The arrival of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns changed the face of education, forcing many students, educators, and families into the worlds of distance and online learning for the first time. Education experts have long levied criticisms against learning through a virtual platform, claiming students are suffering because they learn less than those working with a classroom teacher in the brick-and-mortar setting. The reality is that many students are not just surviving this period of distance learning—they are thriving.
The rise of online and distance learning has resulted in many students doing much better in school, due to the benefits of distance learning for students, including the difference in learning method and the increased flexibility and control they get. The change in the learning environment is part of what has made the use of online courses so effective. The use of technology has greatly increased as a result of remote learning, and some, including Lynette Guastaferro of Teaching Matters (a nonprofit that focuses on increasing teacher effectiveness), are speculating that “learning management systems…which present educational materials in an organized way online, could become part of a new method of instruction that combines digital and traditional approaches for all students.”
Many students have welcomed the change, including those who may have struggled with distractions or social conflicts in the school building. For these students, moving learning online has eased, even eliminated some of these struggles. “The challenge of in-classroom [learning] can be the social interaction. And for some kids, that’s actually really hard,” says Guastaferro.
According to an article in the LA Times, Harvard University lecturer and licensed mental health counselor Josephine Kim believes “there are intrinsic characteristics that may allow a child to thrive more under the current circumstances.” Take my son, for instance: he has ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia, and has earned better grades since COVID forced him into distance learning in March of last year. Thanks to the benefits of distance learning for students, we have gone from failing grades to Bs and Cs, and last semester, he made his first A.
From that same article: “Children who are introverted or those ‘who process information internally and gain energy from time and space for introspection would likely fare well’” learning remotely as opposed to in person. More importantly, students who have been bullied or have felt social pressures to fit in have reported feeling more confident and relaxed.
The lack of social interaction is one of the benefits of distance learning for students that can result in increased academic success. The school environment can create conditions that are not conducive to learning. Despite face-to-face teacher supervision, students in the classroom may have a difficult time staying engaged. And learning from home can provide students with new opportunities to organize their breaks, check social media accounts, and complete assignments, resulting in increased ownership of their learning and new routines that work better for them.
After the first semester of distance learning ended, many students reported that they were looking forward to round two. The classroom, according to Prakash Nair of Education Week, “is obsolete,” and “research clearly demonstrates that students and teachers do better when they have variety, flexibility, and comfort in their environment—the very qualities that classrooms lack.” Perhaps an unexpected benefit of the pandemic is its push to bring education from the Industrial Revolution, where classroom-based education thrived, into the 21st century.
Campa, A. J. (2020, July 29). Less stress, better grades: With schools closed, some kids thrive. The Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-07-29/covid-schools-online-learning-quarantine
Gilman, A. (2020, October 3). Remote learning has been a disaster for many students. But some kids have thrived. The Hechinger Report. https://hechingerreport.org/remote-learning-has-been-a-disaster-for-many-students-but-some-kids-have-thrived/
Nair, P. (2011, July 29). The classroom is obsolete: It’s time for something new. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-the-classroom-is-obsolete-its-time-for-something-new/2011/07