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  • Published: 25 January 2021

Online education in the post-COVID era

  • Barbara B. Lockee 1  

Nature Electronics volume  4 ,  pages 5–6 ( 2021 ) Cite this article

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced students and educators across all levels of education to rapidly adapt to online learning. The impact of this — and the developments required to make it work — could permanently change how education is delivered.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to engage in the ubiquitous use of virtual learning. And while online and distance learning has been used before to maintain continuity in education, such as in the aftermath of earthquakes 1 , the scale of the current crisis is unprecedented. Speculation has now also begun about what the lasting effects of this will be and what education may look like in the post-COVID era. For some, an immediate retreat to the traditions of the physical classroom is required. But for others, the forced shift to online education is a moment of change and a time to reimagine how education could be delivered 2 .

essay on online education during pandemic

Looking back

Online education has traditionally been viewed as an alternative pathway, one that is particularly well suited to adult learners seeking higher education opportunities. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has required educators and students across all levels of education to adapt quickly to virtual courses. (The term ‘emergency remote teaching’ was coined in the early stages of the pandemic to describe the temporary nature of this transition 3 .) In some cases, instruction shifted online, then returned to the physical classroom, and then shifted back online due to further surges in the rate of infection. In other cases, instruction was offered using a combination of remote delivery and face-to-face: that is, students can attend online or in person (referred to as the HyFlex model 4 ). In either case, instructors just had to figure out how to make it work, considering the affordances and constraints of the specific learning environment to create learning experiences that were feasible and effective.

The use of varied delivery modes does, in fact, have a long history in education. Mechanical (and then later electronic) teaching machines have provided individualized learning programmes since the 1950s and the work of B. F. Skinner 5 , who proposed using technology to walk individual learners through carefully designed sequences of instruction with immediate feedback indicating the accuracy of their response. Skinner’s notions formed the first formalized representations of programmed learning, or ‘designed’ learning experiences. Then, in the 1960s, Fred Keller developed a personalized system of instruction 6 , in which students first read assigned course materials on their own, followed by one-on-one assessment sessions with a tutor, gaining permission to move ahead only after demonstrating mastery of the instructional material. Occasional class meetings were held to discuss concepts, answer questions and provide opportunities for social interaction. A personalized system of instruction was designed on the premise that initial engagement with content could be done independently, then discussed and applied in the social context of a classroom.

These predecessors to contemporary online education leveraged key principles of instructional design — the systematic process of applying psychological principles of human learning to the creation of effective instructional solutions — to consider which methods (and their corresponding learning environments) would effectively engage students to attain the targeted learning outcomes. In other words, they considered what choices about the planning and implementation of the learning experience can lead to student success. Such early educational innovations laid the groundwork for contemporary virtual learning, which itself incorporates a variety of instructional approaches and combinations of delivery modes.

Online learning and the pandemic

Fast forward to 2020, and various further educational innovations have occurred to make the universal adoption of remote learning a possibility. One key challenge is access. Here, extensive problems remain, including the lack of Internet connectivity in some locations, especially rural ones, and the competing needs among family members for the use of home technology. However, creative solutions have emerged to provide students and families with the facilities and resources needed to engage in and successfully complete coursework 7 . For example, school buses have been used to provide mobile hotspots, and class packets have been sent by mail and instructional presentations aired on local public broadcasting stations. The year 2020 has also seen increased availability and adoption of electronic resources and activities that can now be integrated into online learning experiences. Synchronous online conferencing systems, such as Zoom and Google Meet, have allowed experts from anywhere in the world to join online classrooms 8 and have allowed presentations to be recorded for individual learners to watch at a time most convenient for them. Furthermore, the importance of hands-on, experiential learning has led to innovations such as virtual field trips and virtual labs 9 . A capacity to serve learners of all ages has thus now been effectively established, and the next generation of online education can move from an enterprise that largely serves adult learners and higher education to one that increasingly serves younger learners, in primary and secondary education and from ages 5 to 18.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also likely to have a lasting effect on lesson design. The constraints of the pandemic provided an opportunity for educators to consider new strategies to teach targeted concepts. Though rethinking of instructional approaches was forced and hurried, the experience has served as a rare chance to reconsider strategies that best facilitate learning within the affordances and constraints of the online context. In particular, greater variance in teaching and learning activities will continue to question the importance of ‘seat time’ as the standard on which educational credits are based 10 — lengthy Zoom sessions are seldom instructionally necessary and are not aligned with the psychological principles of how humans learn. Interaction is important for learning but forced interactions among students for the sake of interaction is neither motivating nor beneficial.

While the blurring of the lines between traditional and distance education has been noted for several decades 11 , the pandemic has quickly advanced the erasure of these boundaries. Less single mode, more multi-mode (and thus more educator choices) is becoming the norm due to enhanced infrastructure and developed skill sets that allow people to move across different delivery systems 12 . The well-established best practices of hybrid or blended teaching and learning 13 have served as a guide for new combinations of instructional delivery that have developed in response to the shift to virtual learning. The use of multiple delivery modes is likely to remain, and will be a feature employed with learners of all ages 14 , 15 . Future iterations of online education will no longer be bound to the traditions of single teaching modes, as educators can support pedagogical approaches from a menu of instructional delivery options, a mix that has been supported by previous generations of online educators 16 .

Also significant are the changes to how learning outcomes are determined in online settings. Many educators have altered the ways in which student achievement is measured, eliminating assignments and changing assessment strategies altogether 17 . Such alterations include determining learning through strategies that leverage the online delivery mode, such as interactive discussions, student-led teaching and the use of games to increase motivation and attention. Specific changes that are likely to continue include flexible or extended deadlines for assignment completion 18 , more student choice regarding measures of learning, and more authentic experiences that involve the meaningful application of newly learned skills and knowledge 19 , for example, team-based projects that involve multiple creative and social media tools in support of collaborative problem solving.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, technological and administrative systems for implementing online learning, and the infrastructure that supports its access and delivery, had to adapt quickly. While access remains a significant issue for many, extensive resources have been allocated and processes developed to connect learners with course activities and materials, to facilitate communication between instructors and students, and to manage the administration of online learning. Paths for greater access and opportunities to online education have now been forged, and there is a clear route for the next generation of adopters of online education.

Before the pandemic, the primary purpose of distance and online education was providing access to instruction for those otherwise unable to participate in a traditional, place-based academic programme. As its purpose has shifted to supporting continuity of instruction, its audience, as well as the wider learning ecosystem, has changed. It will be interesting to see which aspects of emergency remote teaching remain in the next generation of education, when the threat of COVID-19 is no longer a factor. But online education will undoubtedly find new audiences. And the flexibility and learning possibilities that have emerged from necessity are likely to shift the expectations of students and educators, diminishing further the line between classroom-based instruction and virtual learning.

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essay on online education during pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how 

Anais, a student at the International Bilingual School (EIB), attends her online lessons in her bedroom in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread in France, March 20, 2020. Picture taken on March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes - RC2SPF9G7MJ9

With schools shut across the world, millions of children have had to adapt to new types of learning. Image:  REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

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  • The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom.
  • As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.
  • Research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information, and take less time, meaning the changes coronavirus have caused might be here to stay.

While countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. In Denmark, children up to the age of 11 are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing on 12 March , but in South Korea students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online .

With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market.

essay on online education during pandemic

Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025 . Whether it is language apps , virtual tutoring , video conferencing tools, or online learning software , there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.

How is the education sector responding to COVID-19?

In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services, including platforms like BYJU’S , a Bangalore-based educational technology and online tutoring firm founded in 2011, which is now the world’s most highly valued edtech company . Since announcing free live classes on its Think and Learn app, BYJU’s has seen a 200% increase in the number of new students using its product, according to Mrinal Mohit, the company's Chief Operating Officer.

Tencent classroom, meanwhile, has been used extensively since mid-February after the Chinese government instructed a quarter of a billion full-time students to resume their studies through online platforms. This resulted in the largest “online movement” in the history of education with approximately 730,000 , or 81% of K-12 students, attending classes via the Tencent K-12 Online School in Wuhan.

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Other companies are bolstering capabilities to provide a one-stop shop for teachers and students. For example, Lark, a Singapore-based collaboration suite initially developed by ByteDance as an internal tool to meet its own exponential growth, began offering teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and smart calendar scheduling, amongst other features. To do so quickly and in a time of crisis, Lark ramped up its global server infrastructure and engineering capabilities to ensure reliable connectivity.

Alibaba’s distance learning solution, DingTalk, had to prepare for a similar influx: “To support large-scale remote work, the platform tapped Alibaba Cloud to deploy more than 100,000 new cloud servers in just two hours last month – setting a new record for rapid capacity expansion,” according to DingTalk CEO, Chen Hang.

Some school districts are forming unique partnerships, like the one between The Los Angeles Unified School District and PBS SoCal/KCET to offer local educational broadcasts, with separate channels focused on different ages, and a range of digital options. Media organizations such as the BBC are also powering virtual learning; Bitesize Daily , launched on 20 April, is offering 14 weeks of curriculum-based learning for kids across the UK with celebrities like Manchester City footballer Sergio Aguero teaching some of the content.

covid impact on education

What does this mean for the future of learning?

While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation – will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits. “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education,“ says Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education.

There have already been successful transitions amongst many universities. For example, Zhejiang University managed to get more than 5,000 courses online just two weeks into the transition using “DingTalk ZJU”. The Imperial College London started offering a course on the science of coronavirus, which is now the most enrolled class launched in 2020 on Coursera .

Many are already touting the benefits: Dr Amjad, a Professor at The University of Jordan who has been using Lark to teach his students says, “It has changed the way of teaching. It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting and also document sharing, especially during this pandemic. My students also find it is easier to communicate on Lark. I will stick to Lark even after coronavirus, I believe traditional offline learning and e-learning can go hand by hand."

These 3 charts show the global growth in online learning

The challenges of online learning.

There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries. For example, whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do, according to OECD data .

In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds: whilst virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not. While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, such as in New South Wales , Australia, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widenthe digital divide .

Is learning online as effective?

For those who do have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in a number of ways. Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.

Nevertheless, the effectiveness of online learning varies amongst age groups. The general consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is required , because kids are more easily distracted. To get the full benefit of online learning, there needs to be a concerted effort to provide this structure and go beyond replicating a physical class/lecture through video capabilities, instead, using a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote “inclusion, personalization and intelligence”, according to Dowson Tong, Senior Executive Vice President of Tencent and President of its Cloud and Smart Industries Group.

Since studies have shown that children extensively use their senses to learn, making learning fun and effective through use of technology is crucial, according to BYJU's Mrinal Mohit. “Over a period, we have observed that clever integration of games has demonstrated higher engagement and increased motivation towards learning especially among younger students, making them truly fall in love with learning”, he says.

A changing education imperative

It is clear that this pandemic has utterly disrupted an education system that many assert was already losing its relevance . In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century , scholar Yuval Noah Harari outlines how schools continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning , rather than on skills such as critical thinking and adaptability, which will be more important for success in the future. Could the move to online learning be the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students? While some worry that the hasty nature of the transition online may have hindered this goal, others plan to make e-learning part of their ‘new normal’ after experiencing the benefits first-hand.

The importance of disseminating knowledge is highlighted through COVID-19

Major world events are often an inflection point for rapid innovation – a clear example is the rise of e-commerce post-SARS . While we have yet to see whether this will apply to e-learning post-COVID-19, it is one of the few sectors where investment has not dried up . What has been made clear through this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies, and all parts of society. If online learning technology can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential.

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Shaping the Future of Online Learning

Published may 22, 2024.

If you’ve been enrolled in any educational course or postsecondary educational program since 2020, chances are you’ve witnessed the rise in online learning firsthand .

The COVID-19 global pandemic shuttered storefronts, theaters, and classrooms alike, causing major disruptions in how goods and services were delivered. As consumers adopted Instacart for their grocery needs and streamed new blockbuster movies from the comfort of their living rooms, students needed an innovative way to bring their classes home. A year into the pandemic over 60% of all undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one online course , with 28% exclusively enrolled in online courses, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

There are other reasons for the widespread adoption, including accessibility. Rural and international students who may be far removed from traditional educational institutions can now attend Harvard classes anywhere there’s an internet connection. Or, consider working adults seeking to progress or switch careers. Life doesn’t stop for a class, and attending one in-person can be prohibitive. While still challenging, logging into a virtual classroom is far more manageable. Online education is for everyone.

Technological and pedagogical developments have helped online learning progress beyond the days of discussion boards and essay uploads. Now, students can enjoy a multimedia educational experience that is rooted in the latest research, all while participating in the community of their “virtual campus”.

If you’re one of the millions of learners who have experienced online education, you might be interested to learn where it’s going next. At Harvard Online, the question, “what is the future of online learning?” guides an ongoing conversation that drives us everyday.

In this blog, we sat down with Catherine Breen , Managing Director of Harvard Online. With more than two decades of senior executive leadership at Harvard University and oversight of Harvard Online, Breen has an invaluable perspective on the future of online learning, and the exciting role Harvard Online is playing in bringing the future into the present. 

Photo of Catherine Breen in a meeting at a conference table.

Catherine Breen, Managing Director of Harvard Online, in a team meeting.

Harvard Online (HO): How has the online learning landscape evolved in recent years? 

Catherine Breen (CB): At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a massive escalation in demand for online learning. Demand began to recede slowly as the months wore on and by late 2022, it started to level out. But we observed two big changes: Internally, the demand for Harvard Online content was still almost three times higher than pre-pandemic. Externally, in reaction to the demand surge, there was significant and rapid growth of new online course offerings and companies that purveyed varying types of digital products.    

HO: What is shaping the future of online learning today? 

CB: Because of the rapid and massive shift to online that occurred around the globe in the spring of 2020, the landscape changed permanently. There are many things shaping the future but here are just a few that I can see from my perspective:

  • Increased adoption of online learning across all ages and levels of education: Everyone expanded their online course catalogs; new companies and offerings sprung up everywhere.
  • Greater tech investment across organizations and industries: Organizations are investing more time, money, and effort into technology infrastructure, tools, and platforms to support online learning and participants in these courses.
  • New pedagogical methods to bridge the gap between traditional and novel learning methods: Instructors have adapted their teaching methods for online, hybrid, and blended environments.
  • Enhanced accessibility to quality education and learning experiences: Efforts have been made to improve access for students of all types, abilities, geographies, and backgrounds so that everyone can participate effectively.    

HO: What are the remaining challenges that online learning faces? 

CB: While these changes have improved the online learning experience, challenges remain, including addressing the digital divide, maximizing student engagement, and refining the quality of online courses.

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning and its impact will likely continue to shape higher education for many years to come.  

HO: How does online learning contribute to Harvard's mission of promoting accessibility and inclusion in education, especially for learners who may not have traditional access to higher education?

CB: Online learning levels the playing field for learners in many ways.

Most students think that a Harvard-quality education is out of reach, for a variety of reasons. With online courses, however, learners from around the country and the world can take courses with Harvard instructors at their own pace at a more affordable price point.

Our online courses also typically incorporate a range of multimedia elements, allowing students with different learning styles to flourish. We also ensure that our online learning experiences are accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities. This commitment to inclusivity aligns with the broader goals of promoting equitable access to education.

Lastly, our online courses often include discussion forums and virtual communities where learners can connect and collaborate. This allows for interactions among students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion.  

It’s clear that online learning has a lot to offer everyone, and it’s only getting better. In our next blog in this series, we’ll hear more from Cathy on how institutions can implement online learning modalities effectively. 

If you missed the first blog in this series detailing the future of online learning, you can check out the first blog here . To learn more about Harvard Online, explore our fully online course catalog here .

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Original research article, engagement in online learning: student attitudes and behavior during covid-19.

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  • 1 Department of Mathematics, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 2 Halıcıo ǧ lu Data Science Institute, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 3 Joint Doctoral Program in Math and Science Education, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 4 Joint Doctoral Program in Math and Science Education, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 5 Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Science, Bouvé College of Health, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, United States
  • 6 Art and Design, College of Arts, Media and Design, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, United States
  • 7 Qualcomm Institute, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in nearly all universities switching courses to online formats. We surveyed the online learning experience of undergraduate students ( n = 187) at a large, public research institution in course structure, interpersonal interaction, and academic resources. Data was also collected from course evaluations. Students reported decreases in live lecture engagement and attendance, with 72 percent reporting that low engagement during lectures hurt their online learning experience. A majority of students reported that they struggled with staying connected to their peers and instructors and managing the pace of coursework. Students had positive impressions, however, of their instructional staff. Majorities of students felt more comfortable asking and answering questions in online classes, suggesting that there might be features of learning online to which students are receptive, and which may also benefit in-person classes.


In Spring 2020, 90% of higher education institutions in the United States canceled in-person instruction and shifted to emergency remote teaching (ERT) due to the COVID-19 pandemic ( Lederman, 2020 ). ERT in response to COVID-19 is qualitatively different from typical online learning instruction as students did not self-select to participate in ERT and teachers were expected to transition to online learning in an unrealistic time frame ( Brooks et al., 2020 ; Hodges et al., 2020 ; Johnson et al., 2020 ). This abrupt transition left both faculty and students without proper preparation for continuing higher education in an online environment.

In a random sample of 1,008 undergraduates who began their Spring 2020 courses in-person and ended them online, 51% of respondents said they were very satisfied with their course before the pandemic, and only 19% were very satisfied after the transition to online learning ( Means and Neisler, 2020 ). Additionally, 57% of respondents said that maintaining interest in the course material was “worse online,” 65% claimed they had fewer opportunities to collaborate with peers, and 42% said that keeping motivated was a problem ( Means and Neisler, 2020 ). Another survey of 3,089 North American higher education students had similar results with 78% of respondents saying online experiences were not engaging and 75% saying they missed face-to-face interactions with instructors and peers ( Read, 2020 ). Lastly, of the 97 university presidents surveyed in the United States by Inside Higher Ed , 81% claimed that maintaining student engagement would be challenging when moving classes online due to COVID-19 ( Inside Higher Ed, 2020 ).

In this report, we consider the measures and strategies that were implemented to engage students in online lectures at UCSD during ERT due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigate student perceptions of these measures and place our findings in the larger context of returning to in-person instruction and improving engagement in both online and in-person learning for undergraduates. Before diving into the current study, we first define what we mean by engagement.

Theoretical Framework and Literature Review

Student engagement.

Student engagement has three widely accepted dimensions: behavioral, cognitive and affective ( Chapman, 2002 ; Fredricks et al., 2004 , 2016 ; Mandernach, 2015 ). Each dimension has indicators ( Fredricks et al., 2004 ), or facets ( Coates, 2007 ), that manifest each dimension. Behavioral engagement refers to active responses to learning activities and is indicated by participation, persistence, and/or positive conduct. Cognitive engagement includes mental effort in learning activities and is indicated by deep learning, self-regulation, and understanding. Affective engagement is the emotional investment in learning activities and is indicated by positive reactions to the learning environment, peers, and teachers as well as a sense of belonging. A list of indicators for each dimension can be found in Bond et al. (2020) .

The literature also theorizes different influences for each engagement dimension. Most influencing factors are sociocultural in nature and can include the political, social, and teaching environment as well as relationships within the classroom ( Kahu, 2013 ). In particular, social engagement with peers and instructors creates a sense of community, which is often correlated with more effective learning outcomes ( Rovai and Wighting, 2005 ; Liu et al., 2007 ; Lear et al., 2010 ; Kendricks, 2011 ; Redmond et al., 2018 ; Chatterjee and Correia, 2020 ). Three key classroom interactions are often investigated when trying to understand the factors influencing student engagement: student-student interactions, student-instructor interactions, and student-content interactions ( Moore, 1993 ).

Student-student interactions prevent boredom and isolation by creating a dynamic sense of community ( Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ). Features that foster student-student interactions in online learning environments include group activities, peer assessment, and use of virtual communication spaces such as social media, chat forums, and discussion boards ( Revere and Kovach, 2011 ; Tess, 2013 ; Banna et al., 2015 ). In the absence of face-to-face communication, these virtual communication spaces help build student relationships ( Nicholson, 2002 ; Harrell, 2008 ). In a survey of 1,406 university students in asynchronous online courses, the students claimed to have greater satisfaction and to have learned more when more of the course grade was based on discussions, likely because discussions fostered increased student-student and student-instructor interactions ( Shea et al., 2001 ). Interestingly, in another study, graduate students in online courses claimed that student-student interactions were the least important of the three for maintaining student engagement, but that they were more likely to be engaged if an online course had online communication tools, ice breakers, and group activities ( Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ).

In the Martin and Bolliger (2018) study, the graduate students enrolled in online courses found student-instructor interactions to be the most important of the three interaction types, which supports prior work that found students perceive student-instructor interactions as more important than peer interactions in fostering engagement ( Swan and Shih, 2005 ). Student-instructor interactions increased in frequency in online classes when the following practices were implemented (1) multiple open communication channels between students and instructors ( Gaytan and McEwen, 2007 ; Dixson, 2010 ; Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ), (2) regular communication of announcements, reminders, grading rubrics, and expectations by instructors ( Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ), (3) timely and consistent feedback provided to students ( Gaytan and McEwen, 2007 ; Dixson, 2010 ; Chakraborty and Nafukho, 2014 ; Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ), and (4) instructors taking a minimal role in course discussions ( Mandernach et al., 2006 ; Dixson, 2010 ).

Student-content interactions include any interaction the student has with course content. Qualities that have been shown to increase student engagement with course content include the use of curricular materials and classroom activities that incorporate realistic scenarios, prompts that scaffold deep reflection and understanding, multimedia instructional materials, and those that allow student agency in choice of content or activity format ( Abrami et al., 2012 ; Wimpenny and Savin-Baden, 2013 ; Britt et al., 2015 ; Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ). In online learning, students need to be able to use various technologies in order to be able to engage in student-content interactions, so technical barriers such as lack of access to devices or reliable internet can be a substantial issue that deprives educational opportunities especially for students from lower socioeconomic households ( Means and Neisler, 2020 ; Reich et al., 2020 ; UNESCO, 2020 ).

Engagement in Online Learning

Bond and Bedenlier (2019) present a theoretical framework for engagement in online learning that combines the three dimensions of engagement, types of interactions that can influence the engagement dimensions, and possible short term and long term outcomes. The types of interactions are based on components present in the student’s immediate surrounding or microsystem, and are largely based on Moore’s three types of interactions: teachers, peers, and curriculum. However, the authors add technology and the classroom environment as influential components because they are particularly important for online learning.

