Students More Positive about Online Learning

Overall, students felt more positive about online learning in the fall than they did in the spring, according to a new report from YouthTruth. For example, in the fall 61% of students said they learned "a lot almost every day," up from 39% in the spring. That's nearly the same as pre-COVID results, when 59% of students concurred. There was a five-point variation in responses, depending on the format of learning. While 64% of students attending classes in person agreed that they learned a lot almost every day, 61% of students in virtual classes and 59% of students in hybrid programs said the same.

Also, even though less than a third of students (30%) said they felt like they were part of a school community in the spring, that rose to nearly half (49%) by the fall. Pre-COVID it was just 43%.

The survey project queried 63,000 secondary students in fall 2020 and compared the results to 20,000 students from spring 2020 as well as "pre-COVID" data from 447,447 students collected between 2009 and 2019.

While a majority of virtual students said they spent the "right amount of time" online in live instruction with their teachers (62%), a minority said the same about interacting with classmates (48%) or friends (41%).

Also, while nearly half of virtual students said one advantage of distance learning was the ability to take breaks when they were needed (mentioned by 48% of respondents), just a third (35%) said someone "usually" noticed when they weren't paying attention and only four in 10 (41%) called their virtual classes "interesting."

The two biggest learning obstacles cited by students were "feeling depressed, stressed or anxious," mentioned by 46% and facing "distractions at home and family responsibilities" (44%). Depression and stress were more prevalent among female students than male students (57% versus 33%).

In the area of seniors' post-secondary plans, while a nearly comparable share of students still intends to attend a four-year college (51% in the fall compared to 52% pre-COVID), fewer students have decided against attending a two-year college (16% versus 22%), and more are saying they're unsure what will come after high school (13% versus eight%).

"It is critical that student experience be a driving force in conversations about the future of public schools," said YouthTruth Executive Director Jen Wilka, in a statement. "Schools are striving to support students' academic success and emotional well-being during this uniquely challenging time. Student voice must inform how we move forward to meet the needs of all students."

This is the second of three reports developed to offer findings on how students are experiencing the pandemic. The reports are openly available on the YouthTruth website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.