Learning Pods: The Newest Parent-Led Innovation


Cardinal Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a challenging era for education. Public schools have adapted curriculum to an at-home learning environment, and some private schools have closed their doors permanently. Many parents have responded by considering new options for their students – learning pods. Undoubtedly, this has changed the landscape of education in America.

In the past 365 days, families have struggled to adapt to the rapidly changing policies of their children’s schools. Nationally, students are behind in math and reading, with an expected 12 weeks needed to catch up to where they were expected to be before the pandemic.

In addition to academic achievement shortfalls, tragically, a year-long break from the traditional school environment and limited social interaction has created a drastic increase in childhood suicide-related behavior.


Learning Pods

In response, a new form of micro-schooling, known as “learning pods,” has become the latest education innovation across the country.

This form of education allows parents to coordinate a small group for their students with a local credentialed teacher. It is a sort of hybrid between a traditional classroom and homeschooling. Many have even called it a return to the one-room schoolhouse approach.


Pie Graph from Center on Reinventing Public Education about learning pod educators

Source: Center on Reinventing Public Education (Opalka, Jochim, and Lollo) https://www.crpe.org/thelens/it-takes-village-pandemic-learning-pod-movement-one-year


Expansion of learning pods has even influenced school systems and localities to create “hubs” with computers and Wi-Fi to help students and parents with the new model.

Learning pods provide an alternative for students who have not had success with online learning and thrive when immersed in a social setting. They can visualize material, collaborate with peers, and build relationships with their teachers and classmates.


Pod Set-Ups

The 2020-21 school year provided ample opportunity for many communities to establish new pods to fit students’ unmet needs.

In Cleveland, a learning pod created by Esperanza, Inc. is helping to bridge the gap for ESL (English as Second Language) students. The learning pod is large enough for 25 students and helps them learn English. This keeps them on track despite an ever-changing academic setting.

Just a few hundred miles to the east of us, Hampton Roads, VA, is witnessing an increase in education alternatives. Among the available options is a pod provided by The Virginia Living Museum for grades K-5. The weeks are split between four groups for a blended virtual and pod learning style to accommodate multiple groups.

North of Hampton Roads, an Arlington family, has also welcomed a learning pod in place of virtual learning. The Mulligan family partnered with other local families in their community to hire a teacher and share supervision. For the Mulligans it was a decision that was best for their 5-year-old daughter who struggled to use technology.

To maintain CDC guidelines, five kids from the pod meet at a location for a half-day instruction period from the hired teacher. The second half of the day allows the other children to complete their lessons while those who completed theirs are dropped off at a parent’s home for childcare. The Mulligan family’s learning pod has not only helped to facilitate their child’s learning needs but also provides relief for families who have struggled to find affordable childcare options.


Regulations of Pods


Unfortunately, as learning pods have increased in popularity, 19 states have imposed or expanded regulations that negatively affect access to learning pods. 


Regulations have included treating pods as daycares, requiring families to obtain licenses, limiting the size of pods, and forcing families to abide by business zoning laws. Regulations result in fewer opportunities as it becomes more difficult to start them.


In Fairfax County, Virginia, teachers are restricted from tutoring children “for private compensation if the same children are receiving instruction from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)” and cannot prepare for instruction during FCPS work hours. The school system even went to lengths to say that the growth in learning pods would “widen the gap in education access inequity.” This ignores the value of custom learning and childcare options for those who may not have the ability to afford private daycare facilities.


In Broward County, Florida, the school district is now requiring pods to receive licenses in order operate.


Creating a learning pod offers unique learning opportunities for families that should not be stifled by government control. Instead we should encourage their creation for children who benefit from them.


Learning Pods Provide More Educational Opportunities

Over the past year, the rapid increase of learning pods has branded the schooling alternative as “pandemic pods.” However, one thing hasn’t changed — the benefits of individualized learning opportunities.


Bar Graph show

Source: Center on Reinventing Public Education (Opalka, Jochim, and Lollo) https://www.crpe.org/thelens/it-takes-village-pandemic-learning-pod-movement-one-year


Pods provide families and students with assisted learning, classroom experiences, childcare, and socialization.

For most of the American education system’s reign, Americans assumed that traditional schools meet a child’s needs. However, the education system has left many students behind. Now, parents are becoming empowered to find the ways they can best meet their students’ needs, no matter the circumstances.


Check out this learning pod database.


Jessica Dobrinsky is the Policy Development Associate for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.

Cardinal Team


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