Specific characteristics of each microsystem component can differentially modulate student engagement, and each component has at least one characteristic that specifically focuses on technology. Teacher presence, feedback, support, time invested, content expertise, information and communications technology skills and knowledge, technology acceptance, and use of technology all can influence the types of interactions students might have with their teachers which would then impact their engagement ( Zhu, 2006 ; Beer et al., 2010 ; Zepke and Leach, 2010 ; Ma et al., 2015 ; Quin, 2017 ). For curriculum/activities, the quality, design, difficulty, relevance, level of required collaboration, and use of technology can influence the types of interactions a student might encounter that could impact their engagement ( Zhu, 2006 ; Coates, 2007 ; Zepke and Leach, 2010 ; Bundick et al., 2014 ; Almarghani and Mijatovic, 2017 ; Xiao, 2017 ). Characteristics that can change the quantity and quality of peer interactions and thereby influence engagement include the amount of opportunities to collaborate, formation of respectful relationships, clear boundaries and expectations, being able to physically see each other, and sharing work with others and in turn respond to the work of others ( Nelson Laird and Kuh, 2005 ; Zhu, 2006 ; Yildiz, 2009 ; Zepke and Leach, 2010 ). When describing influential characteristics, the authors combine classroom environment and technology because in online learning, the classroom environment inherently utilizes technology. The influential characteristics of these two components are access to technology, support in using and understanding technology, usability, design, technology choice, sense of community, and types of assessment measures. All of these characteristics demonstrably influenced engagement levels in prior literature ( Zhu, 2006 ; Dixson, 2010 ; Cakir, 2013 ; Levin et al., 2013 ; Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ; Northey et al., 2018 ; Sumuer, 2018 ).

Online learning can take place in different formats, including fully synchronous, fully asynchronous, or blended ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ). Each of these formats offers different challenges and opportunities for technological ease, time management, community, and pacing. Fully asynchronous learning is time efficient, but offers less opportunity for interactions that naturally take place in person ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ). Instructors and students may feel underwhelmed by the lack of immediate feedback that can happen in face to face class time ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ). Synchronous online learning is less flexible for teachers and students and requires reliable technology, but allows for more real time engagement and feedback ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ). In blended learning courses, instructors have to coordinate and organize both the online and in person meetings and lessons, which is not as time efficient. Blended learning means there is some in person engagement which provides spontaneity and more natural personal relations ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ). In all online formats, students may feel isolated and instructors and students need to spend more time and intention into building community ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ; Gillett-Swan, 2017 ). Often, instructors can use learning management systems and discussion boards to help facilitate student interaction and connection ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ). In terms of group work, engagement and participation is dependent not only on the modality of learning, but also the instructors expectations for assessment ( Gillett-Swan, 2017 ). Given the flexibility and power of online meeting and work environments, collaborating synchronously or asynchronously are both possible and effective ( Gillett-Swan, 2017 ). In online learning courses, especially fully asynchronous, students are more accountable for their learning, which may be challenging for students who struggle with self-regulating their work pace ( Gillett-Swan, 2017 ). Learning from home also means there are more distractions than when students attend class on campus. At any point during class, children, pets, or work can interrupt a student’s, or instructor’s, remote learning or teaching ( Fadde and Vu, 2014 ).

According to Raes et al. (2019) , the flexibility of a blended -or hybrid- learning environment encourages more students to show up to class when they otherwise would have taken a sick day, or would not have been able to attend due to home demands. It also equalizes learning opportunities for underrepresented groups, and more comprehensive support with two modes of interaction. On the other hand, hybrid learning can cause more strain on the instructor who may have to adapt their teaching designs for the demands of this unique format while maintaining the same standards ( Bülow, 2022 ). Due to the nature of class, some students can feel more distant to the instructor and to each other, and in many cases active class participation was difficult in hybrid learning environments. Although Bulow’s review (2022) focused on the challenges and opportunities of designing effective hybrid learning environments for the teacher, it follows that students participating in different environments will also need to adapt to foster effective active participation environments that encompass both local and remote learners.

Engagement in Emergency Remote Instruction During COVID-19

There is currently a thin literature on student perceptions of the efficacy of ERT strategies and formats in engaging students during COVID-19. Indeed, student perceptions about online learning do not indicate actual learning. This study considers student perceptions for the purpose of gathering information about what conditions help or hinder students’ comfort with engaging in online classes toward the goal of designing improved online learning opportunities in the future. The large scale surveys of undergraduate students had some items relating to engagement, but these surveys aimed to generally understand the student experience during the transition to COVID-19 induced ERT ( Means and Neisler, 2020 ; Read, 2020 ). A few small studies have surveyed or interviewed students from a single course on their perceptions of the changes made to courses to accommodate ERT ( Senn and Wessner, 2021 ), the positives and negatives of ERT ( Hussein et al., 2020 ), or the changes in their participation patterns and the course structures and instructor strategies that increase or decrease engagement in ERT ( Perets et al., 2020 ). In their survey of 73 students across the United States, Wester and colleagues specifically focused on changes to students’ cognitive, affective, and behavioral engagement due to COVID-19 induced ERT, but they did not inquire as to what were the key influencing factors for these changes. Walker and Koralesky (2021) and Shin and Hickey (2021) surveyed students from a single institution but from multiple courses and thus are most relevant to the current study. These studies aimed to understand the students’ perceptions of their engagement and influencing factors of engagement at a single institution, but they did not assess how often these factors were implemented at that institution.

The current study investigates the engagement strategies used in a large, public, research institution, students’ opinions about these course methods, and students’ overall perception of learning in-person versus during ERT. This study aims to answer the following questions:

1. How has the change from in-person to online learning affected student attendance, performance expectations of students, and participation in lectures?

2. What engagement tools are being utilized in lectures and what do students think about them?

3. What influence do social interactions with peers, teachers, and administration have on student engagement?

These three questions encompass the three different dimensions of engagement, including multiple facets of each, as well as explicitly highlighting the role of technology in student engagement.

Materials and Methods

Data were collected from two main sources: a survey of undergraduates, and Course and Professor Evaluations (CAPE). The study was deemed exempt from further review by the institution’s Institutional Review Board because identifying information was not collected.

The survey consisted of 50 questions, including demographic information as well as questions about both in-person and online learning (Refer to full survey in Supplementary Material.). The survey, hosted on Qualtrics, was distributed to undergraduate students using various social media channels, such as Reddit, Discord, and Facebook, in addition to being advertised in some courses. In total, the survey was answered by 237 students, of which 187 completed the survey in full, between January 26th and February 15, 2021. It was made clear to students that the data collected would be anonymous and used to assess engagement over the course of Fall 2019 to Fall 2020. The majority of the survey was administered using five-point Likert scales of agreement, frequency, and approval. The survey was divided into blocks, each of which used the same Likert scale. Quantitative analysis of the survey data was conducted using R, and visualized with the likert R package ( Bryer and Speerschneider, 2016 ).

A number of steps were taken to ensure that survey responses were valid. Before survey distribution, 2 cognitive interviews were conducted with undergraduate students attending the institution in order to refine the intelligibility of survey items ( Desmione and Carlson Le Floch, 2004 ). Forty-eight incomplete surveys were excluded. In addition, engagement tests were placed within the larger blocks of the survey in order to prevent respondents from clicking the same choice repeatedly without reading the prompts. The two students who answered at least one of these questions incorrectly were excluded.

Respondent Profile

Respondents were asked before the survey to confirm that they were undergraduate students attending the institution over the age of 18. Among the 187 students that filled out the survey in its entirety, 21.9% were in their first year, 28.3% in their second year, 34.2% in their third year, 11.8% in their fourth year, and 1.1% in their fifth year or beyond. It should be noted, therefore, that some students, especially first-years, had no experience with in-person college education at the institution, and these respondents were asked to indicate this for any questions about in-person learning. However, all students surveyed were asked before participating whether they had experience with online learning at the institution. 2.7% of respondents were first year transfers. 72.7% of overall respondents identified as female, 25.7% as male, 0.5% as non-binary, and 1.1% preferred not to disclose gender. In regards to ethnicity, 45.6% of respondents identified as Asian, 22.8% as White, 13.9% as Hispanic/Latinx, 1.7% as Middle Eastern, 1.6% as Black or African-American, and 2.2% as Other. 27.9% of respondents were first-generation college students, 7.7% of respondents were international students, and 9.9% of students were transfer students.

In the most recent report for the 2020–2021 academic year, the Institutional Research Department noted that out of 31,842 undergraduates, 49.8% of undergraduates are women and 49.4% are men ( University of California, San Diego Institutional Research, 2021 ). This report states that 17% of undergraduates are international students, which is a larger percentage than is represented by survey respondents ( University of California, San Diego Institutional Research, 2021 ). The institution reports 33% of undergraduates are transfer students, which are also underrepresented in the survey respondents ( University of California San Diego [UCSD], 2021b ). The ethnicity profile of the survey respondents is similar to the undergraduate student demographic at this institution. According to the institutional research report, among undergraduates, 37.1% are Asian American, 19% are White, 20.8% are Chicano/Latino, 3% are African American, 0.4% are American Indian, and 2.5% are missing data on ethnicity ( University of California, San Diego Institutional Research, 2021 ).

Course and Professor Evaluation Reviews

Data were also collected from the institution’s CAPE reviews, a university-administered survey offered prior to finals week every quarter, in which undergraduate students are asked to rate various aspects of their experience with their undergraduate courses and professors ( Courses not CAPEd for Winter 22, 2022 ). CAPE reviews are anonymous, but are sometimes incentivized by professors to increase participation.

Although it was not designed with Bond and Bedenlier’s student engagement framework in mind, the questions on the CAPE survey still address the fundamental influences on engagement established by the framework. The CAPE survey asks students how many hours a week they spend studying outside of class, the grade they expect to receive, and whether they recommend the course overall. The survey then asks questions about the professor, such as whether they explain material well, show concern for student learning, and whether the student recommends the professor overall.

In this study, we chose to look only at data from Fall 2019, a quarter where education was in-person, and Fall 2020, when courses were online. In Fall 2019, there were 65,985 total CAPE reviews submitted, out of a total of 114,258 course enrollments in classes where CAPE was made available, for a total response rate of 57.8% ( University of California San Diego [UCSD], 2021a ). The mean response rate within a class was 53.1% with a standard deviation of 20.7%. In Fall 2020, there were 65,845 CAPE responses out of a total of 118,316 possible enrollments, for a total response rate of 55.7%. The mean response rate within a class was 50.7%, with a standard deviation of 19.6%.

In order to adjust for the different course offerings between quarters, and for the different professors who might teach the same course, we selected only CAPE reviews for courses that were offered in both Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 with the same professors. This dataset contained 31,360 unique reviews (16,147 from Fall 2019 and 15,213 from Fall 2020), covering 587 class sections in Fall 2019 and 630 in Fall 2020. Since no data about the students were provided with the set, however, we do not know how many students these 31,360 reviews represent. This pairing strategy offers many interesting opportunities to compare the changes and consistencies of student reviews between both quarters in question. To keep this study focused on the three research questions and in observation of time and space limitations, analysis was only performed on the pairwise level of the general CAPE survey questions and not broken down to further granularity.

The CAPE survey was created by the designers of CAPE, not the researchers of this paper. The questions on the CAPE survey are general and only provide a partial picture of the status of student engagement in Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. The small scale survey created by this research team attempts to clarify and make meaning of the results from the CAPE data.

Data Analysis

Survey data.

Survey data was collected and exported from Qualtrics as a. csv file, then manually trimmed to include only relevant survey responses from participants who completed the survey. Data analysis was done in R using the RStudio interface, with visualizations done using the likert and ggplot2 R packages ( Bryer and Speerschneider, 2016 ; Wickham, 2016 ; R Core Team, 2020 ; RStudio Team, 2020 ). Statistical tests were performed on lecture data, using paired t -tests, and Mann–Whitney U tests of the responses; for example, when comparing attendance of in-person lectures in Fall 2019 and live online lectures on Zoom in Fall 2020.

Course and Professor Evaluation Data

As previously mentioned, analysis of CAPE reviews was restricted to courses that were offered in both Fall 2019 and 2020 with the same professor, with Fall 2019 courses being in-person and Fall 2020 courses being online. This was done since the variation of interest is the change from in-person to online education, and restricting analysis to these courses allowed the pairing of specific courses for statistical tests, as well as the adjustment for any differences in course offerings or professor choices between the two quarters. In order to compare ratings for a specific item, first, negative items were recoded if necessary. The majority of questions were on a 5-point Likert scale, though some, such as expected grade, needed conversion from categorical (A–F scale) to numerical (usually 0–4). Then, the two-sample Mann–Whitney U test was conducted on the numerical survey answers, comparing the results from Fall 2019 to those from Fall 2020. Results were then visualized using the R package ggplot2 ( Wickham, 2016 ), as well as the likert package ( Bryer and Speerschneider, 2016 ).

In this study, we aimed to take a broad look at the state of online learning at UCSD as compared to in-person learning before the COVID-19 pandemic. This assessment was split into three general categories: changes in lecture engagement and student performance, tools that professors and administrators have implemented in the face of online learning, and changes in patterns of students’ interactions with their peers and with instructors. In general, while we found that students’ ratings of their professors and course staff remained positive, there were significant decreases in lecture engagement, attendance, and perceived ability to keep up with coursework, even as expected grades rose. In addition, student-student interactions fell for the vast majority of students, which students felt hurt their learning experience.

Course and Professor Evaluation Results

How has the change from in-person to online learning affected student attendance, performance expectations, and participation in lectures, lecture attendance.

In the CAPE survey, students reported their answers to a series of questions relating to lecture attendance and engagement. Table 1 reports the results of the Mann–Whitney U test for each question, in which the results from Fall 2019 were compared to the results from Fall 2020. Statistically significant differences were found between students’ responses to the question “How often do you attend this course?” (rated on a 1–3 scale of Very Rarely, Some of the Time, and Most of the Time), although students were still most likely to report that they attended the class most of the time. Statistically significant decreases were also found for students’ agreement to the questions “Instructor is well-prepared for classes,” and “Instructor starts and finishes classes on time.” It should be noted that “attendance” was not clarified as “synchronous” or “asynchronous” attendance to survey respondents.

Table 1. Mean and standard deviations of student responses on CAPE evaluation questions relating to lecture attendance and engagement in Fall 2019 and 2020.

Expected Grades

Within the CAPE survey, students are asked, “What grade do you expect in this class?” The given options are A, B, C, D, F, Pass, and No Pass. The proportion of CAPE responses in which students reported taking the course Pass/No Pass stayed relatively constant from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, going from 6.5% in Fall 2019 to 6.4% in Fall 2020. As can be seen in Figure 1 , participants were more likely to expect A’s in Fall 2020; in Fall 2019, the median expected grade was an A in 56.8% of classes, while in Fall 2020, this figure was 68.0%. We used a Mann–Whitney U test to test our hypothesis that there would be a difference between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 expected grades because of students’ and instructors’ unfamiliarity with the online modality. When looking solely at classes in which students expected to receive a letter grade, after recoding letter grades to GPA equivalents, a significant difference was found between expected grades in Fall 2019 and 2020, with a mean of 3.443 in FA19 and 3.538 in FA20 ( U = 92286720, p < 0.001).

Figure 1. Distribution of grades expected by students prior to finals week in CAPE surveys in Fall 2019 and Fall 2020.

What Engagement Tools Are Being Utilized by Professors and What do Students Think About Them?

Assignments and learning.

As part of the CAPE survey, respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a 5-point Likert scale to questions about their assignments and learning experience in the class. Results are displayed in Table 2 . Statistically significant increases in student agreement, as indicated by the two-sample Mann–Whitney U test, were reported in the questions “Assignments promote learning,” “The course material is intellectually stimulating,” and “I learned a great deal from this course.”

Table 2. Student responses on CAPE evaluation statements relating to assignments, course material, and quality of learning.

What Influence do Social Interactions With Peers, Teachers, and Administration Have on Student Engagement?

Professor efficacy and accessibility.

As part of the CAPE survey, students also rated their professors in various aspects, as can be seen in Table 3 . The only significant result observed between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 was a slight increase in student agreement with the statement “Instructor is accessible outside of class.”

Table 3. Student responses on CAPE evaluation statements relating to instructor efficacy and accessibility.

Survey Results

General satisfaction.

Respondents were asked to indicate their agreement on a 5-point Likert scale (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Agree, and Strongly Agree) to the statement, “In general, I am satisfied with my online learning experience at [institution].” 36% of respondents agreed with the statement, 28% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 36% disagreed.

Perceptions of Academic Performance

Students were asked to rate their agreement on a 5-point Likert scale of agreement to a series of broad questions about their online learning experience, some of which pertained to academic performance. When assessing the statement “My current online courses are more difficult than my past in-person courses,” 42% chose Strongly Agree or Agree, 32% chose Neither Agree nor Disagree, and 26% chose Disagree or Strongly Disagree. Respondents were also split on the statement “My academic performance has improved with online education,” which 28% agreed/strongly agreed with, 34% disagreed/strongly disagreed with, and 38% chose neither.

For the statement “I feel more able to manage my time effectively with online education than with in-person education,” only 34% agreed/strongly agreed with the statement while 45% disagreed/strongly disagreed and 21% chose neither. For the statement, “I feel that it is easier to deal with the pace of my course load with online education than with in-person education,” 30% of respondents agreed/strongly agreed, 54% disagreed/strongly disagreed, and 16% neither agreed nor disagreed.

Lecture Attendance by Class Type

Since the CAPE survey question regarding attendance did not specify asynchronous or synchronous attendance, students were asked on the survey created by the authors of this paper how often they attended and skipped certain types of lectures. In response to the question “During your last quarter of in-person classes, how often did you skip live, in-person lectures?,” 11% reported doing so often or always, 14% did so sometimes, and the remaining 74% did so rarely or never. The terms “Sometimes” and “Rarely” were not clarified to the respondents. This is the same scale and language used on the CAPE survey, however, which was a benefit to synthesizing and comparing this data with CAPEs. Meanwhile, for online classes, 35% reported skipping their live classes often or always, 23% did so sometimes, and 43% did so rarely or never.

Respondents were also asked about their recorded lectures, both in-person and online; while some courses at the institution are recorded and released in either audio or video form for students, most online synchronous lectures are recorded. When asked how often they watched recorded lectures instead of live lectures in-person, 12% of respondents said they did so often or always, 12% reported doing so sometimes, and 76% did so rarely or never. For online classes where recorded versions of live lectures were available, 47% of students reported watching the recorded version often or always, 21% did so sometimes, and 33% did so rarely or never.

Meanwhile, there were also some lectures during online learning that were offered only online (asynchronous), as opposed to being recorded versions of lectures that were delivered to students live over Zoom.

Students were asked questions about their lecture attendance for in-person learning pre-COVID and for online learning during the pandemic. On a 5 point Likert scale from Never to Always, 11% of students said they skipped “live, in-person lectures” in their courses pre-COVID Often or Always. On the same scale, 35% of respondents said they skipped live online lectures Often or Always. To assess the significance of these reports, we conducted a one-sided Mann–Whitney U test with the null hypothesis that the median frequency of students skipping live online lectures is greater than the median frequency of skipping live in-person lectures. Previous research suggesting that lecture attendance decreased after the COVID-19 transition motivated our alternative hypothesis that students would skip live online lectures more often ( Perets et al., 2020 ). The result was significant, meaning that this evidence suggests that students skip online lectures (Mdn = 3 “Sometimes”) more often than live in-person lectures (Mdn = 2 “Rarely”), U = 23328, p < 0.001. The results were also significant when a one-sided 2 sample t -test was performed to test if students were skipping online lectures ( M = 2.84, SD = 1.13) more often than they skipped in-person lectures ( M = 1.97, SD = 1.06), t (358.53) = 7.55, p < 0.001.

In order to clarify why students might be skipping lectures, we asked students how often they were using the recorded lecture options during in-person and online learning. 12% of respondents reported that they watched the recorded lecture “Often” or “Always” instead of attending the live lecture in-person while 47% of respondents said that they watched the recorded version of lecture, if it was offered, “Often” or “Always” rather than the live version during remote learning. When a one-sided Mann–Whitney U test was performed comparing the medians of students that utilized the recorded option during in-person classes (Mdn = 2 “Rarely”) and during online classes (Mdn = 3 “Sometimes”), the results were significant, suggesting that more students watch a recorded lecture version when it is offered during online classes, U = 6410, p < 0.001. The results are also significant with a t -test comparing the means of students that watched the recorded format during in-person classes ( M = 1.95, SD = 1.08) and during online classes ( M = 3.23, SD = 1.23), t (330.84) = –10.13, p < 0.001.

Students were asked how often they used course materials, such as a textbook or instructor provided notes and slideshows, rather than attending a live or recorded lecture to learn the necessary material. 10% of students said that they used course materials “Often” or “Always” during in-person learning while 19% of students said they used course materials “Often” or “Always” during online learning. The results were significant in a one-sided Mann–Whitney U test for the null hypothesis that the medians are equivalent for students using materials during in-person learning (Mdn = 1 “Never”) and during online learning (Mdn = 2 “Rarely”), U = 12644, p < 0.001. In other words, the evidence suggests that students use course materials instead of attending lectures more often when classes are online than when classes are in-person. A one-sided t -test also indicates that students during online learning ( M = 2.30, SD = 1.16) utilize provided materials instead of watching lecture to learn course material more often than students during in-person learning ( M = 1.76, SD = 1.03), t (364.55) = –4.72, p < 0.001.

Discussions are supplementary and sometimes mandatory classes to the lecture conducted by a teaching assistant. Students reported that during the last quarter of online classes the discussion sections tended to include synchronous live discussion instead of pre-recorded content (see Table 4 ).

Table 4. Distribution of survey responses to questions about non-mandatory discussion sections.

Reported Attendance and Engagement in Lecture

Students were asked to rate their agreement on the same 5-point Likert scale to a series of questions about their in-lecture attendance and engagement. When presented with the statement “I feel more comfortable asking questions in online classes than in in-person ones,” 56% of students agreed, 22% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 22% disagreed. Here, “agreed” includes strongly agree and disagree includes “strongly disagreed.” This was similar to the result for “I feel more comfortable answering questions in online classes than in in-person ones,” to which 56% agreed, 24% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 20% disagreed.

When students who had taken both in-person and online courses were directly asked about overall attendance of live lectures, with the statement “I attend more live lectures now that they are online than I did when lectures were in-person,” 12% agreed, 19% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 69% disagreed (with 32.5% selecting “Strongly disagree”).

Issues With Online Learning

Respondents were asked to indicate on a 5-point Likert frequency scale (Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, and Always) how often a series of possible issues affected their online learning. These are reported in Figure 2 . The most common technical issue was unreliable WiFi. 20% of students say unreliable WiFi happens “Often” or “Always,” 35% say this issue happens to them “Sometimes,” and 45% of students say unreliable WiFi affects their online learning “Never” or “Rarely.” The next common technological problem students face is unreliable devices. A poor physical environment affected students’ online learning for 32% of the respondents “Often” or “Always.” Issues with platforms, such as Gradescope, Canvas, and Zoom, were present but reported less often.

Figure 2. Prevalence of issues in online education among student survey respondents ( n = 187).

Course Structure

For a given possible intervention in course structure, students were asked how often their professors implemented the changes and to rate their opinion of the learning strategy. The examined changes were weekly quizzes, replacing exams with projects or other assignments, interactive polls or questions during lectures, breakout rooms within lectures, open-book or open-note exams, and optional or no-fault final exams – exams that will not count toward a student’s overall grade if their exam score does not help their grade.

