Learning Without Tears Looks Past Pandemic

April 10, 2020 | Volume 51, Number 8


When schools began closing in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Learning Without Tears (Gaithersburg, MD) opened its resources to help students continue learning. The company, like many others, provided teachers, parents and students free access to its array of online-learning solutions that support handwriting instruction, keyboarding and early learning skills. It eliminated shipping fees for print workbooks, activity books and other paper products and it provided free resources to help parents and caregivers support learning.

“We are committed to helping you and your students mitigate any learning loss as you responsibly respond to this unprecedented health issue,” Learning without Tears CEO Terry Nealon wrote in a March 16 company blog.

In the next two weeks, 60% of the company’s business activity came from parents, Nealon told EM. Some 35,000 parents signed up on the company platform for resources.

The company, which has generated double-digit annual revenue increases, saw its biggest year in 2019, driven by sales of Handwriting without Tears in the Texas K-8 adoption.

As the company works through how to help schools, students and parents through the rest of this school year, Nealon already is thinking about the needs ahead in the fall.

Support is Key

Now and in the future, support is key. Nealon said the company over the years has done a lot of work with occupational therapists and others on how to use its products and has found that the how-to not only helps drives sales but positions the company to be of help in this crisis.

Now more than ever, training is important, Nealon said, and at Learning Without Tears that training is multi-dimensional, including through video, Facebook, and a customer care team. While professional development is not always the thing that people focus on, it is one of the most critical, Nealon said. The company has been doing workshops for 30 years. Its experience with helping teachers also is what can help parents ride out remote learning. “Our focus right now is just let’s get through the process,” he said.

Looking Ahead

The future? That’s an unknown right now, Nealon said at the beginning of April. Then, he said he did not think schools would reopen this year, and many schools and some states have since indicated schools they would not reopen before fall.

The pressure now is the absolute need to get the next school year off to a big clean start, Nealon said. He said the company had been asked to think about how to create a learning plan for the summer. “It’s a work in progress,” Nealon said. “Maybe early start to next school year?”

The idea is for parents, teachers, companies to create the best setup for this in the future—so everyone is ready, Nealon said. “We’ve got to be sure we’re building products in the right way for this,” he said.

There are ongoing issues to be dealt with, Nealon said, ticking off several them:

  • There still are issues with delivering online.
  • “We still have to learn how to maintain the collaboration, doing projects.”
  • How do education companies support the student or the parent?
  • How do you curate content?
  • The rigor is there, but adaptability to different children is needed.

Another big issue is understanding student performance and progress, Nealon said. Companies can gather data, but they need to know if students are engaged, if the provided materials are really helping children, if they are supporting the capacity of a teacher or a parent.

“(This experience) is really going to force us to address great learning for everybody,” Nealon said.


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