphs 8 and 9 provide that the Direction will come into force on 22 October 2020 and will have effect until the end of the current school year, unless it is revoked by a further Direction.

    With the need to be ready for the 22nd October deadline, schools have worked incredibly hard to have plans in place, whether this is to step up what was already available or to introduce new online options.

    The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) published a rapid evidence assessment examining the existing research to support the remote learning of pupils (April 2020). Their ‘Best evidence on supporting students to learn remotely’ included some helpful summary points.

    This was the second point in the summary:

    Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils. Almost all remote learning uses digital technology, typically requiring access to both computers and the internet. Many reviews identify lack of technology as a barrier to successful remote instruction. It is important that support is provided to ensure that disadvantaged pupils – who are more likely to face these barriers – have access to technology. In addition to providing access to technology, ensuring that teachers and pupils are provided with support and guidance to use specific platforms is essential, particularly if new forms of technology are being implemented.

    It would not be much surprise to suggest that disadvantaged pupils are more likely to face barriers to accessing technology for remote learning. It would also not be much of a surprise to suggest that the attainment gap will widen between those who have good access (e.g. to a suitable device for online learning) and those who do not.

    Taken form their Research Brief – Impact Brief #1: School Shutdown (published 20th April 2020), the Sutton Trust found that during the first period of school partial closure in March/April 2020,

    Inequalities in support are being reflected in the amount and quality of work received by teachers. 50% of teachers in private schools report they are receiving more than three quarters of work back, compared with 27% in the most advantaged state schools, and just 8% in the least advantaged state schools. 24% say that fewer than 1 in 4 children in their class are returning work they have been set.

    So the danger of relying heavily on online learning for the learning at home offered is that it creates an inequality of access barrier and widens the attainment gap that already exists further. This is where the focus on access becomes paramount.

    For online learning (including platforms, programmes, websites or live teaching) or learning that requires the use of an IT device to access, complete or submit (including the use of emails and blogs), the considerations might include;

    • How well suited is it to the age of the pupils and the learning focus?
    • How could the chosen platform be used regularly for home learning / homework or in class to familiarise staff and pupils with the system prior to any school disruption?
    • How inclusive is it to access? E.g. does it work across a range of devices, do all the pupils (and parents) have sufficient access to an appropriate device?
    • How well does it manage the setting, completion and return of work, and the feedback?
    • How well does it convey the learning that you want pupils to undertake / embed?
    • How closely does it mirror and support the taught curriculum in school?

    For those who prefer a more visual representation, I have been playing with this format to support maths subject leaders with working through some of these considerations:


    Graphic with text


    When planning for learning at home, whether this is remote learning during the school day (because they are isolating, for example), or part of the school’s homework / home learning policy, and whether this is online or offline, there are a range of options which can be blended together to create the whole provision that is most appropriate to the learning and the pupils.

    This aims to summarise some of the range:


    Graphic with text


    I am personally (as I’m sure many of us are) an advocate of home learning / homework and remote learning being an appropriate blend of online, paper-based, creative and play-based learning. And that in making these choices, consideration is given to the learning and the best way to both access and achieve this. Children need the opportunity to explore, self-regulate and engage actively in learning. It is also important to consider how equality of access is promoted.

    Although there is overlap between ‘learning at home’ and ‘online learning’, they are not the same thing. Both need to be planned for and the overlap considered, but we should not confuse them or use the terms interchangeably. Sometimes, the best way for the learning to happen may well be through online, including live teaching where direct instruction can be given. At other times, learning ‘offline’ will lead to better exploration of the concept to deepen children’s understanding.

    In conclusion, with maths subject leaders in mind (although this thinking may well be very appropriate to other school leaders), the top considerations and next steps might be:

    • Revisit your school systems and policy for home learning / homework and consider whether there are any tweaks needed to maximise learning opportunities, ensuring everybody has access. This could be partly so that, if it is needed, it can be scaled up for remote learning.
    • Consider whether you are offering an appropriate blend of online and offline learning (whether this is for home learning / homework or remote learning), to encourage and facilitate engagement.
    • For any online learning (platforms, programs, websites), check that everyone has access suitable for the learning, including an appropriate device which they can use for sufficient time to complete the learning.
    • Consider whether online and offline provision are being blended to create a remote learning experience that is appropriate to the age of the children and the learning, including considering how learning is shared with the teacher and feedback given.

    Further professional development opportunity:

    If you’ve found this blog helpful and you are a primary school maths subject leader, find more information on our brand new digital spring / summer training offer:


    Graphic with text


    Graphic with text




    www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools, viewed 16th November 2020

    www.assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/923539/Remote_Education_Temporary_Continuity_Direction_-__Explanatory_Note.pdf, viewed 16th November 2020

    www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/Covid-19_Resources/Remote_learning_evidence_review/Rapid_Evidence_Assessment_summary.pdf, viewed 16th November 2020

    www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-19-Impact-Brief-School-Shutdown.pdf, viewed 16th November 2020

    Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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