Respondents’ reported frequencies of these interventions are displayed in Figure 3 , and their ratings of them are displayed in Figure 4 . In addition to being the most common intervention, open book exams were also the most popular intervention among students, with 89% of respondents reporting that they had a Good or Excellent opinion. Similarly popular were in-lecture polls, optional finals, and replacing exams with assignments, while breakout sessions had a slightly negative favorability.

Figure 3. Students’ reported frequencies of certain possible interventions in online learning.

Figure 4. Students’ reported approval of certain possible interventions in online learning.

Academic Tools and Resources

In the survey, students were asked to rate their agreement with the statement, “Online learning has made me more likely to use academic resources such as office hours, tutoring, or voluntary discussion sessions.” 42% of students agreed (includes “strongly agreed”), 23% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 35% disagreed (includes “strongly disagreed”). However, for the statement, “Difficulties accessing office hours or other academic resources have negatively interfered with my academic performance during online education,” 26% of students agreed/strongly agreed, 24% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 49% disagreed/strongly disagreed.

Respondents were asked to rate their opinion of various academic resources on a 5-point scale (Terrible, Poor, Average, Good, and Excellent) for both in-person and online classes ( Figures 5 , 6 ). The most notable change in rating was for the messaging platform Discord, which 67% of respondents saw as a Good or Excellent academic resource during online education, compared to 34% in in-person education. The learning management system Canvas also saw an increase in favorability, while favorability decreased for course discussions.

Figure 5. Students’ reported approval ratings of certain academic resources and tools when classes were in-person.

Figure 6. Students’ reported approval ratings of certain academic resources and tools when classes were online.

Respondents were asked to rate the frequency at which they and their professors turned their cameras on during lectures. 64% of students reported keeping their cameras on never or rarely, 29% reported keeping cameras on sometimes, and 6% of students reported keeping their cameras on often or always. Meanwhile, for professors, 58% of students reported that all of their professors kept their cameras on, 28% said most kept their cameras on, 9% said about half did so, and the remaining 5% said that some or none of their professors kept cameras on.

Personal Interaction

A lack of social interaction was among the largest complaints of students about online learning. 88% of respondents at least somewhat agreed with the statement “I feel less socially connected to my peers during online education than with in-person education.” When students were asked how often certain issues negatively impacted their online learning experience, 64% of respondents indicated that a lack of interaction with peers often or always impacted their learning experience, and 44% reported the same about a lack of instructor interaction.

When we asked students how they stay connected to their peers, 78.6% said that they stay connected to peers through student-run course forums, such as Discord, a messaging app that is designed to build communities of a common interest. 72.7% said they use personal communication, i.e., texting, with peers. 48.1% of students said they use faculty-run course forums, such as Piazza or Canvas. 45.5% of students surveyed keep in touch with peers through institution clubs and organizations. 29.4% of students selected that they use student-made study groups and 19.8% stay connected through their campus job.

Ratings of University Faculty and Staff

Students were asked to rate their opinion of various faculty and staff, by answering survey statements of the form “____ have been sufficiently accommodating of my academic needs and circumstances during online learning.” For instructors, 72% agreed/strongly agreed with this statement and 11% disagreed/strongly disagreed; for teaching assistants and course tutors, 81% agreed/strongly agreed, and only 2% disagreed/strongly disagreed. Meanwhile, for university administration, 39% of students agreed/strongly agreed, 34% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 26% disagreed/strongly disagreed.

Based on both the prior literature and this study, students seemed to struggle with engagement before the pandemic during in-person lectures, and it appears from the survey findings that students are struggling even more with engagement in online courses. A U.S. study investigating the teaching and learning experiences of instructors and students during the COVID-19 pandemic also found that when learning transitioned online, students’ main issue was engagement whereas prior to the pandemic the main issue for students was content ( Perets et al., 2020 ). The lack of peer connection and technological issues seem to be significant problems for students during online learning and could contribute to students’ issues with engagement. The problems with attention during an online lecture might be attributed to the lack of social accountability that an in-person lecture promotes to put away distractions like cell phones and taking active notes. Additionally, CAPE data shows that students rate their professors’ efforts and course design highly and similarly before and during Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. Although every course and professor has different requirements, creating collaborative opportunities and incorporating interactive features into lectures could be beneficial to student engagement.

For live lectures, the increase in students reporting skipping live online lectures more often may be due to the increase in availability and ease of recorded options with online lectures. A similar study to this research found that when the university transitioned to Pass/No Pass grading rather than letter grading during ERT, students attended synchronous lectures less ( Perets et al., 2020 ). During the pandemic, the institution’s deadline to change to P/NP grading was extended and more academic departments allowed Pass/No Pass classes to fulfill course requirements. In our study, we did not detect an increase in students who took advantage of the P/NP grading, but it is possible that students skipped more synchronous lectures knowing that they could use the Pass option as a safety net if they did not dedicate the typical amount of lecture time to learn the material. The results emphasize the vital role of the cognitive dimension in engagement.

It is clear that more students are taking advantage of recorded options with online learning. A survey of Harvard medical students indicates a preference for the recorded option because of the ability to increase the speed of the lecture video and prevent fatigue ( Cardall et al., 2008 ). Consistent with previous research, our results suggest that students may seek more value and time management options from course material when classes are fully online ( Perets et al., 2020 ). Recorded lectures allow freedom for students to learn at a time that works best for them ( Rae and McCarthy, 2017 ). For discussions, students reported that they had more discussions that were live rather than recorded. Research indicates that successful online learning requires strong instructor support ( Dixson, 2010 ; Martin and Bolliger, 2018 ). The smaller class setting of a discussion, even virtual, may promote better engagement through interaction among the students, content, and the discussion leader.

Based on CAPE results, which are conducted the week before final exams, students expected higher grades during the online learning period. Although expected grades rose, students concur with previous surveys that the workload was overwhelming and was not adequately adjusted to reflect the circumstances of ERT ( Hussein et al., 2020 ; Shin and Hickey, 2020 ). While there are many factors that could account for this, including the fact that expected grades reported on CAPE do not reflect a student’s actual grade, one possible explanatory factor is the use of more lenient grading standards and course practices during the pandemic. In addition to relaxed Pass/No Pass standards, courses were more likely to adopt practices like open-book tests or no-fault finals, providing students with assessments that emphasized a demonstration of deeper conceptual understanding rather than memorization. It is important to note that students’ perceptions of their learning does not indicate that students are actually learning or performing better academically. This goes for the CAPE question, “I learned a great deal from this course,” the CAPE question about expected grades, and the small scale survey reports about academic performance. We took interest in these questions because they offer insight into the level of difficulty students perceived during ERT due to the shift in engagement demands from remote learning. More research should be done with students’ academic performance data before and after ERT to clarify whether there was a change in students’ learning.

Students’ preference for using a virtual platform during lecture to ask, answer, and respond to questions was surprising. This extends previous evidence from Vu and Fadde (2013) , who found that, in a graduate design course at a Midwestern public university with both in-person and online students in the same lecture, students learning online were more likely to ask questions through a chat than students attending in-person lectures. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Castelli and Sarvary (2021) report that Zoom chat facilitates discussions for students, especially for those who may not have spoken in in-person classes.

When students were surveyed on the issues they faced with online learning, the most common issues had to do with engagement in lectures, interaction with instructors and peers, and having a poor physical work environment, while technical issues or issues with learning platforms were less common. The distinction between frequency and impact is key, since issues such as bad WiFi connection can be debilitating to online learning even if uncommon, and issues with technology and physical environment also correlate with equity concerns. Other surveys have found that students and faculty from equity-seeking groups faced more hardships during online learning because of increased home responsibilities and problems with internet access ( Chan et al., 2020 ; Shin and Hickey, 2020 ). Promoting student engagement in class involves more than well-planned teaching strategies. Instructors and universities need to look at the resources and accessibility of their class to reduce the digital divide.

According to the CAPE data from Table 2 , instructors received consistent reviews before and after the ERT switch, indicating that they maintained their effectiveness in teaching. The ratings for two CAPE prompts “Instructor is well prepared for class” and “Instructor starts and finishes class on time” had statistically significant decreases from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020. This decrease could be attributed to increased technological preparation needed for online courses and the variety of offerings for lecture modalities. For example, some instructors chose to offer a synchronous lecture at a different time than the original scheduled course time, and then provide office hours during their scheduled lecture time to discuss and review the lectures. Regardless of the statistically significant changes, the means for these two statements are high and similar to Fall 2019.

What Engagement Tools Are Being Utilized in Lectures and What do Students Think About Them?

Based on the results, a majority of students report that their professors are using weekly quizzes, breakout rooms, and polls at least sometimes in their classes to engage students. Students had highly positive ratings of in-course polling, were mostly neutral or positive about weekly quizzes (as a replacement for midterm or final exams), but were slightly negative about breakout rooms. Venton and Pompano (2021) report positive qualitative student feedback from students in chemistry classes at the University of Virginia, with some students finding it easier to speak up and make connections with peers than in an entire class; Fitzgibbons et al. (2021) , meanwhile, found in a sample of 15 students at the University of Rochester that students preferred working as a full class instead of in breakout rooms, though students did report making more peer connections in breakout rooms. Breakouts have potential to strengthen student-student and student-instructor relationships, but further research is needed to clarify their effectiveness.

Changes were also made to course structure, with almost all (94%) of students reporting that open-book exams were used at least sometimes. Open-book exams were also the most popular intervention overall, although the reason for their widespread adoption (academic integrity and fairness concerns) is likely different from the reasons that students like them (less focus on memorization). Open-book tests, however, present complications. Bailey et al. (2020) notes that while students still needed a good level of understanding to succeed on open-book exams, these exams were best suited to higher-order subjects without a unique, searchable answer.

Changes were detected in the responses to the CAPE statements, “Assignments promote learning,” “The course material is intellectually stimulating,” and “I learned a great deal from this course,” noted in Table 3 . Although there were statistically significant changes detected by the Mann–Whitney U Test, the means between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 are still similar and positive. The results from this table indicate that students felt that there was not a decrease in learning and interest in their material. This might be due to instructors changing the design of assessments and assignments to accommodate for academic integrity and modality circumstances in the online learning format. The consistently positive CAPE ratings are also likely due to the fact that students are aware that CAPEs are an important factor for the departments’ hiring and retention decisions for faculty, and subsequently important for their instructors’ careers. Students may have also recognized that most of the difficulties in the switch to online learning were not the instructors’ fault. Students’ sympathy for the challenges that instructors faced may be contributing to the slightly more positive reviews during Fall 2020.

One of the most common experiences reported by students was a decrease in interaction with peers, with a strong majority of students saying that a lack of peer interaction hurt their learning experience. A study from Central Michigan University shows that peer interaction through in class activities supports optimal active learning ( Linton et al., 2014 ). Without face-to-face learning and asynchronous classes during COVID, instructors were not able to conduct the same collaborative activities. When asked how students interacted with their peers, the most common responses were student-run course forums or texting. This seems to support the findings of Wong (2020) which indicated that during ERT, students largely halted their use of synchronous forms of communication and opted instead for asynchronous ones, like instant messaging, with possible impacts on students’ social development. Students also reported a decrease in interaction with their instructors with a plurality saying that a lack of access to their instructors affected their academic experience. At the same time, ratings of professors’ ability to accommodate for the issues students faced during online education were high, as were students’ ratings of online office hours. It seems that students sympathized with instructors’ difficulties in the ERT transition but were aware that the lack of instructor presence impacted their learning experience nonetheless.


There are some limitations in this study that should be considered before generalizing the results more widely. The survey was conducted at just a single university, UCSD: a large, highly-ranked, public research institution in the United States with its own unique approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. These results would likely differ significantly for online education at other universities. In addition, though care was taken to distribute the survey in channels used by all students, the voluntary response of students chosen from these channels does not constitute a simple random sample of undergraduates attending this institution. For example, our survey over-represents female students, who constituted 72.7% of the survey sample. The channels chosen could also bias certain results; for example, it is possible that students who answer online surveys released on the institution’s social media channels are less likely to have technical or Internet difficulties. Results from the small survey might be skewed slightly because respondents had to recall a year prior to their experiences in Fall 2019, whereas they might have had a more accurate memory of their Fall 2020 experience. CAPEs are completed at the end of the quarter when their recollection of their experiences is fresh, so those reviews are likely less susceptible to this unconscious bias.

The issues with sampling are somewhat mitigated in the CAPE data, but these responses are not themselves without issue. CAPE reviews are still a voluntary survey, and therefore are not a random sample of undergraduates. In addition, some instructors use extra credit to incentivize students to participate in CAPEs if the class meets a threshold percentage of responses, which might skew the population of respondents. CAPE responses tend to be relatively generous and positive, with students rating instructors and educational quality much higher in CAPE reviews than in our survey. This is possibly because the CAPE forms make it easy for students to report the most positive ratings on every item without considering them individually. Additionally, students are aware that CAPEs have an impact on the department’s decisions to rehire instructors.

Teaching Implications

Online learning presented multiple challenges for instructors and students, illuminating areas to improve in higher education that were not recognized before the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of students expressed their comfort in engaging with the Zoom chat and polling. Students might feel this way since they can ask and answer questions using the chat feature without disrupting the focus in class. Therefore, in both further online learning and in-person classes, instructors might be able to stimulate interaction by lowering the social barriers to asking and answering questions. Applications such as Backchannel Chat, Yo Teach!, and NowComment offer more features than Zoom or Google Meet to prevent fatigue and increase retention in-person or online ( LearnWeaver, 2014 ; Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 2018 ; Paul Allison, 2018 ).

At the same time, increased interactivity in lectures, especially if required, is not necessarily a panacea for engagement issues. For example, some professors might require students to turn on their cameras, increasing accountability and giving an incentive to visibly focus as if in an in-person classroom. However, Castelli and Sarvary (2021) found, as we did, that the majority of students in an introductory collegiate biology course kept their cameras off; students cited concerns about their appearance, other people being seen behind them, and weak internet connections as the most common reasons for not keeping cameras on. Not only are these understandable concerns, but they correlate with identity as well: Castelli and Sarvary found that both underrepresented minorities and women were more likely to indicate that they worried about cameras showing others their surroundings and the people behind them.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning was a choice. Our research demonstrates that online learning has a long way to go before it can be used in an equitable manner that creates an engaging environment for all students, but that instructors adapted well to ERT to ensure courses promoted the same level of learning. The sudden nature of remote learning during the COVID pandemic did not allow for instructors or institutions to research and promote the most engaging online learning resources. Students have widely varying opinions and experiences with their higher education online learning experience during the pandemic. Our data analysis shows that distance learning during the pandemic had a toll on attendance during live lecture and peer-instructor connection. The difference in expected grades from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020 indicates that students felt differently about their ability to succeed in their online classes. In addition, students had trouble managing work loads during online learning. We gathered that instructors could be using engagement strategies more often to match students’ enthusiasm for those strategies, such as chat features and polls. Despite the challenges of online learning highlighted, this research also presents evidence that online learning can be engaging for students with the right tools. Student reviews indicated similarity before and after the switch to online learning, including indicating that course assignments promoted learning and the material was intellectually stimulating. These results propose that the courses and professors, despite the modality switch and changes to teaching and assessment strategies, maintained the level of learning that students felt they were getting out of their course.

Data Availability Statement

The data supporting the conclusions of this article contains potentially identifiable information. The authors can remove this identifying information prior to sharing the data.

Author Contributions

BH contributed to this project through formal analysis, investigation, and writing. PN contributed to the project through formal analysis, investigation, visualization, and writing. LC contributed to conceptualization, resources, supervision, writing, review, and editing. SH-L contributed methodology, supervision, writing, review, and editing. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


We would like to acknowledge the Qualcomm Institute Learning Academy for supporting this project.

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Keywords : student engagement, undergraduate, online learning, in-person learning, remote instruction and teaching

Citation: Hollister B, Nair P, Hill-Lindsay S and Chukoskie L (2022) Engagement in Online Learning: Student Attitudes and Behavior During COVID-19. Front. Educ. 7:851019. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2022.851019

Received: 08 January 2022; Accepted: 11 April 2022; Published: 09 May 2022.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2022 Hollister, Nair, Hill-Lindsay and Chukoskie. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Brooke Hollister, [email protected]

† These authors share first authorship

Teaching in a pandemic: a comparative evaluation of online vs. face-to-face student outcome gains

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  • Volume 3 , article number  54 , ( 2024 )

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essay on online education during pandemic

  • Helen Onyeaka 1 ,
  • Paolo Passaretti 1 , 2 &
  • Jaimie Miller-Friedmann 3  

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced the education sector to transform significantly in order to support students across the world. Technology played a crucial role in enhancing and adapting traditional learning to digital resources and networks, which are now an essential component of education. However, there is concern about the quality of teaching and its effectiveness in remote teaching due to the lack of real-life feel of more traditional face-to-face education. Our study analysed two separate groups of students enrolled in the same course but provided with either face-to-face or remote teaching. The results show that there is no statistically significant difference in students’ performance or gain, even for laboratory work and resulting reports. However, there was a statistically significant difference in Turnitin scores between these groups, with the remote students having higher levels of plagiarism compared to the traditional face-to-face students. These results support the theory that remote teaching can be a valid alternative, if not a substitute, to face-to-face teaching in the future. The study’s findings are expected to help instructors who are thinking about providing programs through blended learning in the post-pandemic era.

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1 Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the world. One of the sectors that has experienced a significant transformation in higher education [ 1 , 2 ]. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation necessitated a drastic change to digitalization in education worldwide [ 1 ]. The profound effects of the pandemic on students have not yet been fully realized, but short-term ramifications include an inability to socialize or work in groups, no access to campus-based classrooms or laboratories, and a cessation of ‘normal’ university life [ 3 , 4 ]. Whilst a wide array of technological advances has given educators the opportunity to engage in non-traditional classroom techniques, the COVID-19 pandemic required educators to learn online pedagogical methods and to quickly adjust to the ‘new normal’ [ 5 ]. For most people, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns were unique experiences, however, permanently changed the nature of how we work and learn, by proving that working and learning from home are viable alternatives to attending classes or meetings in person. Even now, as the threat of the pandemic abates, hybrid teaching and learning has become a necessary tool in pedagogical content knowledge [ 4 ]. Online and hybrid pedagogies are not necessarily new concepts, but they are novel in the context of normative university education, and especially with regard to courses that require practical application of conceptual learning, like laboratories [ 6 , 7 ]. During the lockdown, educators were forced to shift their teaching online, often without any training or understanding of how the delivery of content must change [ 5 , 8 , 9 ]. Of particular concern to science educators in higher education was how laboratory techniques could possibly be taught without hands-on learning. These concerns were additional to traditional issues in teaching science, like the possibility of plagiarism, or a student falling behind in classwork. Therefore, it is crucial to understand whether there are significant differences in conceptual gains between students who attend lecture/laboratory courses in a face-to-face (F2F) format versus those who attend virtually. To address this question, we studied the conceptual gains of F2F and remotely connected students enrolled in the same course by comparing their final exam, lab report and Turnitin scores of all students.

2 Literature review

A variety of technologies have enabled us to enhance and adapt traditional learning approaches with computer-based resources [ 10 ]. Educators have been encouraged to develop technology-based learning media capable of meeting school curricula and national standards [ 11 ]. The utilization of the latest available technologies, such as cloud servers, 3D printing, Augmented Reality (AR), Smartboards, Video conferencing, FlipGrid, Hybrid Learning and Adaptive Learning Platforms, in science education has been widely applauded as innovative [ 12 , 13 ]. However, most of the scholarly work on technology use in science education was studied or published prior to the pandemic, and many of these studies fold technology into traditional classroom teaching. The pandemic has created an immediacy for robust studies that prove the efficacy of fully online and hybrid science education.

Whilst some educators have been concerned about plagiarism rates and how online education may affect these rates, Ison [ 14 ] debunked the myth that online institutions and learning methods contributed to the prevalence of plagiarism. The study proved that traditional schools had more extreme cases of plagiarism compared to online institutions. Four years later, Ison published a paper on differences in plagiarism between world cultures, in which he showed that Western European students (including those in the UK) plagiarise far less frequently than their counterparts in India and China [ 15 ]. In this paper, he notes that cultural differences account for some of what would be considered plagiarism in the UK,i.e., ‘significant differences were found to exist between Chinese and Western scholars in their perceived requirement to acknowledge authorship of source documents’ [ 15 ]. Turnitin also needs to be considered for what it actually does, as a program, although most universities now require its use in grading as a shortcut to sorting out plagiarised from original papers. A recent study by Gallant, et al., describes the use of Turnitin in determining the originality of laboratory reports,this study found that most of the text flagged by Turnitin was reworded from the textbook, and could not be described as plagiarism (Gallant et al. 2019). Lab experiments are an intrinsic part of science education, and recreating the lab experience online has proved to be a popular challenge [ 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 ]. Several distinct factors such as reduction in equipment needs, availability at any time from anywhere, and the opportunity for students to learn at their own pace while exploring difficult or interesting concepts, have been highlighted as benefits of using virtual experiments in education [ 21 ]. These virtual laboratory sessions can be utilized by both undergraduate and postgraduate students as lab sessions follow the same principles and only vary in complexity depending on the level of studies [ 22 , 23 ]. However, opinions on how to use virtual experiments in science and their impact on students’ learning outcomes have largely varied. In a review of recent advances, it was reported that students attain a deeper understanding of science when virtual labs are combined with real hands-on labs [ 20 ] and are shown to increase students' grasp of key laboratory techniques [ 24 ]. For instance, virtual labs have been used to carry out dangerous experiments or experiments impossible in real-life situations [ 25 ].

The responses of students to online labs in published literature reflect negative concerns. In a survey done to assess the experience of students who had participated in an online lab exercise, students lamented over missing out on specific lab activities they had long anticipated they would have participated in person. A major concern raised was the lack of access to their lab instructor during the exercise, although the instructor’s e-mail was readily available to the students [ 26 ]. Scheckler [ 10 ] asserted that the virtual lab experience removes participants from the reality of the physical lab, where specimens can be handled physically. Another negative aspect of online labs is the inherent technical problems such as website failure, access to the internet, use of specific technological tools and applications to access the lab, as well as accuracy and continued existence of hyperlinks associated with online labs glossary [ 10 ].

Overall feedback in published literature from students and attitudes towards virtual education has been positive. Students' reception of virtual laboratories has been positive [ 27 ] and they highlighted instant feedback, flexible access, and test–retest reliability as the major benefits of virtual education [ 28 , 29 , 30 ]. Similarly, students have reported increased engagement with laboratory materials and quizzes and knowledge progression during virtual labs in comparison to prior physical laboratory experiences [ 31 ]. Although virtual education has the potential to revolutionize face-to-face (F2F) learning and teaching in higher institutions [ 12 , 13 , 29 ], it has been criticized for lacking real-life feel that face-to-face education offers. Research has shown that face-to-face education plays a critical role in education, especially in science education [ 32 , 33 ]. It has been hypothesized that with augmented reality, sensorial devices, live videos, and interactive videos, technologies used for virtual education can be improved to have a life-like experience while retaining all the benefits a virtual education offers [ 34 ].

