Post-COVID Education

Two-Thirds of High Schoolers Want Only In-Person Learning

A new survey has found that a one in three high schoolers (33%) would like to keep online learning as an ingredient in their education. The remaining 67% – almost all of whom shifted to virtual education to some degree amid the pandemic – prefer learning completely in-person, while 29 percent favored a hybrid arrangement with up to half of their time in a virtual learning environment. Four percent said they would be happy learning virtually full time or much of the time.

However, most students found benefits to virtual learning, including time savings from not having to travel or change classrooms (76%), gaining a more flexible schedule and getting more sleep (both 73%), having a private learning space (33%), reviewing recorded classes later (32%) and saving money on clothes and transport (30%).

The 1,060 survey respondents consisted of participants of the 2021 MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, an internet-based math modeling contest organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). It draws both 11th and 12th graders from the United States and sixth form students from the United Kingdom.

A majority of people reported that the primary disadvantages of online learning included having trouble staying focused (76%) and feeling lonely and isolated (66%). Nearly half (49%) also said they lacked face-to-face teacher interaction. Four in 10 noted that they believed teachers tended to assign more projects (42%) and provided less thorough explanations of assignments (40%).

While students found English and history "most suited" to remote learning, science and math were the most challenging.

The students advised that teachers could improve their virtual instructions of subjects like math through a number of techniques:

  • Using visual tools and videos to explain concepts, mentioned by 55%;

  • Recording classes for later review (53%);

  • Using "better technology" (52%);

  • Providing one-on-one student sessions (37%); and

  • Using real-world examples to explain concepts (31%).

Students also shared techniques for improving online learning for themselves. The biggest one was establishing a daily schedule and sticking to it, chosen by 70%, followed by attending all classes and keeping up with schoolwork (63%).

"Interestingly, while 73 percent of the students queried said they don't learn as well virtually, nine percent said they learn better online and 19 percent say they find no difference in their ability to learn either way," said Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge program director at SIAM, in a statement. "We know that all students learn differently, and the results of this survey show that there is a role online learning can play for many students."

The M3 Challenge, which has been running for 16 years, challenges high school students working in small teams over 14 consecutive hours on a designated weekend in February or March to devise a solution to a real-world problem using mathematical modeling. This year's challenge was to come up with answers for combatting the digital divide. Some 2,400 students in 535 teams participated, with winners earning scholarships. Results are judged by an international panel of Ph.D.-level mathematicians. The competition's final judging event — traditionally held in New York City — will be done virtually on April 26 this year.

The competition is sponsored by MathWorks, a company that develops math computing software.

About the Author

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