From a technological standpoint, introducing virtual learning technology into the education process demands modifications of the existing protocols present in the traditional learning approach [ 11 , 25 , 35 ]. For instance, to input new learning content, educators must at least understand the underlying technology behind virtual learning technology [ 11 , 25 , 35 ]. This has shown to be particularly challenging as creating realistic virtual models of objects requires cooperation between experts on respective subjects and highly skilled programmers and graphic designers [ 11 , 25 , 35 , 36 ]. To be most effective in bringing a traditional science course online, teachers must be trained in the newest technologies and have the time to create the necessary resources to make their virtual courses as successful as their face-to-face teaching.

While it is reasonable to be excited about all the innovative technologies revolutionizing education, it is essential to carefully consider whether virtual education is genuinely beneficial to students’ learning. Several studies have attempted to evaluate the specific benefits of virtual education, particularly virtual labs [ 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 ]. The effectiveness of student learning in both virtual and face-to-face education (laboratory learning activities) have produced contradictory results [ 36 , 37 ], often due to the lack of a control group. Utilizing control groups to evaluate students’ performance in virtual and face-to-face education has produced contrasting results. For example, an investigation that utilized control groups suggested no significant differences in students’ performance in two learning formats, such as traditional and stimulated lab [ 36 ]. On the other hand, another study with a higher sample size proposed that virtual education significantly improved students’ learning outcome gains [ 39 ]. Other studies have also evaluated the benefits of utilizing virtual education in lecturing, assessment, and quizzes [ 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 ]. The emerging picture suggests there were positive achievements in students’ gains with regard to the classroom, but not laboratory work. Interestingly, these outcome gains were independent of class size and subject, and similar gains were achieved with the use of technology and non-technology-dependent techniques [ 39 , 40 , 41 ].

However, significant disagreement exists among science educators regarding the means and purpose of the laboratory component in science courses [ 36 , 37 ]. This varying opinion has become the single biggest factor in the debate regarding the efficacy of non-traditional learning versus traditional learning [ 16 , 18 ]. In a meta-analysis study of trends in virtual and traditional learning, it was revealed that before 2002, less than 70% of the published studies favored online education, while in studies published after 2003, 84% of the studies favored online education [ 43 ]. When focusing on empirical studies after 2005, there is a similar trend regarding favorability and support for virtual and remote learning. The majority of studies reviewed claimed that students’ outcome gains in virtual education were equal to or greater than achievement in face-to-face education [ 44 ].

Not only has virtual education become more prevalent in recent times, but it has also made it easier to accommodate and manage the increasing numbers of students enrolling in undergraduate and graduate programs [ 2 , 11 ]. In a similar vein, the need to find alternative means of instructing students and assessing students’ performance has increased, as one teacher is insufficient to meet the needs of so many students [ 45 ]. Most significantly, there is also a need to ensure that these alternative means have the same effects and outcomes as attained in the face-to-face (F2F) methods of teaching, learning, and assessment, in light of the recent pandemic.

Our study aims to compare two education models in terms of student learning outcomes. Specifically, we compared groups of students, one receiving the lecturer completely virtual and the other attending the class in a traditional face-to-face (F2F) fashion. The study’s findings are expected to aid instructors who are contemplating providing programs using blended learning in the post-pandemic period.

3.1 Teaching module overview

This study is based on the teaching module named “Food and Microbes” of the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, class 2020/21. This module revolves around the current and existing knowledge of food microbiology, introducing students to the basic concepts of epidemiology and the control of infectious diseases, as well as factors affecting food spoilage, the survival of pathogens and the association of specific microbes with certain foods. A variety of teaching methods are employed in this teaching module. Although most of the course is delivered in lecture format, in practice this includes a mixture of formal teaching, case studies, practical exercises, and a laboratory practical. A feature of the course is the inter-relationship between pure and applied microbiology and its application to industrial processes and the understanding of food safety.

3.2 Participants

The 2020/21 class was composed of 30 postgraduate students. Due to the number of students (80% Chinese, 10% British, and the rest from Africa and America) and the experimental nature of the comparative groups, we consider this to be a case study. While 18 students could attend the lecture in person, the remaining 12 students were enrolled from China, and could not travel to the UK to attend the course due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Therefore, the two groups were named face-to-face (F2F) and Remote, respectively. These circumstances forced the teaching sector to adjust and adapt the teaching approach, as well as students’ learning. Moreover, we considered these conditions ideal to record all possible information and compare the teaching and learning between the two groups. In this case, while F2F students were able to attend the class in person, the Remote group was attending the lecture from China via Zoom streaming. For the scope of this study, there was no further categorization (i.e. nationality, gender, etc.) of the students involved. The lecture was streamed live so that all students were participating at the same time. Moreover, all students had access to the teaching material on a dedicated Canvas page. Canvas is a popular learning management system (LMS) used by many universities and educational institutions around the world. It provides a platform for instructors to manage course materials, assignments, quizzes, discussions, and grades, while also offering students a centralized place to access course content, submit assignments, communicate with instructors and peers, and track their progress. Canvas is known for its user-friendly interface and robust features, making it a widely adopted choice in higher education. During the course, all the students participated in the formative quizzes, lab report and final assessment. All marks were uploaded on the Canvas page, which facilitated the collection of the data used for this study.

3.3 Data collection and analysis

We employed a quantitative analysis approach to evaluate the educational outcomes of online vs. face-to-face teaching methods. Data were collected through formative quizzes, summative lab reports, and final exams, and analyzed using independent sample t-test to compare the mean scores of the two independent groups (F2F and Remote) across different assessments. The choice of t-tests is appropriate for comparing the means of two groups when the data are assumed to be normally distributed.

The data of F2F and Remote students employed in this study were stored on the Canvas page of the course and collected through the tutor account. Data were exported and organised in an Excel spreadsheet. Subsequently, data were analysed with Prism GraphPad 9 software. Multiple comparisons with independent sample t-tests were performed. Levene’s test was performed using the average scores of quizzes, final exams, lab reports, and Turnitin scores for both F2F and Remote groups to assess the equality of variances. The test is used to assess the assumption of equal variances between the two groups, which is a necessary condition for conducting independent sample t-tests. Statistical significance was set at p < 0.05. In our analysis, we focused on comparing average scores, median values, and standard deviations (SD) across different assessments (quizzes, final exams, and lab reports) between face-to-face (F2F) and remote learning groups. A two-way ANOVA was conducted to explore the interaction effects between the type of learning and student performance metrics. This was utilized to examine the interaction effects between the type of learning delivery (F2F vs. Remote) and the students' performance metrics across different assessments. This approach helps to understand if the mode of delivery impacts the outcome variables.

The exam was conducted online by all students due to COVID-19 restrictions. The exam was timed and consisted mostly of open-ended questions to minimize the possibility of copying and pasting from external sources. Furthermore, question pools were utilised and set to randomise questions, ensuring that students do not answer a uniform set of questions. Students were given clear instructions on how to access the exam and how much time they had to complete it. The exam format and questions were reviewed by the instructors to ensure that they were relevant to the course content and could effectively assess student knowledge and understanding. In addition, Turnitin was used to check for instances of plagiarism, improper citation, or unoriginal content in student submissions. This software provides a similarity score indicating the percentage of text in the document that matches existing sources. This helps instructors ensure academic integrity and promote originality in student work. To ensure that the exam is taken by the students themselves and not a proxy, all students were mandated to join an exam Zoom meeting, leave their cameras on, but be muted throughout the duration of the exam.

3.4 Ethical considerations

While no formal approval was required due to the nature of the study, we followed strict protocols to ensure participant privacy and obtained informed consent from all students involved. Data anonymization was rigorously implemented; personal identifiers were replaced with unique codes, and demographic details that could potentially reveal participant identity were carefully obscured. The handling of data was conducted with utmost security—stored on encrypted servers with access strictly limited to authorized personnel, and secure protocols were employed for any data transfer. Informed consent was vital to each of the participant engagement process as they were thoroughly briefed about the study's aims, methods, and their rights, ensuring they understood their participation was entirely voluntary and could be withdrawn at any time.

The students attending the module, “Food and Microbes”, were split into two groups based on the type of enrolment, F2F or Remote. During the course, both groups of students were marked via numerous formative quizzes to test their improvement, and then evaluated via a summative lab report and final exam. Two-way between group ANOVAs were conducted on each of these outcome scores—quiz average, summative laboratory report, and final exam—to determine whether there were differences in learning between online and F2F learning groups. In addition, the Turnitin score that is automatically provided by the application Turnitin was analysed to assess the degree to which online students vs. F2F students rely on plagiarism to complete their assignments. These data are presented in Table  1 :

The lab report and the final exam marks shown in Table  1 are the most important since they are essential to pass the class; students must score at least 50% to pass. For quizzes, F2F students had an average score of 83.52 with an SD of 11.26, while Remote students scored an average of 80.18 with an SD of 11.49. The difference was not statistically significant (p > 0.05). The lab report score average for F2F and Remote students was 61% and 65%, respectively. The average score for F2F students was 61.11 (SD = 16.50), and for Remote students, it was 64.67 (SD = 10.44). The difference in scores was not statistically significant (p > 0.05). The final exam score had similar results, with F2F students scoring an average of 79% and Remote students 75%. F2F students achieved an average score of 79.11 (SD = 10.55), compared to Remote students who scored an average of 74.61 (SD = 13.19), again showing no significant difference (p > 0.05). These scores were not significantly different. A notable finding was the difference in Turnitin scores, with F2F students averaging 26.72 (SD = 8.34) and Remote students 40.67 (SD = 8.36), indicating a significant difference (p < 0.05). F2F students have a much higher variance of the data and a statistically significant difference from online students in their Turnitin score. The Turnitin score calculated for the lab report shows a significant difference between the two groups of students. In particular, students attending virtually seem to have a higher level of plagiarism compared to the F2F. Both groups were also subject to several quizzes at the end of each section of this teaching module. Although F2F seems to have a slightly higher score on average, there is no significant difference between the two groups.

4.1 Correlation analysis

The correlation coefficient ranges from − 1 to 1, with values closer to − 1 indicating a strong negative correlation, values closer to 1 indicating a strong positive correlation, and values close to 0 indicating no correlation. From the correlation matrix, we can see that Lab Mark has a strong positive correlation with Exam Score (r = 0.862) suggesting that students who perform well in lab activities tend to score well in the final exam. This implies a consistency in performance across different types of assessments and a weak negative correlation with Turnitin score (r = − 0.199). This weak negative correlation (r = − 0.199) indicates that higher lab scores are slightly associated with lower plagiarism scores. This could suggest that students who engage more authentically with their lab work may be less likely to plagiarize. Turnitin score has a weak negative correlation with Exam Score (r = − 0.239). The weak negative correlation (r = − 0.239) implies that higher instances of plagiarism do not necessarily correlate with higher exam scores, suggesting that plagiarism may not benefit overall student performance. The results suggest that there is a positive correlation between Lab Mark and Exam Score, meaning that students who performed well in the lab also tended to perform well on the exam. However, there is a weak negative correlation between Lab Mark and Turnitin score, indicating that students who performed better in the lab tended to have lower Turnitin scores. The weak negative correlation between Turnitin score and Exam Score suggests that higher Turnitin scores may not necessarily be associated with better exam performance.

4.2 Levene’s test results

The F2F assessment had a mean score of 83.52 when conducted F2F and 79.11 when conducted remotely. The Remote assessment had a mean score of 80.18 when conducted F2F and 74.61 when conducted remotely. These results suggest that the scores were generally higher when the assessments were conducted face-to-face compared to remotely (Table  2 ).

Levene’s test for equality of variances yielded a statistic of 0.397 with a p-value of 0.552. As the Levene's test statistic is 0.397, the value represents the magnitude of the difference in variances between the two groups. A smaller value indicates a smaller difference in variances, suggesting that the assumption of equal variances may hold. As the p-value is greater than 0.05, we fail to reject the null hypothesis, suggesting no significant difference in variances between the F2F and Remote groups. Therefore, the assumption of equal variances holds, validating the use of parametric tests for further statistical analysis.

5 Discussion

The statistical analysis indicates that there were no significant differences in between the F2F and Remote students’ performances on quizzes, the final exam and final laboratory report scores, except for the plagiarism scores. This outcome suggests that remote learning can be as effective as traditional classroom settings in terms of student academic performance. However, the higher plagiarism scores in the Remote group suggest that academic integrity could be a concern that needs to be addressed more rigorously in remote learning environments. The data suggest that there is no statistically significant difference between face-to-face and virtual delivery methods in terms of final marks in the Food and Microbes course. This indicates that virtual teaching could be employed as an alternative or even as the main approach to teaching. However, further research is needed to investigate the effectiveness of virtual teaching on students' well-being and other factors that may affect learning outcomes.

These findings are similar to the study of [ 36 ] which reported no significant difference between performances in a traditional and stimulated food chemistry lab. However, their study only focused on laboratory classes (a traditional hands-on lab and a simulated lab), whereas our study evaluated formal teaching, quizzes and laboratory practical classes. The only significant difference found between these two groups is in the Turnitin score, which implies that Remote students had copied more. Overall, both groups obtained higher marks on quizzes and the final exam, compared to the final lab report. This provides information about the impact of the examination modality. While quizzes and final exams are characterised by multiple-choice questions, the lab report must be written from the ground up. Students are provided with a standard template and general information about how to structure the report and what key information needs to be included. The lower score in lab reports obtained by both groups suggests that this examination modality can be more difficult for students. This could be due to the fact that students are more experienced in learning concepts and providing answers to specific questions, rather than structuring a scientific report. The latter cannot be easily drafted just by knowing the scientific concepts learned during the course. Instead, to write a report it is also necessary to analyse data, organise them logically and comprehensively, as well as writing all the sections ab initio. The lack of significant differences in academic performance between F2F and Remote groups supports the viability of remote learning as a comparable alternative to traditional classroom settings. The significant difference in Turnitin scores points to the need for enhanced strategies to promote academic integrity in remote learning environments. Institutions may need to implement more rigorous checks and balances or provide more education on academic ethics. The strong correlation between lab and exam performance underscores the importance of hands-on activities, even in a virtual environment. Educators should strive to integrate practical, application-based tasks into the curriculum to improve learning outcomes. The slight negative correlation between lab performance and plagiarism indicates that students who are more engaged with coursework may be less inclined to plagiarize. This suggests a need for personalized learning paths and support to enhance engagement and reduce academic dishonesty.

The Turnitin score associated with the lab report is a plagiarism indicator. Higher scores correspond to a high percentage of plagiarised text. In our analysis of Turnitin scores, we recognize that these metrics represent the degree of text similarity rather than direct evidence of plagiarism. Turnitin’s functionality as a similarity checking tool does not definitively distinguish between instances of properly cited work and plagiarized content. Therefore, while higher Turnitin scores observed in remote students suggest increased similarity, this should not be automatically equated with academic dishonesty. It is essential to consider the context of each similarity instance identified by Turnitin to make informed judgments about academic integrity. It is interesting to note that although students are not supervised while writing the lab reports, there is a statistically significant difference between F2F and Remote. This might be indirectly related to the longer distance between students and the institution. Being far away from the university could impact how students are committed to studying, increasing the tendency to copy rather than write lab reports on their own. We can speculate that this could be due to a weaker personal relationship with the lecturer. F2F have a direct and personal interaction with the lecturer, who they might not want to disappoint with a plagiarised report. On the other hand, Remote students might perceive the lecturer just as a virtual tutor, so they do not feel to create any kind of social connection. However, the differences in the Turnitin score could also be unrelated to the remote study approach and be due to other factors not measurable via this study. For example, students' nationality could have played a significant role in this context. As discussed earlier, the Ison study showed that students in China have a different point of view both to plagiarism itself and to those acts which could be considered plagiarism [ 15 ]. The entire online group consisted of Chinese students, and so the reasons discussed in Ison’s paper for plagiarism may apply to this cohort. In addition, other literature notes that Turnitin, whilst useful, tracks similarity, rather than plagiarism. Laboratory reports, as noted by the Gallant, et al., study, will have similarities due to the fact that certain sections of a laboratory report are essentially the same for all students (e.g., method) [ 46 ]. The influence of cultural and educational backgrounds on Turnitin scores warrants consideration, as highlighted by studies like [ 15 ]. Cultural perspectives towards academic writing and citation practices, particularly evident in diverse student populations, can significantly impact Turnitin similarity scores. For instance, in cultures where collective knowledge is valued, there may be a different approach to citing sources and conceptualizing plagiarism. Educational systems also play a role, with variations in emphasis on originality versus collective learning affecting students' writing practices. Therefore, observed differences in Turnitin scores between face-to-face (F2F) and remote students may stem from deeper cultural and educational influences rather than just physical distance. Instructors should recognize and accommodate these diverse perspectives, providing tailored support to foster academic integrity while respecting cultural differences in writing and citation norms. It is important to highlight that similarity scores are not definitive evidence of plagiarism on their own. Instructors need to review the highlighted similarities in context to determine whether they represent legitimate citations, quotations, or instances of improper copying. Additionally, some types of assignments, such as research papers, may naturally have higher similarity scores due to the inclusion of properly cited external sources. The teaching and learning methods described so far are not equal, however, our results show that they can be considered equivalent. Excluding the differences found for the plagiarism, both groups performed equivalently, demonstrating that it is possible to successfully teach and learn a scientific laboratory course remotely. Our study is limited to a specific subject and number of students. It is therefore necessary to study the effect of remote laboratory learning on a larger group and confirm our findings. Moreover, it would be interesting to compare our study with similar approaches in different subjects spanning across human sciences (i.e., history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, etc.) and more analytical subjects (i.e., mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc.).

Remote teaching is not something completely new. Even before the pandemic, many universities were offering 100% online courses, but the pandemic forced schools and universities to accelerate their intentions and improve the teaching methodologies and technologies related to remote teaching. This approach has already shown numerous advantages compared to traditional teaching, such as the possibility of delivering a lecture to a larger number of students without the need for a larger classroom, giving the possibility to students to learn from the most talented and awarded Professors, as well as studying with other students who are far away, without travel. Moreover, students have more flexibility in the way they learn due to the possibility of re-watching recorded lectures, saving the cost of transport to attend university lectures and labs, as well as a reduction in energy costs for the university infrastructures. One of the key challenges encountered during the remote teaching of this course was maintaining student engagement and active participation in the online learning environment. As highlighted by [ 47 ], student engagement is crucial for academic performance in e-learning settings. To mitigate this challenge, we employed several strategies drawn from the literature and our own experiences. Firstly, we intentionally designed interactive learning activities that fostered active student contribution, as emphasized by Rajabalee et al. [ 48 ]. These activities included online discussions, collaborative projects, and opportunities for peer feedback, which have been shown to positively impact student engagement and overall performance in online courses. Secondly, we focused on enhancing learner satisfaction by providing clear communication, prompt feedback, and easily accessible support resources. Rajabalee and Santally [ 49 ] underscore the importance of learner satisfaction in promoting engagement and performance in online modules. We maintained regular communication through multiple channels, offered timely feedback on assignments and queries, and curated a comprehensive set of online resources for students to refer to at their convenience.

Despite these efforts, we acknowledge that the remote learning experience may have presented additional challenges, such as technical difficulties, feelings of isolation, or distractions in home environments. Continuous monitoring, adaptation, and open communication with students were crucial in identifying and addressing these challenges as they arose. By implementing strategies to foster engagement, active contribution, learner satisfaction, and open communication, we aimed to create an effective and supportive online learning environment.

6 Conclusion

According to our study, there is no statistically significant difference between F2F and Remote students’ final marks at the end of the Food and Microbes course that we reported. Therefore, this is an indication that virtual teaching could be employed as an alternative or even as the main approach to teaching. This case study provided important information about the effectiveness of remote teaching in a postgraduate laboratory course. Although the Turnitin score for the two groups significantly differs, the score may not give a definitive understanding of the two groups of students' approach to plagiarism as the Turnitin tool detects only textual plagiarism. Also, the limited number of students involved limits our conclusions. It is important to extend the study to a larger group of students, testing the effects of the same course and its two delivery methods on learning and student performance. This could help to refine the results and provide more insights to improve the remote teaching strategies currently in place.

The Coronavirus pandemic strongly impacted on education at any level. This gave the chance to reshape the approaches to teach, particularly via remote teaching. Although the latter was already known and widely employed by universities and the private sector, the pandemic forced the education sector to rapidly improve and employ the currently available technologies to guarantee the best teaching quality possible. However, to assess whether remote teaching can be considered a viable and robust alternative to F2F, it is still necessary to further investigate its effectiveness on students’ performances as well as students’ well-being.

7 Future research

While the current study was limited to quantitative analysis due to pandemic-related constraints, future research will aim to incorporate qualitative methods such as interviews, focus groups, and possibly case studies in subsequent studies. This will allow for a more holistic evaluation of the educational approaches by capturing the intricacies of student experiences and perceptions that are not readily quantifiable. We believe that integrating both quantitative and qualitative data will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of different teaching modalities.

Furthermore, future research on diversifying assessment techniques holds the promise of enriching our understanding of student learning and engagement. By incorporating a broader spectrum of assessment methods, including formative assessments, project-based assessments, and peer evaluations, educators can gain deeper insights into the multifaceted nature of student progress. Formative assessments offer real-time feedback, allowing for adjustments in teaching strategies and student learning approaches. Project-based assessments encourage practical application of knowledge, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Peer evaluations promote collaborative learning and self-reflection, essential components of a comprehensive educational experience. Such research could explore the impact of these diverse assessment methods on student motivation, retention of knowledge, and overall academic success.

In the future we would like to explore additional factors influencing student performance in online and face-to-face settings, such as access to resources, level of support provided, and the nature of assessments, providing valuable insights into optimizing remote teaching strategies. Furthermore, conducting longitudinal studies to assess the long-term effects of remote learning on student outcomes and well-being would contribute significantly to understanding the sustainability and efficacy of remote education. Also, future studies could expand the scope by including multiple cohorts or institutions to increase the sample size and enhance the generalizability of the findings. We also aim to explore avenues for responsibly sharing data while protecting participant privacy and adhering to ethical guidelines. This would enhance the reproducibility of our findings and foster collaborative efforts within the research community.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are not openly available due to reasons of sensitivity and are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Student Opinion

Is Online Learning Effective?

A new report found that the heavy dependence on technology during the pandemic caused “staggering” education inequality. What was your experience?

A young man in a gray hooded shirt watches a computer screen on a desk.

By Natalie Proulx

During the coronavirus pandemic, many schools moved classes online. Was your school one of them? If so, what was it like to attend school online? Did you enjoy it? Did it work for you?

In “ Dependence on Tech Caused ‘Staggering’ Education Inequality, U.N. Agency Says ,” Natasha Singer writes:

In early 2020, as the coronavirus spread, schools around the world abruptly halted in-person education. To many governments and parents, moving classes online seemed the obvious stopgap solution. In the United States, school districts scrambled to secure digital devices for students. Almost overnight, videoconferencing software like Zoom became the main platform teachers used to deliver real-time instruction to students at home. Now a report from UNESCO , the United Nations’ educational and cultural organization, says that overreliance on remote learning technology during the pandemic led to “staggering” education inequality around the world. It was, according to a 655-page report that UNESCO released on Wednesday, a worldwide “ed-tech tragedy.” The report, from UNESCO’s Future of Education division, is likely to add fuel to the debate over how governments and local school districts handled pandemic restrictions, and whether it would have been better for some countries to reopen schools for in-person instruction sooner. The UNESCO researchers argued in the report that “unprecedented” dependence on technology — intended to ensure that children could continue their schooling — worsened disparities and learning loss for hundreds of millions of students around the world, including in Kenya, Brazil, Britain and the United States. The promotion of remote online learning as the primary solution for pandemic schooling also hindered public discussion of more equitable, lower-tech alternatives, such as regularly providing schoolwork packets for every student, delivering school lessons by radio or television — and reopening schools sooner for in-person classes, the researchers said. “Available evidence strongly indicates that the bright spots of the ed-tech experiences during the pandemic, while important and deserving of attention, were vastly eclipsed by failure,” the UNESCO report said. The UNESCO researchers recommended that education officials prioritize in-person instruction with teachers, not online platforms, as the primary driver of student learning. And they encouraged schools to ensure that emerging technologies like A.I. chatbots concretely benefited students before introducing them for educational use. Education and industry experts welcomed the report, saying more research on the effects of pandemic learning was needed. “The report’s conclusion — that societies must be vigilant about the ways digital tools are reshaping education — is incredibly important,” said Paul Lekas, the head of global public policy for the Software & Information Industry Association, a group whose members include Amazon, Apple and Google. “There are lots of lessons that can be learned from how digital education occurred during the pandemic and ways in which to lessen the digital divide. ” Jean-Claude Brizard, the chief executive of Digital Promise, a nonprofit education group that has received funding from Google, HP and Verizon, acknowledged that “technology is not a cure-all.” But he also said that while school systems were largely unprepared for the pandemic, online education tools helped foster “more individualized, enhanced learning experiences as schools shifted to virtual classrooms.” ​Education International, an umbrella organization for about 380 teachers’ unions and 32 million teachers worldwide, said the UNESCO report underlined the importance of in-person, face-to-face teaching. “The report tells us definitively what we already know to be true, a place called school matters,” said Haldis Holst, the group’s deputy general secretary. “Education is not transactional nor is it simply content delivery. It is relational. It is social. It is human at its core.”

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

What findings from the report, if any, surprised you? If you participated in online learning during the pandemic, what in the report reflected your experience? If the researchers had asked you about what remote learning was like for you, what would you have told them?

At this point, most schools have returned to in-person teaching, but many still use technology in the classroom. How much tech is involved in your day-to-day education? Does this method of learning work well for you? If you had a say, would you want to spend more or less time online while in school?

What are some of the biggest benefits you have seen from technology when it comes to your education? What are some of the biggest drawbacks?

Haldis Holst, UNESCO’s deputy general secretary, said: “The report tells us definitively what we already know to be true, a place called school matters. Education is not transactional nor is it simply content delivery. It is relational. It is social. It is human at its core.” What is your reaction to that statement? Do you agree? Why or why not?

As a student, what advice would you give to schools that are already using or are considering using educational technology?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

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Natalie Proulx joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2017 after working as an English language arts teacher and curriculum writer. More about Natalie Proulx

Online Learning During the Pandemic

Today’s rapid shift in the traditional patterns of social lifestyle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has resulted in the necessity to define possible approaches to living a full-scale life while respecting the need for social distancing. Thus, one of the major challenges in the context was to define the patterns of work and education process during the global lockdown. When it comes to the notion of education, the process of online learning has become a salvation to the problem of education access and efficiency. The definition of online learning stands for an umbrella term that encompasses a series of machine-learning techniques that allow learners to acquire relevant knowledge with the help of technology in a certain sequence [1]. Although the process of online learning has become widely popular due to an ongoing emergency, the term genesis can be traced back to decades prior to COVID-19, as machine learning is also regarded as a scientific outbreak besides being an urgent problem solution [2]. Thus, once the necessity of technological intervention in education became an absolute necessity, there had already been a variety of devices and software applications to implement.

Over the times of the pandemic, the concept of educational technology (EdTech) has become widely popular with software developers and investors. In fact, EdTech, despite a relatively long existence in the market, has now introduced a variety of software applications like Classplus and Edmingle that would facilitate the process of education in both developing and developed countries [3]. Moreover, the already existing educational sources powered by Microsoft and Google are also of great efficiency for today’s learners, as their plain yet efficient design helps students accommodate quickly to the process. Hence, taking everything into consideration, it might be concluded that the process for online education that was rapidly facilitated by a pandemic outbreak is likely to develop greatly over the next few years, creating a full-scale competition for conventional patterns of learning.

S. C. H. Hoi, D. Sahoo, J. Lu, and P. Zhao. “Online learning: A comprehensive survey,” SMU Technical Report , vol. 1, pp. 1-100, 2018.

A. Muhammad, and K. Anwar. “Online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Students’ perspectives.” Online Submission , vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 45-51, 2020.

D. Shivangi. “Online learning: A panacea in the time of COVID-19 crisis.” Journal of Educational Technology Systems , vol. 49, no.1, pp. 5-22, 2020.

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The pandemic has had devastating impacts on learning. What will it take to help students catch up?

Subscribe to the brown center on education policy newsletter, megan kuhfeld , megan kuhfeld senior research scientist - nwea @megankuhfeld jim soland , jim soland assistant professor, school of education and human development - university of virginia, affiliated research fellow - nwea @jsoland karyn lewis , and karyn lewis director, center for school and student progress - nwea @karynlew emily morton emily morton research scientist - nwea @emily_r_morton.

March 3, 2022

As we reach the two-year mark of the initial wave of pandemic-induced school shutdowns, academic normalcy remains out of reach for many students, educators, and parents. In addition to surging COVID-19 cases at the end of 2021, schools have faced severe staff shortages , high rates of absenteeism and quarantines , and rolling school closures . Furthermore, students and educators continue to struggle with mental health challenges , higher rates of violence and misbehavior , and concerns about lost instructional time .

As we outline in our new research study released in January, the cumulative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ academic achievement has been large. We tracked changes in math and reading test scores across the first two years of the pandemic using data from 5.4 million U.S. students in grades 3-8. We focused on test scores from immediately before the pandemic (fall 2019), following the initial onset (fall 2020), and more than one year into pandemic disruptions (fall 2021).

Average fall 2021 math test scores in grades 3-8 were 0.20-0.27 standard deviations (SDs) lower relative to same-grade peers in fall 2019, while reading test scores were 0.09-0.18 SDs lower. This is a sizable drop. For context, the math drops are significantly larger than estimated impacts from other large-scale school disruptions, such as after Hurricane Katrina—math scores dropped 0.17 SDs in one year for New Orleans evacuees .

Even more concerning, test-score gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools grew by approximately 20% in math (corresponding to 0.20 SDs) and 15% in reading (0.13 SDs), primarily during the 2020-21 school year. Further, achievement tended to drop more between fall 2020 and 2021 than between fall 2019 and 2020 (both overall and differentially by school poverty), indicating that disruptions to learning have continued to negatively impact students well past the initial hits following the spring 2020 school closures.

These numbers are alarming and potentially demoralizing, especially given the heroic efforts of students to learn and educators to teach in incredibly trying times. From our perspective, these test-score drops in no way indicate that these students represent a “ lost generation ” or that we should give up hope. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic, and there is so much we don’t know about students’ capacity for resiliency in these circumstances and what a timeline for recovery will look like. Nor are we suggesting that teachers are somehow at fault given the achievement drops that occurred between 2020 and 2021; rather, educators had difficult jobs before the pandemic, and now are contending with huge new challenges, many outside their control.

Clearly, however, there’s work to do. School districts and states are currently making important decisions about which interventions and strategies to implement to mitigate the learning declines during the last two years. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) investments from the American Rescue Plan provided nearly $200 billion to public schools to spend on COVID-19-related needs. Of that sum, $22 billion is dedicated specifically to addressing learning loss using “evidence-based interventions” focused on the “ disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups. ” Reviews of district and state spending plans (see Future Ed , EduRecoveryHub , and RAND’s American School District Panel for more details) indicate that districts are spending their ESSER dollars designated for academic recovery on a wide variety of strategies, with summer learning, tutoring, after-school programs, and extended school-day and school-year initiatives rising to the top.

Comparing the negative impacts from learning disruptions to the positive impacts from interventions

To help contextualize the magnitude of the impacts of COVID-19, we situate test-score drops during the pandemic relative to the test-score gains associated with common interventions being employed by districts as part of pandemic recovery efforts. If we assume that such interventions will continue to be as successful in a COVID-19 school environment, can we expect that these strategies will be effective enough to help students catch up? To answer this question, we draw from recent reviews of research on high-dosage tutoring , summer learning programs , reductions in class size , and extending the school day (specifically for literacy instruction) . We report effect sizes for each intervention specific to a grade span and subject wherever possible (e.g., tutoring has been found to have larger effects in elementary math than in reading).

Figure 1 shows the standardized drops in math test scores between students testing in fall 2019 and fall 2021 (separately by elementary and middle school grades) relative to the average effect size of various educational interventions. The average effect size for math tutoring matches or exceeds the average COVID-19 score drop in math. Research on tutoring indicates that it often works best in younger grades, and when provided by a teacher rather than, say, a parent. Further, some of the tutoring programs that produce the biggest effects can be quite intensive (and likely expensive), including having full-time tutors supporting all students (not just those needing remediation) in one-on-one settings during the school day. Meanwhile, the average effect of reducing class size is negative but not significant, with high variability in the impact across different studies. Summer programs in math have been found to be effective (average effect size of .10 SDs), though these programs in isolation likely would not eliminate the COVID-19 test-score drops.

Figure 1: Math COVID-19 test-score drops compared to the effect sizes of various educational interventions

Figure 1 – Math COVID-19 test-score drops compared to the effect sizes of various educational interventions

Source: COVID-19 score drops are pulled from Kuhfeld et al. (2022) Table 5; reduction-in-class-size results are from pg. 10 of Figles et al. (2018) Table 2; summer program results are pulled from Lynch et al (2021) Table 2; and tutoring estimates are pulled from Nictow et al (2020) Table 3B. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals are shown with vertical lines on each bar.

Notes: Kuhfeld et al. and Nictow et al. reported effect sizes separately by grade span; Figles et al. and Lynch et al. report an overall effect size across elementary and middle grades. We were unable to find a rigorous study that reported effect sizes for extending the school day/year on math performance. Nictow et al. and Kraft & Falken (2021) also note large variations in tutoring effects depending on the type of tutor, with larger effects for teacher and paraprofessional tutoring programs than for nonprofessional and parent tutoring. Class-size reductions included in the Figles meta-analysis ranged from a minimum of one to minimum of eight students per class.

Figure 2 displays a similar comparison using effect sizes from reading interventions. The average effect of tutoring programs on reading achievement is larger than the effects found for the other interventions, though summer reading programs and class size reduction both produced average effect sizes in the ballpark of the COVID-19 reading score drops.

Figure 2: Reading COVID-19 test-score drops compared to the effect sizes of various educational interventions

Figure 2 – Reading COVID-19 test-score drops compared to the effect sizes of various educational interventions

Source: COVID-19 score drops are pulled from Kuhfeld et al. (2022) Table 5; extended-school-day results are from Figlio et al. (2018) Table 2; reduction-in-class-size results are from pg. 10 of Figles et al. (2018) ; summer program results are pulled from Kim & Quinn (2013) Table 3; and tutoring estimates are pulled from Nictow et al (2020) Table 3B. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals are shown with vertical lines on each bar.

Notes: While Kuhfeld et al. and Nictow et al. reported effect sizes separately by grade span, Figlio et al. and Kim & Quinn report an overall effect size across elementary and middle grades. Class-size reductions included in the Figles meta-analysis ranged from a minimum of one to minimum of eight students per class.

There are some limitations of drawing on research conducted prior to the pandemic to understand our ability to address the COVID-19 test-score drops. First, these studies were conducted under conditions that are very different from what schools currently face, and it is an open question whether the effectiveness of these interventions during the pandemic will be as consistent as they were before the pandemic. Second, we have little evidence and guidance about the efficacy of these interventions at the unprecedented scale that they are now being considered. For example, many school districts are expanding summer learning programs, but school districts have struggled to find staff interested in teaching summer school to meet the increased demand. Finally, given the widening test-score gaps between low- and high-poverty schools, it’s uncertain whether these interventions can actually combat the range of new challenges educators are facing in order to narrow these gaps. That is, students could catch up overall, yet the pandemic might still have lasting, negative effects on educational equality in this country.

Given that the current initiatives are unlikely to be implemented consistently across (and sometimes within) districts, timely feedback on the effects of initiatives and any needed adjustments will be crucial to districts’ success. The Road to COVID Recovery project and the National Student Support Accelerator are two such large-scale evaluation studies that aim to produce this type of evidence while providing resources for districts to track and evaluate their own programming. Additionally, a growing number of resources have been produced with recommendations on how to best implement recovery programs, including scaling up tutoring , summer learning programs , and expanded learning time .

Ultimately, there is much work to be done, and the challenges for students, educators, and parents are considerable. But this may be a moment when decades of educational reform, intervention, and research pay off. Relying on what we have learned could show the way forward.

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Research Article

Online education and its effect on teachers during COVID-19—A case study from India

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Supervision, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Area of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Management Indore, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India

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  • Surbhi Dayal


  • Published: March 2, 2023
  • Reader Comments

Table 1

COVID pandemic resulted in an initially temporary and then long term closure of educational institutions, creating a need for adapting to online and remote learning. The transition to online education platforms presented unprecedented challenges for the teachers. The aim of this research was to investigate the effects of the transition to online education on teachers’ wellbeing in India.

The research was conducted on 1812 teachers working in schools, colleges, and coaching institutions from six different Indian states. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected via online survey and telephone interviews.

The results show that COVID pandemic exacerbated the existing widespread inequality in access to internet connectivity, smart devices, and teacher training required for an effective transition to an online mode of education. Teachers nonetheless adapted quickly to online teaching with the help of institutional training as well as self-learning tools. However, respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of online teaching and assessment methods, and exhibited a strong desire to return to traditional modes of learning. 82% respondents reported physical issues like neck pain, back pain, headache, and eyestrain. Additionally, 92% respondents faced mental issues like stress, anxiety, and loneliness due to online teaching.

As the effectiveness of online learning perforce taps on the existing infrastructure, not only has it widened the learning gap between the rich and the poor, it has also compromised the quality of education being imparted in general. Teachers faced increased physical and mental health issues due to long working hours and uncertainty associated with COVID lockdowns. There is a need to develop a sound strategy to address the gaps in access to digital learning and teachers’ training to improve both the quality of education and the mental health of teachers.

Citation: Dayal S (2023) Online education and its effect on teachers during COVID-19—A case study from India. PLoS ONE 18(3): e0282287.

Editor: Lütfullah Türkmen, Usak University College of Education, TURKEY

Received: November 13, 2021; Accepted: January 27, 2023; Published: March 2, 2023

Copyright: © 2023 Surbhi Dayal. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: Data apart from manuscript has been submitted as supporting information .

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


As of November 4, 2021, the spread of novel coronavirus had reached 219 countries and territories of the world, infecting a total of 248 million people and resulting in five million deaths [ 1 ]. In March 2020, several countries including India declared a mandatory lockdown, resulting in the temporary closure of many institutions, not least educational ones. Since then, various restrictions and strategies have been implemented to counter the spread of the virus. These include wearing masks, washing hands frequently, maintaining social and physical distance, and avoiding public gatherings. The pandemic has greatly disrupted all aspects of human life and forced new ways of functioning, notably in work and education, much of which has been restricted to the household environment. The closure for over a year of many schools and colleges across the world has shaken the foundations of the traditional structures of education. Due to widespread restrictions, employees have been forced to carve out working spaces in the family home; likewise, students and teachers have been compelled to bring classes into homes [ 2 ]. Nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries have been physically out of school due to the pandemic. In total, 94 percent of the world’s student population has been affected by school closures, and up to 99 percent of this student population come from low-to middle-income countries [ 3 ].

According to the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has changed how people receive and impart education [ 4 ]. Physical interaction between students and teachers in traditional classrooms has been replaced by exchanges on digital learning platforms, such as online teaching and virtual education systems, characterized by an absence of face-to-face connection [ 5 ]. Online education has thus emerged as a viable option for education from preschool to university level, and governments have used tools such as radio, television, and social media to support online teaching and training [ 6 ]. Various stakeholders, including government and private institutions, have collaborated to provide teachers with resources and training to teach effectively on digital platforms. New digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Canvas, and Blackboard have been used extensively to create learning material and deliver online classes; they have also allowed teachers to devise training and skill development programs [ 7 ]. Many teachers and students were initially hesitant to adopt online education. However indefinite closure of institutions required educational facilities to find new methods to impart education and forced teachers to learn new digital skills. Individuals have experienced different levels of difficulty in doing this; for some, “it has resulted in tears, and for some, it is a cup of tea” [ 8 ].

Teachers have reported finding it difficult to use online teaching as a daily mode of communication, and enabling students’ cognitive activation has presented a significant challenge in the use of distance modes of teaching and learning. Teachers have also expressed concerns about administering tests with minimal student interaction [ 9 ]. Lack of availability of smart devices, combined with unreliable internet access, has led to dissatisfaction with teacher-student interaction. Under pressure to select the appropriate tools and media to reach their students, some teachers have relied on pre-recorded videos, which further discouraged interaction. In locations where most teaching is done online, teachers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities (i.e., semi-urban areas) have had to pay extra to secure access to high-speed internet, digital devices, and reliable power sources [ 10 ]. Teachers in India, in particular, have a huge gap in digital literacy caused by a lack of training and access to reliable electricity supply, and internet services. In rural or remote areas, access to smart devices, the internet, and technology is limited and inconsistent [ 6 ]. In cities, including the Indian capital Delhi, even teachers who are familiar with the required technology do not necessarily have the pedagogical skills to meet the demands of online education. The absence of training, along with local factors (for example, stakeholders’ infrastructure and socio-economic standing), contributes to difficulties in imparting digital education successfully [ 10 ]. The gap in digital education across Indian schools is striking. For example, only 32.5% of school children are in a position to pursue online classes. Only 11% of children can take online classes in private and public schools, and more than half can only view videos or other recorded content. Only 8.1% of children in government schools have access to online classes in the event of a pandemic-related restrictions [ 11 ].

The adverse effects of COVID-19 on education must therefore be investigated and understood, particularly the struggles of students and teachers to adapt to new technologies. Significant societal effects of the pandemic include not only serious disruption of education but also isolation caused by social distancing. Various studies [ 7 , 12 , 13 ] have suggested that online education has caused significant stress and health problems for students and teachers alike; health issues have also been exacerbated by the extensive use of digital devices. Several studies [ 6 , 11 , 14 ] have been conducted to understand the effects of the COVID lockdown on digital access to education, students’ physical and emotional well-being, and the effectiveness of online education. However, only a few studies [ 13 , 15 – 17 ] have touched the issues that teachers faced due to COVID lockdown.

In this context, this study is trying to fill existing gaps and focuses on the upheavals that teachers went through to accommodate COVID restrictions and still impart education. It also provides an in-depth analysis of consequences for the quality of education imparted from the teachers’ perspective. It discusses geographical inequalities in access to the infrastructure required for successful implementation of online education. In particular, it addresses the following important questions: (1) how effectively have teachers adapted to the new virtual system? (2) How has online education affected the quality of teaching? (3) How has online education affected teachers’ overall health?

Because of lockdown restrictions, data collection for this study involved a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods in the form of online surveys and telephonic interviews. A questionnaire for teachers was developed consisting of 41 items covering a variety of subjects: teaching styles, life-work balance, and how working online influences the mental and physical well-being of teachers. In the interviews, participants were asked about their experiences of online teaching during the pandemic, particularly in relation to physical and mental health issues. A pilot study was conducted with thirty respondents, and necessary changes to the items were made before the data collection. The survey tool was created using google forms and disseminated via email, Facebook, and WhatsApp. A total of 145 telephonic interviews were also conducted to obtain in-depth information from the respondents.

The data were collected between December 2020 and June 2021. The Research Advisory Committee on Codes of Ethics for Research of Aggrawal College, Ballabhgarh, Haryana, reviewed and approved this study. A statement included in the google survey form as a means of acquiring written consent from the participants. Information was gathered from 1,812 Indian teachers in six Indian states (Assam, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, New Delhi, and Rajasthan) working in universities, schools, and coaching institutions. Nearly three-quarters of the total sample population was women. All participants were between the ages of 18 and 60, with an average age of 34 and a clear majority being 35 or younger. Nearly three-quarters of participants work in private institutions (25% in semi-government entities and the remainder in government entities). In terms of education, 52% of participants have a graduate degree, 34% a postgraduate degree, and 14% a doctorate. Table 1 summarizes the demographic characteristics of the participants.


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Results & discussion

Upon analyzing the survey responses, three crucial areas were identified for a better understanding of the effect of COVID-19 on the Indian education system and its teachers: how effectively teachers have adapted, how effective teaching has been, and how teachers’ health has been affected.

1. How effectively have teachers adapted to the new virtual system?

The first research question concerns how willing teachers were to embrace the changes brought about by the online teaching system and how quickly they were able to adapt to online modes of instruction. This information was gathered from December 2020 to June 2021, at which point teachers had been dealing with school lockdowns for months and therefore had some time to become conversant with online teaching.

While 93.82% of respondents were involved in online teaching during the pandemic, only 16% had previously taught online. These results were typically different from the results of a similar study conducted in Jordon where most of the faculty (60%) had previous experience with online teaching and 68% of faculty had also received formal training [ 16 ]. Since the spread of COVID-19 was rapid and the implementation of the lockdown was sudden, government and educational institutions were not prepared for alternative modes of learning, and teachers needed some time for adjustment. Several other factors also affected the effectiveness of the transition to online education, namely access to different types of resources and training [ 18 ].

a. Access to smart devices.

Online teaching requires access to smart devices. A surprising number of teachers stated that they had internet access at home via laptops, smartphones, or tablets. A more pertinent question, however, was whether they had sole access to the smart device, or it was shared with family members. Only 37.25% of those surveyed had a device for their exclusive use while others shared a device with family members, due to lack of access to additional devices and affordability of new devices. During the lockdown, an increase in demand led to a scarcity of smart devices, so that even people who could afford to buy a device could not necessarily find one available for purchase. With children attending online classes, and family members working from home, households found it difficult to manage with only a few devices, and access to a personal digital device became an urgent matter for many. Respondents admitted to relying on their smartphones to teach courses since they lacked access to other devices. Teachers on independent-school rosters were significantly better equipped to access smart devices than those employed at other types of schools. The data also indicates that teachers in higher education and at coaching centers had relatively better access to laptops and desktop computers through their institutions, whereas teachers in elementary and secondary schools had to scramble for securing devices for their own use.

b. Internet access.

Internet access is crucial for effective delivery of online education. However, our survey shows that teachers often struggled to stay connected because of substantial differences between states in the availability of internet. Of the respondents, 52% reported that their internet was stable and reliable, 32% reported it to be satisfactory and the rest reported it to be poor. Internet connectivity was better in the states of Karnataka, New Delhi, and Rajasthan than in Assam, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh. Internet connectivity in Assam was particularly poor. Consequently, many teachers with access to advanced devices were unable to use them due to inadequate internet connection.

The following comments from a teacher in Assam capture relevant situational challenges: “I do not have an internet modem at home, and teaching over the phone is difficult. My internet connection is exhausted, and I am unable to see or hear the students.” Another teacher from Haryana reported similar difficulties: “During the lockdown, I moved to my hometown, and I do not have internet access here, so I go to a nearby village and send videos to students every three days.” Another teacher from Madhya Pradesh working at a premier institution reported experiencing somewhat different concerns: “I am teaching in one of the institute’s semi-smart classrooms, and while I have access to the internet, my students do not, making it difficult to hear what they are saying.”

These responses indicates clearly that it is not only teachers living in states where connectivity was poor who experienced difficulties in imparting education to students; even those who had good internet connectivity experiences problems caused by the poor internet connections of their students.

c. Tools for remote learning.

Teachers made use of a variety of remote learning tools, but access to these tools varied depending on the educator’s affiliation. Teachers at premier institutions and coaching centers routinely used the Zoom and Google Meet apps to conduct synchronous lessons. Teachers at state colleges used pre-recorded videos that were freely available on YouTube. Teachers in government schools used various platforms, including WhatsApp for prepared material and YouTube for pre-recorded videos. To deliver the content, private school teachers used pre-recorded lectures and Google Meet. In addition to curriculum classes, school teachers offered life skill classes (for example, cooking, gardening, and organizing) to help students become more independent and responsible in these difficult circumstances. In addition to online instruction, 16% of teachers visited their students’ homes to distribute books and other materials. Furthermore, of this 36% visited students’ homes once a week, 29% visited twice a week, 18% once every two weeks, and the rest once a month. Additionally, a survey done on 6435 respondents across six states in India reported that 21% teachers in schools conducted home visits for teaching children [ 19 ].

d. Knowledge and training for the use of information and communication technologies.

With the onset of the pandemic, information and communication technology (ICT) became a pivotal point for the viability of online education. The use of ICT can facilitate curriculum coverage, application of pedagogical practices and assessment, teacher’s professional development, and streamlining school organization [ 20 ]. However, the effective adoption and implementation of ICT necessitated delivery of appropriate training and prolonged practice. Also the manner in which teachers use ICT is crucial to successful implementation of online education [ 21 ]. While countries such as Germany, Japan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States recognized the importance of ICT by integrating it into their respective teacher training programmes [ 22 ], this has not been case in India. However, there are some training programmes available to teachers once they commence working. In accordance with our survey results, the vast majority of respondents (94%) lacked any ICT training or experience. In the absence of appropriate tools and support, these teachers self-experimented with online platforms, with equal chances of success and failure.

The transition from offline to online or remote learning was abrupt, and teachers had to adapt quickly to the new systems. Our data indicate that teachers in professional colleges and coaching centers received some training to help them adapt to the new online system, whereas teachers in urban areas primarily learned on their own from YouTube videos, and school teachers in rural areas received no support at all. Overall, teachers had insufficient training and support to adjust to this completely new situation. Policy research conducted on online and remote learning systems following COVID-19 has found similar results, namely that teachers implemented distance learning modalities from the start of the pandemic, often without adequate guidance, training, or resources [ 23 ]. Similar trends have been found in the Caribbean, where the unavailability of smart learning devices, lack of or poor internet access, and lack of prior training for teachers and students hampered online learning greatly. Furthermore, in many cases the curriculum was not designed for online teaching, which was a key concern for teachers [ 24 ]. Preparing online lectures as well as monitoring, supervising and providing remote support to students also led to stress and anxiety. Self-imposed perfectionism further exacerbated these issues while delivering online education [ 15 ]. A study conducted on 288 teachers from private and government schools in Delhi and National Capital Region area, also found that transition to online education has further widened the gap between pupils from government and private schools. It was more difficult to reach students from economically weaker sections of the society due to the digital divide in terms of access, usage, and skills gap. The study also found that even when teachers were digitally savvy, it did not mean that they know how to prepare for and take online classes [ 10 ].

2. How has online education affected the quality of teaching?

Once teachers had acquired some familiarity with the online system, new questions arose concerning how online education affected the quality of teaching in terms of learning and assessment, and how satisfied teachers were with this new mode of imparting education. To address these questions, specific questionnaire items about assessment and effectiveness of teaching has been included.

a. Effectiveness of online education.

Respondents agreed unanimously that online education impeded student-teacher bonding. They reported several concerns, including the inattentiveness of the majority of the students in the class, the physical absence of students (who at times logged in but then went elsewhere), the inability to engage students online, and the difficulty of carrying out any productive discussion given that only a few students were participating. Another significant concern was the difficulty in administrating online tests in light of widespread cheating. In the words of one teacher: “I was teaching a new class of students with whom I had never interacted in person. It was not easy because I could not remember the names of the students or relate to them. Students were irritated when I called out their names. It had a significant impact on my feedback. I would like us to return to class so I do not have to manage four screens and can focus on my students and on solving their problems.”

For these reasons, 85.65% of respondents stated that the quality of education had been significantly compromised in the online mode. As a result, only 33% reported being interested in continuing with online teaching after COVID-19. The results show slightly higher dissatisfaction in comparison to another study conducted in India that reported 67% of teachers feeling dissatisfied with online teaching [ 25 ]. Findings of this study were similar to the findings of a survey of lecturers in Ukraine assessing the effectiveness of online education. Lower quality student work was cited as the third most mentioned problem among the problems cited by instructors in their experience with online teaching, right behind unreliable internet connectivity and the issues related with software and hardware. Primary reasons for lower quality student work were drop in the number of assignments and work quality as well as cheating. Almost half (48.7%) of the participants expressed their disapproval of online work and would not like to teach online [ 26 ].

Due to the nature of the online mode, teachers were also unable to use creative methods to teach students. Some were accustomed to using physical objects and role-playing to engage students in the classroom, but they found it extremely difficult to make learning exciting and to engage their students in virtual space. Similar trends have been reported in Australia, where schoolteachers in outback areas did not find online education helpful or practical for children, a majority of whom came from low-income families. The teachers were used to employing innovative methods to keep the students engaged in the classroom. However, in online teaching, they could not connect with their students using those methods, which significantly hampered their students’ progress. Some teachers mentioned difficulties with online teaching caused by not being able to use physical and concrete objects to improve their instructions [ 27 ].

b. Online evaluation.

Of our respondents, 81% said that they had conducted online assessments of their students. Teachers used various online assessment methods, including proctored closed/open book exams and quizzes, assignment submissions, class exercises, and presentations. Teachers who chose not to administer online assessments graded their students’ performance based on participation in class and previous results.

Almost two-thirds of teachers who had administered online assessments were dissatisfied with the effectiveness and transparency of those assessments, given the high rates of cheating and internet connectivity issues. They also reported that family members had been helping students to cheat in exams because they wanted their children to get higher grades by any means necessary. In response, the teachers had tried to devise methods to discourage students and their families from cheating, but they still felt powerless to prevent widespread cheating.

As one respondent stated: “We are taking many precautions to stop cheating, such as asking to install a mirror behind the student and doing online proctoring, but students have their ways out for every matter. They disconnect the internet cable or turn it off and reconnect it later. When we question them, they have a connectivity reason ready”.

Teachers are also concerned about the effects of the digital skills gap on their creation of worksheets, assessments, and other teaching materials. As a result, some private companies have been putting together teacher training programs. The main challenge pertains to be implementation of a type of specialized education that many teachers are unfamiliar with and unwilling to adopt [ 28 ]. Because of the lack of effective and transparent online assessments, school teachers have reported that students were promoted to the next level regardless of their performance. Thus, only time will tell how successful online education has been in terms of its effects on the lives of learners.

3. How has online education affected teacher’s overall health?

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a situation that few people had experienced or even imagined living through. Governments and individuals tried their best to adjust to the new circumstances, but sudden lockdown, confinement to the household periphery, and working from home had adverse effects on the mental and physical health of many people, including educators and students. To clarify the effects of online education on teachers’ overall health, a number of questionnaire items were focused on respondents’ feelings during the lockdown, the physical and mental health issues they experienced, and their concerns about the future given the uncertainty of the present situation.

a. Physical health issues.

COVID-19 brought a multitude of changes to the lives of educators. Confinement to the household, working from home, and an increased burden of household and caregiving tasks due to the absence of paid domestic assistants increased physical workload and had corresponding adverse effects on the physical health of educators.

Of the study participants, 82% reported an increase in physical health issues since the lockdown ( Fig 1 ). Notably, 47% of those who were involved in digital mode of learning for less than 3 hours per day reported experiencing some physical discomfort daily, rising to 51% of teachers who worked online for 4–6 hours per day and 55% of teachers who worked more than 6 hours per day. Respondents reported a variety of physical health issues, including headaches, eye strain, back pain, and neck pain.


The number of hours worked showed a positive correlation with the physical discomfort or health issues experienced. A chi-square test was applied to determine the relationship between the number of online working hours and the frequency of physical issues experienced by the participants and found it to be significant at the 0.05 level ( Table 2 ).


As Fig 2 shows, 28% respondents’ complaint about experiencing giddiness, headaches; 59% complain of having neck and back pain. The majority of the participants had eye-strain problems most of the time; 32% faced eye problems sometimes, and 18% reported never having any eye issue. In addition, 49% had experienced two issues at the same time and 20% reported experiencing more than 2 physical issues at the same time.


The data in this study indicates a link between bodily distresses and hours worked. As working hours increased, so did reports of back and neck pain. 47% respondents reported back and neck pain after working for 3 hours or less, 60% after working for 3–6 hours, and nearly 70% after working for 6 hours or more.

The analysis also indicates link between physical issues experienced and the educator’s gender. Women experienced more physical discomfort than men, with 51% reporting frequent discomfort, compared to only 46% of men. Only 14% of female educators reported never experiencing physical discomfort, against 30% of male educators.

In terms of types of discomfort, 76% of female teachers and 51% of male teachers reported eye strain; 62% of female teacher and 43% of male teachers reported back and neck pain; 30% of female teachers and 18% of male teachers said they had experienced dizziness and headaches. The gender differences may be caused by the increase in household and childcare responsibilities falling disproportionately on female educators compared to their male counterparts. Several studies [ 17 , 29 – 31 ] have reported similar results, indicating that the gender gap widened during the pandemic period. The social expectations of women to take care of children increased the gender gap during the pandemic by putting greater responsibilities on women in comparison to men [ 29 ]. Women in academics were affected more in comparison to the men. Working from home burdened female educators with additional household duties and childcare responsibilities. A study done [ 32 ] in France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom discovered that women were immensely affected by lockdown in comparison to men. On top of this, women with children are affected more than women without children.

No effect of age on physical discomfort was observed in this study but increasing use of online tools (such as class websites) for content creation and delivery and extended working periods were major contributors to health problems.

b. Mental health issues.

The psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemics have also proved difficult to manage. Being at home all day with limited social interaction, not to mention other pandemic-related sources of stress, affected the mental health of many people. The majority of the participants in this study admitted experiencing mental health issues including anxious feelings, low mood, restlessness, hopelessness, and loneliness. According to UNESCO [ 33 ], due to the sudden closure of schools and adaptability to new systems, teachers across the world are suffering from stress. Studies conducted in various parts of the world confirmed similar trends [ 34 , 35 ]. In Israel, teachers reported psychological stress due to online teaching. 30.4% teachers reported being stressed in comparison to 6.1% teachers in traditional classroom settings [ 34 ]. In Spain, teachers experienced various kinds of mental health issues like anxiety, stress, and depression [ 36 ]. An Arabian study found an increased number of cases related to anxiety, depression, and violence during the pandemic [ 37 ]. In New Zealand teachers in Higher education reported being overwhelmed due to the online teaching [ 15 ].

Online teaching appears to have negatively affected the mental health of all the study participants. Women (94%) reported more mental health issues than men (91%), as shown in Fig 3 . Nearly two-thirds of participants said they had been dealing with mental health issues regularly and a third occasionally; only 7% said they never dealt with them. Findings of this study are in line with other studies which found that female teachers had higher levels of stress and anxiety in comparison to men [ 36 ]. Studies conducted in China reported that teachers developed mental health issues due to online classes [ 37 , 38 ].


Our analysis indicated a positive relationship between the number of working hours and the frequency of mental health issues. Of the respondents who worked online for less than 3 hours, 55% experienced some kind of mental health issue; this rose to 60% of participants who worked online for 3–6 hours, and 66% of those who worked more than 6 hours every day. A chi-square test was applied to determine the relationship between the number of online working hours and the frequency of mental issues experienced by the participants and found it to be significant at the 0.05 level ( Table 3 ).


In terms of types of mental health issues, respondents reported restlessness, anxious feelings, and a sense of powerlessness, along with feelings of hopelessness, low mood, and loneliness as shown in Fig 4 . The stress of adapting to a new online working environment, the extended hours of work required to prepare content in new formats, the trial-and-error nature of learning and adopting new practices, uncertainty caused by lockdown, and an overall feeling of having no control were some of the contributing factors.


Mental health issues were more common among those under the age of 35, with 64% reporting a problem most of the time compared to 53% of those over 35. It has been found that job uncertainty is one of the primary causes of a higher prevalence of mental health concerns among younger respondents than among older respondents. These findings are in line with other studies which found higher levels of stress among the young people in comparison to older one [ 36 , 39 ]. Feelings of loneliness and a sense of no control were reported by 30% of respondents under the age of 35, with these feelings occurring constantly or most of the time; only 12% of respondent over the age of 35 reported experiencing these feelings always or most of the time. Of respondents under 35 years of age 61% felt lonely at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to only 40% of those age 35 or older.

This study also found gender-based differences in the frequency of mental health issues experienced, with 62% of male respondents and 52% of female respondents reporting that they had always experienced mental health issues. The types of issues also differed by gender, with men more likely to report restlessness and loneliness and women more likely to report feeling anxious or helpless. More female respondents reported feelings of hopelessness than male respondents (76% compared to 69%), and they were also more anxious (66%).

The uncertainty of the pandemic seems to have caused helplessness and anxious feelings for female teachers in particular, perhaps because a lack of paid domestic help increased the burden of household and caregiving tasks disproportionately for women at a time when the pressure to adapt to new online platforms was particularly acute. In some cases, respondents left their jobs to accommodate new family dynamics, since private employers offered no assistance or flexibility. Deterioration of mental health also led to the increased number of suicides in Japan during COVID-19 [ 39 ].

However, female teachers fared better than their male counterparts on some measures of mental health. Although half of the respondents (men and women equally) reported low mood during the pandemic, the men reported more restlessness (53%) and loneliness (59%) than the women (50% and 49%, respectively). Restrictions on eating and drinking outside the household may have had a disproportionate effect on male respondents, making them more likely to feel restless or lonely than their female counterparts, who may have handled COVID-related isolation better by being more involved in household work and caregiving.

Number of hours worked online was also a factor contributing to mental health issues. Just as respondents had more physical complaints (including eye strain, back and neck pain, and headaches) the more hours they worked online, respondents who worked longer hours online reported more mental health issues.

One of the major drawbacks of online education is the widespread occurrence of physical and mental health issues, and the results of this study corroborate concerns on this point. This study found that online teaching causes more mental and physical problems for teachers than another study, which only found that 52.7% of respondents had these problems [ 12 ].

A report by the University of Melbourne has also indicated that online teaching and learning have a negative effect on the physical and mental well-being of individuals. Teachers working from home, in particular, have reported isolation, excessive screen time, inability to cope with additional stress, and exhaustion due to increased workload; despite being wary of the risks of exposure to COVID-19, they were eager to return to the campus [ 27 ].

c. Support mechanisms.

In general, teachers experienced good support from family and colleagues during the pandemic, with 45.64% of teachers reported receiving strong support, 29.64 percent moderate support (although the remainder claimed to have received no or only occasional support from family and colleagues). 9.39% of male respondents reported that they have never received any support in comparison to 4.36% females. Female respondents reported receiving more support than male respondents perhaps because they have access to a more extensive network of family members and coworkers. Children, parents, and siblings were cited as the provider of a robust support system by most female respondents. For example, maternal relatives called or texted children to keep them engaged and helped them with homework, and female participants said their peers helped them to prepare lectures and materials. A link was also found between age and support; the older the respondent, the stronger the support system. A possible explanation for this difference is that older people have had time to develop stronger and longer-lasting professional and personal ties than younger people.

This study explored the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Indian education system and teachers working across six Indian states. The effectiveness of online education methods varied significantly by geographical location and demographics based on internet connectivity, access to smart devices, and teachers’ training. While premier higher education institutions and some private institutions had provided teachers with the necessary infrastructure and training to implement effective successful online learning with relatively few challenges, teachers at schools and community colleges have more often been left to adopt a trial-and-error approach to the transition to an online system. Further, it indicates that online education has had a significant effect on the quality of education imparted and the lives and wellbeing of teachers. While online learning has enabled teachers to reach out to students and maintain some normalcy during a time of uncertainty, it has also had negative consequences. Owing to the lack of in-person interaction with and among students in digital classes, the absence of creative learning tools in the online environment, glitches and interruptions in internet services, widespread cheating in exams, and lack of access to digital devices, online learning adversely affected the quality of education. Teachers experienced mounting physical and mental health issues due to stress of adjusting to online platforms without any or minimal ICT training and longer working hours to meet the demands of shifting responsibilities. A positive correlation was found between working hours and mental and physical health problems.

The long-term impact of COVID-19 pandemic on both the education system and the teachers would become clear only with time. Meanwhile, this study sheds light on some of the issues that teachers are facing and needs to be addressed without further ado. These findings will provide direction to the policy makers to develop sound strategies to address existing gaps for the successful implementation of digital learning. However, researchers should continue to investigate the longer-term effects of COVID pandemic on online education.

Supporting information

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  • 19. India Case Study.pdf. Available:
  • 23. UNSDG | Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond. [cited 21 Jan 2022]. Available: ,
  • 25. Report on rapid assessment of learning during school closures in context of COVID-19.pdf. Available:
  • 31. Reflections on motherhood and the impact of COVID 19 pandemic on women’s scientific careers—Guatimosim—2020—Journal of Neurochemistry—Wiley Online Library. [cited 30 Jun 2022]. Available:
  • 33. . Adverse consequences of school closures. In: UNESCO [Internet]. 10 Mar 2020 [cited 30 Jun 2022]. Available:

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  • The Internet and the Pandemic

90% of Americans say the internet has been essential or important to them, many made video calls and 40% used technology in new ways. But while tech was a lifeline for some, others faced struggles

Table of contents.

  • 1. How the internet and technology shaped Americans’ personal experiences amid COVID-19
  • 2. Parents, their children and school during the pandemic
  • 3. Navigating technological challenges
  • 4. The role of technology in COVID-19 vaccine registration
  • Acknowledgments
  • Methodology

essay on online education during pandemic

Pew Research Center has a long history of studying technology adoption trends and the impact of digital technology on society. This report focuses on American adults’ experiences with and attitudes about their internet and technology use during the COVID-19 outbreak. For this analysis, we surveyed 4,623 U.S. adults from April 12-18, 2021. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the  ATP’s methodology .

Chapter 1 of this report includes responses to an open-ended question and the overall report includes a number of quotations to help illustrate themes and add nuance to the survey findings. Quotations may have been lightly edited for grammar, spelling and clarity. The first three themes mentioned in each open-ended response, according to a researcher-developed codebook, were coded into categories for analysis. 

Here are the questions used for this report , along with responses, and its methodology .

Technology has been a lifeline for some during the coronavirus outbreak but some have struggled, too

The  coronavirus  has transformed many aspects of Americans’ lives. It  shut down  schools, businesses and workplaces and forced millions to  stay at home  for extended lengths of time. Public health authorities recommended  limits on social contact  to try to contain the spread of the virus, and these profoundly altered the way many worked, learned, connected with loved ones, carried out basic daily tasks, celebrated and mourned. For some, technology played a role in this transformation.  

Results from a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted April 12-18, 2021, reveal the extent to which people’s use of the internet has changed, their views about how helpful technology has been for them and the struggles some have faced. 

The vast majority of adults (90%) say the internet has been at least important to them personally during the pandemic, the survey finds. The share who say it has been  essential  – 58% – is up slightly from 53% in April 2020. There have also been upticks in the shares who say the internet has been essential in the past year among those with a bachelor’s degree or more formal education, adults under 30, and those 65 and older. 

A large majority of Americans (81%) also say they talked with others via video calls at some point since the pandemic’s onset. And for 40% of Americans, digital tools have taken on new relevance: They report they used technology or the internet in ways that were new or different to them. Some also sought upgrades to their service as the pandemic unfolded: 29% of broadband users did something to improve the speed, reliability or quality of their high-speed internet connection at home since the beginning of the outbreak.

Still, tech use has not been an unmitigated boon for everyone. “ Zoom fatigue ” was widely speculated to be a problem in the pandemic, and some Americans report related experiences in the new survey: 40% of those who have ever talked with others via video calls since the beginning of the pandemic say they have felt worn out or fatigued often or sometimes by the time they spend on them. Moreover,  changes in screen time  occurred for  Americans generally  and for  parents of young children . The survey finds that a third of all adults say they tried to cut back on time spent on their smartphone or the internet at some point during the pandemic. In addition, 72% of parents of children in grades K-12 say their kids are spending more time on screens compared with before the outbreak. 1

For many, digital interactions could only do so much as a stand-in for in-person communication. About two-thirds of Americans (68%) say the interactions they would have had in person, but instead had online or over the phone, have generally been useful – but not a replacement for in-person contact. Another 15% say these tools haven’t been of much use in their interactions. Still, 17% report that these digital interactions have been just as good as in-person contact.

About two-thirds say digital interactions have been useful, but not a replacement for in-person contact

Some types of technology have been more helpful than others for Americans. For example, 44% say text messages or group messaging apps have helped them a lot to stay connected with family and friends, 38% say the same about voice calls and 30% say this about video calls. Smaller shares say social media sites (20%) and email (19%) have helped them in this way.

The survey offers a snapshot of Americans’ lives just over one year into the pandemic as they reflected back on what had happened. It is important to note the findings were gathered in April 2021, just before  all U.S. adults became eligible for coronavirus vaccine s. At the time, some states were  beginning to loosen restrictions  on businesses and social encounters. This survey also was fielded before the delta variant  became prominent  in the United States,  raising concerns  about new and  evolving variants . 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the survey.

Americans’ tech experiences in the pandemic are linked to digital divides, tech readiness 

Some Americans’ experiences with technology haven’t been smooth or easy during the pandemic. The digital divides related to  internet use  and  affordability  were highlighted by the pandemic and also emerged in new ways as life moved online.

For all Americans relying on screens during the pandemic,  connection quality  has been important for school assignments, meetings and virtual social encounters alike. The new survey highlights difficulties for some: Roughly half of those who have a high-speed internet connection at home (48%) say they have problems with the speed, reliability or quality of their home connection often or sometimes. 2

Beyond that, affordability  remained a persistent concern  for a portion of digital tech users as the pandemic continued – about a quarter of home broadband users (26%) and smartphone owners (24%) said in the April 2021 survey that they worried a lot or some about paying their internet and cellphone bills over the next few months. 

From parents of children facing the “ homework gap ” to Americans struggling to  afford home internet , those with lower incomes have been particularly likely to struggle. At the same time, some of those with higher incomes have been affected as well.

60% of broadband users with lower incomes often or sometimes have connection problems, and 46% are worried at least some about paying for broadband

Affordability and connection problems have hit broadband users with lower incomes especially hard. Nearly half of broadband users with lower incomes, and about a quarter of those with midrange incomes, say that as of April they were at least somewhat worried about paying their internet bill over the next few months. 3 And home broadband users with lower incomes are roughly 20 points more likely to say they often or sometimes experience problems with their connection than those with relatively high incomes. Still, 55% of those with lower incomes say the internet has been essential to them personally in the pandemic.

At the same time, Americans’ levels of formal education are associated with their experiences turning to tech during the pandemic. 

Adults with a bachelor’s, advanced degree more likely than others to make daily video calls, use tech in new ways, consider internet essential amid COVID-19

Those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree are about twice as likely as those with a high school diploma or less formal education to have used tech in new or different ways during the pandemic. There is also roughly a 20 percentage point gap between these two groups in the shares who have made video calls about once a day or more often and who say these calls have helped at least a little to stay connected with family and friends. And 71% of those with a bachelor’s degree or more education say the internet has been essential, compared with 45% of those with a high school diploma or less.

More broadly, not all Americans believe they have key tech skills. In this survey, about a quarter of adults (26%) say they usually need someone else’s help to set up or show them how to use a new computer, smartphone or other electronic device. And one-in-ten report they have little to no confidence in their ability to use these types of devices to do the things they need to do online. This report refers to those who say they experience either or both of these issues as having “lower tech readiness.” Some 30% of adults fall in this category. (A full description of how this group was identified can be found in  Chapter 3. )

‘Tech readiness,’ which is tied to people’s confident and independent use of devices, varies by age

These struggles are particularly acute for older adults, some of whom have had to  learn new tech skills  over the course of the pandemic. Roughly two-thirds of adults 75 and older fall into the group having lower tech readiness – that is, they either have little or no confidence in their ability to use their devices, or generally need help setting up and learning how to use new devices. Some 54% of Americans ages 65 to 74 are also in this group. 

Americans with lower tech readiness have had different experiences with technology during the pandemic. While 82% of the Americans with lower tech readiness say the internet has been at least important to them personally during the pandemic, they are less likely than those with higher tech readiness to say the internet has been essential (39% vs. 66%). Some 21% of those with lower tech readiness say digital interactions haven’t been of much use in standing in for in-person contact, compared with 12% of those with higher tech readiness. 

46% of parents with lower incomes whose children faced school closures say their children had at least one problem related to the ‘homework gap’

As school moved online for many families, parents and their children experienced profound changes. Fully 93% of parents with K-12 children at home say these children had some online instruction during the pandemic. Among these parents, 62% report that online learning has gone very or somewhat well, and 70% say it has been very or somewhat easy for them to help their children use technology for online instruction.

Still, 30% of the parents whose children have had online instruction during the pandemic say it has been very or somewhat difficult for them to help their children use technology or the internet for this. 

Remote learning has been widespread during the pandemic, but children from lower-income households have been particularly likely to face ‘homework gap’

The survey also shows that children from households with lower incomes who faced school closures in the pandemic have been especially likely to encounter tech-related obstacles in completing their schoolwork – a phenomenon contributing to the “ homework gap .”

Overall, about a third (34%) of all parents whose children’s schools closed at some point say their children have encountered at least one of the tech-related issues we asked about amid COVID-19: having to do schoolwork on a cellphone, being unable to complete schoolwork because of lack of computer access at home, or having to use public Wi-Fi to finish schoolwork because there was no reliable connection at home. 

This share is higher among parents with lower incomes whose children’s schools closed. Nearly half (46%) say their children have faced at least one of these issues. Some with higher incomes were affected as well – about three-in-ten (31%) of these parents with midrange incomes say their children faced one or more of these issues, as do about one-in-five of these parents with higher household incomes.

More parents say their screen time rules have become less strict under pandemic than say they’ve become more strict

Prior Center work has documented this “ homework gap ” in other contexts – both  before the coronavirus outbreak  and  near the beginning of the pandemic . In April 2020, for example, parents with lower incomes were particularly likely to think their children would face these struggles amid the outbreak.

Besides issues related to remote schooling, other changes were afoot in families as the pandemic forced many families to shelter in place. For instance, parents’ estimates of their children’s screen time – and family rules around this – changed in some homes. About seven-in-ten parents with children in kindergarten through 12th grade (72%) say their children were spending more time on screens as of the April survey compared with before the outbreak. Some 39% of parents with school-age children say they have become less strict about screen time rules during the outbreak. About one-in-five (18%) say they have become more strict, while 43% have kept screen time rules about the same. 

More adults now favor the idea that schools should provide digital technology to all students during the pandemic than did in April 2020

Americans’ tech struggles related to digital divides gained attention from policymakers and news organizations as the pandemic progressed.

On some policy issues, public attitudes changed over the course of the outbreak – for example, views on what K-12 schools should provide to students shifted. Some 49% now say K-12 schools have a responsibility to provide all students with laptop or tablet computers in order to help them complete their schoolwork during the pandemic, up 12 percentage points from a year ago.

Growing shares across political parties say K-12 schools should give all students computers amid COVID-19

The shares of those who say so have increased for both major political parties over the past year: This view shifted 15 points for Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP, and there was a 9-point increase for Democrats and Democratic leaners.

However, when it comes to views of policy solutions for internet access more generally, not much has changed. Some 37% of Americans say that the government has a responsibility to ensure all Americans have high-speed internet access during the outbreak, and the overall share is unchanged from April 2020 – the first time Americans were asked this specific question about the government’s pandemic responsibility to provide internet access. 4

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say the government has this responsibility, and within the Republican Party, those with lower incomes are more likely to say this than their counterparts earning more money. 

Video calls and conferencing have been part of everyday life

Americans’ own words provide insight into exactly how their lives changed amid COVID-19. When asked to describe the new or different ways they had used technology, some Americans mention video calls and conferencing facilitating a variety of virtual interactions – including attending events like weddings, family holidays and funerals or transforming where and how they worked. 5 From family calls, shopping for groceries and placing takeout orders online to having telehealth visits with medical professionals or participating in online learning activities, some aspects of life have been virtually transformed: 

“I’ve gone from not even knowing remote programs like Zoom even existed, to using them nearly every day.” – Man, 54

“[I’ve been] h andling … deaths of family and friends remotely, attending and sharing classical music concerts and recitals with other professionals, viewing [my] own church services and Bible classes, shopping. … Basically, [the internet has been] a lifeline.”  – Woman, 69

“I … use Zoom for church youth activities. [I] use Zoom for meetings. I order groceries and takeout food online. We arranged for a ‘digital reception’ for my daughter’s wedding as well as live streaming the event.” – Woman, 44

Among those who have used video calls during the outbreak, 40% feel fatigued or worn out at least sometimes from time spent on these calls

When asked about video calls specifically, half of Americans report they have talked with others in this way at least once a week since the beginning of the outbreak; one-in-five have used these platforms daily. But how often people have experienced this type of digital connectedness varies by age. For example, about a quarter of adults ages 18 to 49 (27%) say they have connected with others on video calls about once a day or more often, compared with 16% of those 50 to 64 and just 7% of those 65 and older. 

Even as video technology became a part of life for users, many  accounts of burnout  surfaced and some speculated that “Zoom fatigue” was setting in as Americans grew weary of this type of screen time. The survey finds that some 40% of those who participated in video calls since the beginning of the pandemic – a third of all Americans – say they feel worn out or fatigued often or sometimes from the time they spend on video calls. About three-quarters of those who have been on these calls several times a day in the pandemic say this.

Fatigue is not limited to frequent users, however: For example, about a third (34%) of those who have made video calls about once a week say they feel worn out at least sometimes.

These are among the main findings from the survey. Other key results include:

Some Americans’ personal lives and social relationships have changed during the pandemic:  Some 36% of Americans say their own personal lives changed in a major way as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Another 47% say their personal lives changed, but only a little bit.   About half (52%) of those who say major change has occurred in their personal lives due to the pandemic also say they have used tech in new ways, compared with about four-in-ten (38%) of those whose personal lives changed a little bit and roughly one-in-five (19%) of those who say their personal lives stayed about the same.

Even as tech helped some to stay connected, a quarter of Americans say they feel less close to close family members now compared with before the pandemic, and about four-in-ten (38%) say the same about friends they know well. Roughly half (53%) say this about casual acquaintances.

The majority of those who tried to sign up for vaccine appointments in the first part of the year went online to do so:  Despite early problems with  vaccine rollout  and  online registration systems , in the April survey tech problems did  not  appear to be major struggles for most adults who had tried to sign up online for COVID-19 vaccines. The survey explored Americans’ experiences getting these vaccine appointments and reveals that in April 57% of adults had tried to sign themselves up and 25% had tried to sign someone else up. Fully 78% of those who tried to sign themselves up and 87% of those who tried to sign others up were online registrants. 

When it comes to difficulties with the online vaccine signup process, 29% of those who had tried to sign up online – 13% of all Americans – say it was very or somewhat difficult to sign themselves up for vaccines at that time. Among five reasons for this that the survey asked about, the most common  major  reason was lack of available appointments, rather than tech-related problems. Adults 65 and older who tried to sign themselves up for the vaccine online were the most likely age group to experience at least some difficulty when they tried to get a vaccine appointment.

Tech struggles and usefulness alike vary by race and ethnicity.  Americans’ experiences also have varied across racial and ethnic groups. For example, Black Americans are more likely than White or Hispanic adults to meet the criteria for having “lower tech readiness.” 6 Among broadband users, Black and Hispanic adults were also more likely than White adults to be worried about paying their bills for their high-speed internet access at home as of April, though the share of Hispanic Americans who say this declined sharply since April 2020. And a majority of Black and Hispanic broadband users say they at least sometimes have experienced problems with their internet connection. 

Still, Black adults and Hispanic adults are more likely than White adults to say various technologies – text messages, voice calls, video calls, social media sites and email – have helped them a lot to stay connected with family and friends amid the pandemic.

Tech has helped some adults under 30 to connect with friends, but tech fatigue also set in for some.  Only about one-in-five adults ages 18 to 29 say they feel closer to friends they know well compared with before the pandemic. This share is twice as high as that among adults 50 and older. Adults under 30 are also more likely than any other age group to say social media sites have helped a lot in staying connected with family and friends (30% say so), and about four-in-ten of those ages 18 to 29 say this about video calls. 

Screen time affected some negatively, however. About six-in-ten adults under 30 (57%) who have ever made video calls in the pandemic say they at least sometimes feel worn out or fatigued from spending time on video calls, and about half (49%) of young adults say they have tried to cut back on time spent on the internet or their smartphone.

  • Throughout this report, “parents” refers to those who said they were the parent or guardian of any children who were enrolled in elementary, middle or high school and who lived in their household at the time of the survey. ↩
  • People with a high-speed internet connection at home also are referred to as “home broadband users” or “broadband users” throughout this report. ↩
  • Family incomes are based on 2019 earnings and adjusted for differences in purchasing power by geographic region and for household sizes. Middle income is defined here as two-thirds to double the median annual family income for all panelists on the American Trends Panel. Lower income falls below that range; upper income falls above it. ↩
  • A separate  Center study  also fielded in April 2021 asked Americans what the government is responsible for on a number of topics, but did not mention the coronavirus outbreak. Some 43% of Americans said in that survey that the federal government has a responsibility to provide high-speed internet for all Americans. This was a significant increase from 2019, the last time the Center had asked that more general question, when 28% said the same. ↩
  • Quotations in this report may have been lightly edited for grammar, spelling and clarity. ↩
  • There were not enough Asian American respondents in the sample to be broken out into a separate analysis. As always, their responses are incorporated into the general population figures throughout this report. ↩

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Students’ online learning challenges during the pandemic and how they cope with them: The case of the Philippines

Jessie s. barrot.

College of Education, Arts and Sciences, National University, Manila, Philippines

Ian I. Llenares

Leo s. del rosario, associated data.

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Recently, the education system has faced an unprecedented health crisis that has shaken up its foundation. Given today’s uncertainties, it is vital to gain a nuanced understanding of students’ online learning experience in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many studies have investigated this area, limited information is available regarding the challenges and the specific strategies that students employ to overcome them. Thus, this study attempts to fill in the void. Using a mixed-methods approach, the findings revealed that the online learning challenges of college students varied in terms of type and extent. Their greatest challenge was linked to their learning environment at home, while their least challenge was technological literacy and competency. The findings further revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic had the greatest impact on the quality of the learning experience and students’ mental health. In terms of strategies employed by students, the most frequently used were resource management and utilization, help-seeking, technical aptitude enhancement, time management, and learning environment control. Implications for classroom practice, policy-making, and future research are discussed.


Since the 1990s, the world has seen significant changes in the landscape of education as a result of the ever-expanding influence of technology. One such development is the adoption of online learning across different learning contexts, whether formal or informal, academic and non-academic, and residential or remotely. We began to witness schools, teachers, and students increasingly adopt e-learning technologies that allow teachers to deliver instruction interactively, share resources seamlessly, and facilitate student collaboration and interaction (Elaish et al., 2019 ; Garcia et al., 2018 ). Although the efficacy of online learning has long been acknowledged by the education community (Barrot, 2020 , 2021 ; Cavanaugh et al., 2009 ; Kebritchi et al., 2017 ; Tallent-Runnels et al., 2006 ; Wallace, 2003 ), evidence on the challenges in its implementation continues to build up (e.g., Boelens et al., 2017 ; Rasheed et al., 2020 ).

Recently, the education system has faced an unprecedented health crisis (i.e., COVID-19 pandemic) that has shaken up its foundation. Thus, various governments across the globe have launched a crisis response to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on education. This response includes, but is not limited to, curriculum revisions, provision for technological resources and infrastructure, shifts in the academic calendar, and policies on instructional delivery and assessment. Inevitably, these developments compelled educational institutions to migrate to full online learning until face-to-face instruction is allowed. The current circumstance is unique as it could aggravate the challenges experienced during online learning due to restrictions in movement and health protocols (Gonzales et al., 2020 ; Kapasia et al., 2020 ). Given today’s uncertainties, it is vital to gain a nuanced understanding of students’ online learning experience in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, many studies have investigated this area with a focus on students’ mental health (Copeland et al., 2021 ; Fawaz et al., 2021 ), home learning (Suryaman et al., 2020 ), self-regulation (Carter et al., 2020 ), virtual learning environment (Almaiah et al., 2020 ; Hew et al., 2020 ; Tang et al., 2020 ), and students’ overall learning experience (e.g., Adarkwah, 2021 ; Day et al., 2021 ; Khalil et al., 2020 ; Singh et al., 2020 ). There are two key differences that set the current study apart from the previous studies. First, it sheds light on the direct impact of the pandemic on the challenges that students experience in an online learning space. Second, the current study explores students’ coping strategies in this new learning setup. Addressing these areas would shed light on the extent of challenges that students experience in a full online learning space, particularly within the context of the pandemic. Meanwhile, our nuanced understanding of the strategies that students use to overcome their challenges would provide relevant information to school administrators and teachers to better support the online learning needs of students. This information would also be critical in revisiting the typology of strategies in an online learning environment.

Literature review

Education and the covid-19 pandemic.

In December 2019, an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, occurred in China and has spread rapidly across the globe within a few months. COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus that attacks the respiratory system (World Health Organization, 2020 ). As of January 2021, COVID-19 has infected 94 million people and has caused 2 million deaths in 191 countries and territories (John Hopkins University, 2021 ). This pandemic has created a massive disruption of the educational systems, affecting over 1.5 billion students. It has forced the government to cancel national examinations and the schools to temporarily close, cease face-to-face instruction, and strictly observe physical distancing. These events have sparked the digital transformation of higher education and challenged its ability to respond promptly and effectively. Schools adopted relevant technologies, prepared learning and staff resources, set systems and infrastructure, established new teaching protocols, and adjusted their curricula. However, the transition was smooth for some schools but rough for others, particularly those from developing countries with limited infrastructure (Pham & Nguyen, 2020 ; Simbulan, 2020 ).

Inevitably, schools and other learning spaces were forced to migrate to full online learning as the world continues the battle to control the vicious spread of the virus. Online learning refers to a learning environment that uses the Internet and other technological devices and tools for synchronous and asynchronous instructional delivery and management of academic programs (Usher & Barak, 2020 ; Huang, 2019 ). Synchronous online learning involves real-time interactions between the teacher and the students, while asynchronous online learning occurs without a strict schedule for different students (Singh & Thurman, 2019 ). Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning has taken the status of interim remote teaching that serves as a response to an exigency. However, the migration to a new learning space has faced several major concerns relating to policy, pedagogy, logistics, socioeconomic factors, technology, and psychosocial factors (Donitsa-Schmidt & Ramot, 2020 ; Khalil et al., 2020 ; Varea & González-Calvo, 2020 ). With reference to policies, government education agencies and schools scrambled to create fool-proof policies on governance structure, teacher management, and student management. Teachers, who were used to conventional teaching delivery, were also obliged to embrace technology despite their lack of technological literacy. To address this problem, online learning webinars and peer support systems were launched. On the part of the students, dropout rates increased due to economic, psychological, and academic reasons. Academically, although it is virtually possible for students to learn anything online, learning may perhaps be less than optimal, especially in courses that require face-to-face contact and direct interactions (Franchi, 2020 ).

Related studies

Recently, there has been an explosion of studies relating to the new normal in education. While many focused on national policies, professional development, and curriculum, others zeroed in on the specific learning experience of students during the pandemic. Among these are Copeland et al. ( 2021 ) and Fawaz et al. ( 2021 ) who examined the impact of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health and their coping mechanisms. Copeland et al. ( 2021 ) reported that the pandemic adversely affected students’ behavioral and emotional functioning, particularly attention and externalizing problems (i.e., mood and wellness behavior), which were caused by isolation, economic/health effects, and uncertainties. In Fawaz et al.’s ( 2021 ) study, students raised their concerns on learning and evaluation methods, overwhelming task load, technical difficulties, and confinement. To cope with these problems, students actively dealt with the situation by seeking help from their teachers and relatives and engaging in recreational activities. These active-oriented coping mechanisms of students were aligned with Carter et al.’s ( 2020 ), who explored students’ self-regulation strategies.

In another study, Tang et al. ( 2020 ) examined the efficacy of different online teaching modes among engineering students. Using a questionnaire, the results revealed that students were dissatisfied with online learning in general, particularly in the aspect of communication and question-and-answer modes. Nonetheless, the combined model of online teaching with flipped classrooms improved students’ attention, academic performance, and course evaluation. A parallel study was undertaken by Hew et al. ( 2020 ), who transformed conventional flipped classrooms into fully online flipped classes through a cloud-based video conferencing app. Their findings suggested that these two types of learning environments were equally effective. They also offered ways on how to effectively adopt videoconferencing-assisted online flipped classrooms. Unlike the two studies, Suryaman et al. ( 2020 ) looked into how learning occurred at home during the pandemic. Their findings showed that students faced many obstacles in a home learning environment, such as lack of mastery of technology, high Internet cost, and limited interaction/socialization between and among students. In a related study, Kapasia et al. ( 2020 ) investigated how lockdown impacts students’ learning performance. Their findings revealed that the lockdown made significant disruptions in students’ learning experience. The students also reported some challenges that they faced during their online classes. These include anxiety, depression, poor Internet service, and unfavorable home learning environment, which were aggravated when students are marginalized and from remote areas. Contrary to Kapasia et al.’s ( 2020 ) findings, Gonzales et al. ( 2020 ) found that confinement of students during the pandemic had significant positive effects on their performance. They attributed these results to students’ continuous use of learning strategies which, in turn, improved their learning efficiency.

Finally, there are those that focused on students’ overall online learning experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. One such study was that of Singh et al. ( 2020 ), who examined students’ experience during the COVID-19 pandemic using a quantitative descriptive approach. Their findings indicated that students appreciated the use of online learning during the pandemic. However, half of them believed that the traditional classroom setting was more effective than the online learning platform. Methodologically, the researchers acknowledge that the quantitative nature of their study restricts a deeper interpretation of the findings. Unlike the above study, Khalil et al. ( 2020 ) qualitatively explored the efficacy of synchronized online learning in a medical school in Saudi Arabia. The results indicated that students generally perceive synchronous online learning positively, particularly in terms of time management and efficacy. However, they also reported technical (internet connectivity and poor utility of tools), methodological (content delivery), and behavioral (individual personality) challenges. Their findings also highlighted the failure of the online learning environment to address the needs of courses that require hands-on practice despite efforts to adopt virtual laboratories. In a parallel study, Adarkwah ( 2021 ) examined students’ online learning experience during the pandemic using a narrative inquiry approach. The findings indicated that Ghanaian students considered online learning as ineffective due to several challenges that they encountered. Among these were lack of social interaction among students, poor communication, lack of ICT resources, and poor learning outcomes. More recently, Day et al. ( 2021 ) examined the immediate impact of COVID-19 on students’ learning experience. Evidence from six institutions across three countries revealed some positive experiences and pre-existing inequities. Among the reported challenges are lack of appropriate devices, poor learning space at home, stress among students, and lack of fieldwork and access to laboratories.

Although there are few studies that report the online learning challenges that higher education students experience during the pandemic, limited information is available regarding the specific strategies that they use to overcome them. It is in this context that the current study was undertaken. This mixed-methods study investigates students’ online learning experience in higher education. Specifically, the following research questions are addressed: (1) What is the extent of challenges that students experience in an online learning environment? (2) How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the online learning challenges that students experience? (3) What strategies did students use to overcome the challenges?

Conceptual framework

The typology of challenges examined in this study is largely based on Rasheed et al.’s ( 2020 ) review of students’ experience in an online learning environment. These challenges are grouped into five general clusters, namely self-regulation (SRC), technological literacy and competency (TLCC), student isolation (SIC), technological sufficiency (TSC), and technological complexity (TCC) challenges (Rasheed et al., 2020 , p. 5). SRC refers to a set of behavior by which students exercise control over their emotions, actions, and thoughts to achieve learning objectives. TLCC relates to a set of challenges about students’ ability to effectively use technology for learning purposes. SIC relates to the emotional discomfort that students experience as a result of being lonely and secluded from their peers. TSC refers to a set of challenges that students experience when accessing available online technologies for learning. Finally, there is TCC which involves challenges that students experience when exposed to complex and over-sufficient technologies for online learning.

To extend Rasheed et al. ( 2020 ) categories and to cover other potential challenges during online classes, two more clusters were added, namely learning resource challenges (LRC) and learning environment challenges (LEC) (Buehler, 2004 ; Recker et al., 2004 ; Seplaki et al., 2014 ; Xue et al., 2020 ). LRC refers to a set of challenges that students face relating to their use of library resources and instructional materials, whereas LEC is a set of challenges that students experience related to the condition of their learning space that shapes their learning experiences, beliefs, and attitudes. Since learning environment at home and learning resources available to students has been reported to significantly impact the quality of learning and their achievement of learning outcomes (Drane et al., 2020 ; Suryaman et al., 2020 ), the inclusion of LRC and LEC would allow us to capture other important challenges that students experience during the pandemic, particularly those from developing regions. This comprehensive list would provide us a clearer and detailed picture of students’ experiences when engaged in online learning in an emergency. Given the restrictions in mobility at macro and micro levels during the pandemic, it is also expected that such conditions would aggravate these challenges. Therefore, this paper intends to understand these challenges from students’ perspectives since they are the ones that are ultimately impacted when the issue is about the learning experience. We also seek to explore areas that provide inconclusive findings, thereby setting the path for future research.

Material and methods

The present study adopted a descriptive, mixed-methods approach to address the research questions. This approach allowed the researchers to collect complex data about students’ experience in an online learning environment and to clearly understand the phenomena from their perspective.


This study involved 200 (66 male and 134 female) students from a private higher education institution in the Philippines. These participants were Psychology, Physical Education, and Sports Management majors whose ages ranged from 17 to 25 ( x ̅  = 19.81; SD  = 1.80). The students have been engaged in online learning for at least two terms in both synchronous and asynchronous modes. The students belonged to low- and middle-income groups but were equipped with the basic online learning equipment (e.g., computer, headset, speakers) and computer skills necessary for their participation in online classes. Table ​ Table1 1 shows the primary and secondary platforms that students used during their online classes. The primary platforms are those that are formally adopted by teachers and students in a structured academic context, whereas the secondary platforms are those that are informally and spontaneously used by students and teachers for informal learning and to supplement instructional delivery. Note that almost all students identified MS Teams as their primary platform because it is the official learning management system of the university.

Participants’ Online Learning Platforms

Informed consent was sought from the participants prior to their involvement. Before students signed the informed consent form, they were oriented about the objectives of the study and the extent of their involvement. They were also briefed about the confidentiality of information, their anonymity, and their right to refuse to participate in the investigation. Finally, the participants were informed that they would incur no additional cost from their participation.

Instrument and data collection

The data were collected using a retrospective self-report questionnaire and a focused group discussion (FGD). A self-report questionnaire was considered appropriate because the indicators relate to affective responses and attitude (Araujo et al., 2017 ; Barrot, 2016 ; Spector, 1994 ). Although the participants may tell more than what they know or do in a self-report survey (Matsumoto, 1994 ), this challenge was addressed by explaining to them in detail each of the indicators and using methodological triangulation through FGD. The questionnaire was divided into four sections: (1) participant’s personal information section, (2) the background information on the online learning environment, (3) the rating scale section for the online learning challenges, (4) the open-ended section. The personal information section asked about the students’ personal information (name, school, course, age, and sex), while the background information section explored the online learning mode and platforms (primary and secondary) used in class, and students’ length of engagement in online classes. The rating scale section contained 37 items that relate to SRC (6 items), TLCC (10 items), SIC (4 items), TSC (6 items), TCC (3 items), LRC (4 items), and LEC (4 items). The Likert scale uses six scores (i.e., 5– to a very great extent , 4– to a great extent , 3– to a moderate extent , 2– to some extent , 1– to a small extent , and 0 –not at all/negligible ) assigned to each of the 37 items. Finally, the open-ended questions asked about other challenges that students experienced, the impact of the pandemic on the intensity or extent of the challenges they experienced, and the strategies that the participants employed to overcome the eight different types of challenges during online learning. Two experienced educators and researchers reviewed the questionnaire for clarity, accuracy, and content and face validity. The piloting of the instrument revealed that the tool had good internal consistency (Cronbach’s α = 0.96).

The FGD protocol contains two major sections: the participants’ background information and the main questions. The background information section asked about the students’ names, age, courses being taken, online learning mode used in class. The items in the main questions section covered questions relating to the students’ overall attitude toward online learning during the pandemic, the reasons for the scores they assigned to each of the challenges they experienced, the impact of the pandemic on students’ challenges, and the strategies they employed to address the challenges. The same experts identified above validated the FGD protocol.

Both the questionnaire and the FGD were conducted online via Google survey and MS Teams, respectively. It took approximately 20 min to complete the questionnaire, while the FGD lasted for about 90 min. Students were allowed to ask for clarification and additional explanations relating to the questionnaire content, FGD, and procedure. Online surveys and interview were used because of the ongoing lockdown in the city. For the purpose of triangulation, 20 (10 from Psychology and 10 from Physical Education and Sports Management) randomly selected students were invited to participate in the FGD. Two separate FGDs were scheduled for each group and were facilitated by researcher 2 and researcher 3, respectively. The interviewers ensured that the participants were comfortable and open to talk freely during the FGD to avoid social desirability biases (Bergen & Labonté, 2020 ). These were done by informing the participants that there are no wrong responses and that their identity and responses would be handled with the utmost confidentiality. With the permission of the participants, the FGD was recorded to ensure that all relevant information was accurately captured for transcription and analysis.

Data analysis

To address the research questions, we used both quantitative and qualitative analyses. For the quantitative analysis, we entered all the data into an excel spreadsheet. Then, we computed the mean scores ( M ) and standard deviations ( SD ) to determine the level of challenges experienced by students during online learning. The mean score for each descriptor was interpreted using the following scheme: 4.18 to 5.00 ( to a very great extent ), 3.34 to 4.17 ( to a great extent ), 2.51 to 3.33 ( to a moderate extent ), 1.68 to 2.50 ( to some extent ), 0.84 to 1.67 ( to a small extent ), and 0 to 0.83 ( not at all/negligible ). The equal interval was adopted because it produces more reliable and valid information than other types of scales (Cicchetti et al., 2006 ).

For the qualitative data, we analyzed the students’ responses in the open-ended questions and the transcribed FGD using the predetermined categories in the conceptual framework. Specifically, we used multilevel coding in classifying the codes from the transcripts (Birks & Mills, 2011 ). To do this, we identified the relevant codes from the responses of the participants and categorized these codes based on the similarities or relatedness of their properties and dimensions. Then, we performed a constant comparative and progressive analysis of cases to allow the initially identified subcategories to emerge and take shape. To ensure the reliability of the analysis, two coders independently analyzed the qualitative data. Both coders familiarize themselves with the purpose, research questions, research method, and codes and coding scheme of the study. They also had a calibration session and discussed ways on how they could consistently analyze the qualitative data. Percent of agreement between the two coders was 86 percent. Any disagreements in the analysis were discussed by the coders until an agreement was achieved.

This study investigated students’ online learning experience in higher education within the context of the pandemic. Specifically, we identified the extent of challenges that students experienced, how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their online learning experience, and the strategies that they used to confront these challenges.

The extent of students’ online learning challenges

Table ​ Table2 2 presents the mean scores and SD for the extent of challenges that students’ experienced during online learning. Overall, the students experienced the identified challenges to a moderate extent ( x ̅  = 2.62, SD  = 1.03) with scores ranging from x ̅  = 1.72 ( to some extent ) to x ̅  = 3.58 ( to a great extent ). More specifically, the greatest challenge that students experienced was related to the learning environment ( x ̅  = 3.49, SD  = 1.27), particularly on distractions at home, limitations in completing the requirements for certain subjects, and difficulties in selecting the learning areas and study schedule. It is, however, found that the least challenge was on technological literacy and competency ( x ̅  = 2.10, SD  = 1.13), particularly on knowledge and training in the use of technology, technological intimidation, and resistance to learning technologies. Other areas that students experienced the least challenge are Internet access under TSC and procrastination under SRC. Nonetheless, nearly half of the students’ responses per indicator rated the challenges they experienced as moderate (14 of the 37 indicators), particularly in TCC ( x ̅  = 2.51, SD  = 1.31), SIC ( x ̅  = 2.77, SD  = 1.34), and LRC ( x ̅  = 2.93, SD  = 1.31).

The Extent of Students’ Challenges during the Interim Online Learning

Out of 200 students, 181 responded to the question about other challenges that they experienced. Most of their responses were already covered by the seven predetermined categories, except for 18 responses related to physical discomfort ( N  = 5) and financial challenges ( N  = 13). For instance, S108 commented that “when it comes to eyes and head, my eyes and head get ache if the session of class was 3 h straight in front of my gadget.” In the same vein, S194 reported that “the long exposure to gadgets especially laptop, resulting in body pain & headaches.” With reference to physical financial challenges, S66 noted that “not all the time I have money to load”, while S121 claimed that “I don't know until when are we going to afford budgeting our money instead of buying essentials.”

Impact of the pandemic on students’ online learning challenges

Another objective of this study was to identify how COVID-19 influenced the online learning challenges that students experienced. As shown in Table ​ Table3, 3 , most of the students’ responses were related to teaching and learning quality ( N  = 86) and anxiety and other mental health issues ( N  = 52). Regarding the adverse impact on teaching and learning quality, most of the comments relate to the lack of preparation for the transition to online platforms (e.g., S23, S64), limited infrastructure (e.g., S13, S65, S99, S117), and poor Internet service (e.g., S3, S9, S17, S41, S65, S99). For the anxiety and mental health issues, most students reported that the anxiety, boredom, sadness, and isolation they experienced had adversely impacted the way they learn (e.g., S11, S130), completing their tasks/activities (e.g., S56, S156), and their motivation to continue studying (e.g., S122, S192). The data also reveal that COVID-19 aggravated the financial difficulties experienced by some students ( N  = 16), consequently affecting their online learning experience. This financial impact mainly revolved around the lack of funding for their online classes as a result of their parents’ unemployment and the high cost of Internet data (e.g., S18, S113, S167). Meanwhile, few concerns were raised in relation to COVID-19’s impact on mobility ( N  = 7) and face-to-face interactions ( N  = 7). For instance, some commented that the lack of face-to-face interaction with her classmates had a detrimental effect on her learning (S46) and socialization skills (S36), while others reported that restrictions in mobility limited their learning experience (S78, S110). Very few comments were related to no effect ( N  = 4) and positive effect ( N  = 2). The above findings suggest the pandemic had additive adverse effects on students’ online learning experience.

Summary of students’ responses on the impact of COVID-19 on their online learning experience

Students’ strategies to overcome challenges in an online learning environment

The third objective of this study is to identify the strategies that students employed to overcome the different online learning challenges they experienced. Table ​ Table4 4 presents that the most commonly used strategies used by students were resource management and utilization ( N  = 181), help-seeking ( N  = 155), technical aptitude enhancement ( N  = 122), time management ( N  = 98), and learning environment control ( N  = 73). Not surprisingly, the top two strategies were also the most consistently used across different challenges. However, looking closely at each of the seven challenges, the frequency of using a particular strategy varies. For TSC and LRC, the most frequently used strategy was resource management and utilization ( N  = 52, N  = 89, respectively), whereas technical aptitude enhancement was the students’ most preferred strategy to address TLCC ( N  = 77) and TCC ( N  = 38). In the case of SRC, SIC, and LEC, the most frequently employed strategies were time management ( N  = 71), psychological support ( N  = 53), and learning environment control ( N  = 60). In terms of consistency, help-seeking appears to be the most consistent across the different challenges in an online learning environment. Table ​ Table4 4 further reveals that strategies used by students within a specific type of challenge vary.

Students’ Strategies to Overcome Online Learning Challenges

Discussion and conclusions

The current study explores the challenges that students experienced in an online learning environment and how the pandemic impacted their online learning experience. The findings revealed that the online learning challenges of students varied in terms of type and extent. Their greatest challenge was linked to their learning environment at home, while their least challenge was technological literacy and competency. Based on the students’ responses, their challenges were also found to be aggravated by the pandemic, especially in terms of quality of learning experience, mental health, finances, interaction, and mobility. With reference to previous studies (i.e., Adarkwah, 2021 ; Copeland et al., 2021 ; Day et al., 2021 ; Fawaz et al., 2021 ; Kapasia et al., 2020 ; Khalil et al., 2020 ; Singh et al., 2020 ), the current study has complemented their findings on the pedagogical, logistical, socioeconomic, technological, and psychosocial online learning challenges that students experience within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, this study extended previous studies and our understanding of students’ online learning experience by identifying both the presence and extent of online learning challenges and by shedding light on the specific strategies they employed to overcome them.

Overall findings indicate that the extent of challenges and strategies varied from one student to another. Hence, they should be viewed as a consequence of interaction several many factors. Students’ responses suggest that their online learning challenges and strategies were mediated by the resources available to them, their interaction with their teachers and peers, and the school’s existing policies and guidelines for online learning. In the context of the pandemic, the imposed lockdowns and students’ socioeconomic condition aggravated the challenges that students experience.

While most studies revealed that technology use and competency were the most common challenges that students face during the online classes (see Rasheed et al., 2020 ), the case is a bit different in developing countries in times of pandemic. As the findings have shown, the learning environment is the greatest challenge that students needed to hurdle, particularly distractions at home (e.g., noise) and limitations in learning space and facilities. This data suggests that online learning challenges during the pandemic somehow vary from the typical challenges that students experience in a pre-pandemic online learning environment. One possible explanation for this result is that restriction in mobility may have aggravated this challenge since they could not go to the school or other learning spaces beyond the vicinity of their respective houses. As shown in the data, the imposition of lockdown restricted students’ learning experience (e.g., internship and laboratory experiments), limited their interaction with peers and teachers, caused depression, stress, and anxiety among students, and depleted the financial resources of those who belong to lower-income group. All of these adversely impacted students’ learning experience. This finding complemented earlier reports on the adverse impact of lockdown on students’ learning experience and the challenges posed by the home learning environment (e.g., Day et al., 2021 ; Kapasia et al., 2020 ). Nonetheless, further studies are required to validate the impact of restrictions on mobility on students’ online learning experience. The second reason that may explain the findings relates to students’ socioeconomic profile. Consistent with the findings of Adarkwah ( 2021 ) and Day et al. ( 2021 ), the current study reveals that the pandemic somehow exposed the many inequities in the educational systems within and across countries. In the case of a developing country, families from lower socioeconomic strata (as in the case of the students in this study) have limited learning space at home, access to quality Internet service, and online learning resources. This is the reason the learning environment and learning resources recorded the highest level of challenges. The socioeconomic profile of the students (i.e., low and middle-income group) is the same reason financial problems frequently surfaced from their responses. These students frequently linked the lack of financial resources to their access to the Internet, educational materials, and equipment necessary for online learning. Therefore, caution should be made when interpreting and extending the findings of this study to other contexts, particularly those from higher socioeconomic strata.

Among all the different online learning challenges, the students experienced the least challenge on technological literacy and competency. This is not surprising considering a plethora of research confirming Gen Z students’ (born since 1996) high technological and digital literacy (Barrot, 2018 ; Ng, 2012 ; Roblek et al., 2019 ). Regarding the impact of COVID-19 on students’ online learning experience, the findings reveal that teaching and learning quality and students’ mental health were the most affected. The anxiety that students experienced does not only come from the threats of COVID-19 itself but also from social and physical restrictions, unfamiliarity with new learning platforms, technical issues, and concerns about financial resources. These findings are consistent with that of Copeland et al. ( 2021 ) and Fawaz et al. ( 2021 ), who reported the adverse effects of the pandemic on students’ mental and emotional well-being. This data highlights the need to provide serious attention to the mediating effects of mental health, restrictions in mobility, and preparedness in delivering online learning.

Nonetheless, students employed a variety of strategies to overcome the challenges they faced during online learning. For instance, to address the home learning environment problems, students talked to their family (e.g., S12, S24), transferred to a quieter place (e.g., S7, S 26), studied at late night where all family members are sleeping already (e.g., S51), and consulted with their classmates and teachers (e.g., S3, S9, S156, S193). To overcome the challenges in learning resources, students used the Internet (e.g., S20, S27, S54, S91), joined Facebook groups that share free resources (e.g., S5), asked help from family members (e.g., S16), used resources available at home (e.g., S32), and consulted with the teachers (e.g., S124). The varying strategies of students confirmed earlier reports on the active orientation that students take when faced with academic- and non-academic-related issues in an online learning space (see Fawaz et al., 2021 ). The specific strategies that each student adopted may have been shaped by different factors surrounding him/her, such as available resources, student personality, family structure, relationship with peers and teacher, and aptitude. To expand this study, researchers may further investigate this area and explore how and why different factors shape their use of certain strategies.

Several implications can be drawn from the findings of this study. First, this study highlighted the importance of emergency response capability and readiness of higher education institutions in case another crisis strikes again. Critical areas that need utmost attention include (but not limited to) national and institutional policies, protocol and guidelines, technological infrastructure and resources, instructional delivery, staff development, potential inequalities, and collaboration among key stakeholders (i.e., parents, students, teachers, school leaders, industry, government education agencies, and community). Second, the findings have expanded our understanding of the different challenges that students might confront when we abruptly shift to full online learning, particularly those from countries with limited resources, poor Internet infrastructure, and poor home learning environment. Schools with a similar learning context could use the findings of this study in developing and enhancing their respective learning continuity plans to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic. This study would also provide students relevant information needed to reflect on the possible strategies that they may employ to overcome the challenges. These are critical information necessary for effective policymaking, decision-making, and future implementation of online learning. Third, teachers may find the results useful in providing proper interventions to address the reported challenges, particularly in the most critical areas. Finally, the findings provided us a nuanced understanding of the interdependence of learning tools, learners, and learning outcomes within an online learning environment; thus, giving us a multiperspective of hows and whys of a successful migration to full online learning.

Some limitations in this study need to be acknowledged and addressed in future studies. One limitation of this study is that it exclusively focused on students’ perspectives. Future studies may widen the sample by including all other actors taking part in the teaching–learning process. Researchers may go deeper by investigating teachers’ views and experience to have a complete view of the situation and how different elements interact between them or affect the others. Future studies may also identify some teacher-related factors that could influence students’ online learning experience. In the case of students, their age, sex, and degree programs may be examined in relation to the specific challenges and strategies they experience. Although the study involved a relatively large sample size, the participants were limited to college students from a Philippine university. To increase the robustness of the findings, future studies may expand the learning context to K-12 and several higher education institutions from different geographical regions. As a final note, this pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped and pushed the education system to its limits. However, this unprecedented event is the same thing that will make the education system stronger and survive future threats.

Authors’ contributions

Jessie Barrot led the planning, prepared the instrument, wrote the report, and processed and analyzed data. Ian Llenares participated in the planning, fielded the instrument, processed and analyzed data, reviewed the instrument, and contributed to report writing. Leo del Rosario participated in the planning, fielded the instrument, processed and analyzed data, reviewed the instrument, and contributed to report writing.

No funding was received in the conduct of this study.

Availability of data and materials


The study has undergone appropriate ethics protocol.

Informed consent was sought from the participants.

Authors consented the publication. Participants consented to publication as long as confidentiality is observed.

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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Most families gave up on virtual school. What about students still thriving online?

RIO RANCHO, N.M. – When Ashley Daniels saw her second grade son earn a high score on a test, she knew he had just guessed the answers and gotten lucky. Daniels called his teacher and said he might need some extra support, despite his performance on the test.

It wasn’t just a mother’s intuition. Daniels watched her son take the test from their dining room table.

The second grader attends SpaRRk Academy, a virtual learning program for elementary students created in 2021 by the Rio Rancho School District in New Mexico. Even as doors reopened to brick-and-mortar schools, administrators here saw the continued need for a virtual option in response to lingering concerns about COVID-19 and feedback from some parents that their children had thrived in online learning.

After a tough year, schools are axing virtual learning. Some families want to stay online.

The district assigned 10 full-time teachers to provide live, online classes via Zoom. They also organized an in-person component: Once a week, students would gather in reserved classrooms in a local elementary school for activities such as science experiments, project-based learning and reading groups. More than 250 students signed up for SpaRRk.

But two years in, enrollment had dropped to 87 kids, a 65% decrease. Costs had soared to $11,327 per pupil, a 121% jump from the year before and nearly $3,000 more than the average in this district of roughly 17,000 students. SpaRRk Academy’s future sat on shaky ground; the school board announced in late 2022 that it would vote this spring on whether to shutter the academy altogether.

Virtual schools, once scarce, proliferated because of COVID

Before the pandemic, virtual schools were relatively scarce: 691 fully virtual programs enrolled nearly 294,000 students, accounting for less than 1% of national public school enrollment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But after most schools shifted their classes online in early 2020, remote learning caught on with some families, including those who preferred to give their children the flexibility of learning from home, or whose children struggled with social anxiety in school buildings or hadn’t found success in traditional learning environments.

Forty-one percent of districts surveyed in August 2021 by the Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, said they had opened a full-time virtual school option during the pandemic, and 32% planned to maintain these programs after the pandemic subsided.

But today, as COVID-19 fears have waned, many students have tired of screens and employers have begun requiring workers to return in person, a number of those virtual academies are at risk of closing . That’s leaving families like Daniels’ in the lurch and raising questions about the future of virtual learning. The highest-quality online programs have generally demanded the most resources from school districts, which makes them the most likely to face closure in the face of budget constraints.

“Do we continue to fund something that is showing declining enrollment?” said Rachel Aaker, the principal of SpaRRK Academy, who spearheaded its creation. “I believe it would take commitment from the district and the board to say we may see an increasing need for this eventually, and we need some years for that to play out.”

Tucked in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in northern New Mexico, Rio Rancho is a small but rapidly growing school district. New schools are being built every few years to keep pace with a surge in families moving to the area because of its proximity to technology and engineering firm Sandia National Laboratories and new business hubs for companies such as Intel and NTX Bio. The high-desert landscape is dotted with signs of development: brand-new farmhouse-style homes, fresh asphalt still jet-black from lack of use, and “for sale” placards on empty plots of land. 

Study: Screen time among teenagers during COVID more than doubled outside of virtual school

A longtime administrator in Rio Rancho, Aaker led the districtwide transition of elementary students to online learning when COVID-19 struck. As public health guidelines relaxed over the course of the next school year, Aaker began to hear from parents who weren’t comfortable sending their kids back to in-person learning. She approached the board with the idea of a stand-alone hybrid program run by the district that any elementary student in Rio Rancho could attend.

Since 2005, the district had operated a virtual option, Cyber Academy, for middle and high schoolers, which relied primarily on a third-party platform, Edgenuity, for lessons students could perform on their own at their own pace and offered some in-person academic support and extracurriculars. Aaker’s new elementary option was to be different, though, with its real-time live instruction designed by district administrators and led by district teachers.

Daniels and another parent, Nicole Garcia, who sent two children to SpaRRk, opted for the program because of COVID-19 fears. Once enrolled, their children grew more confident and their academic performance improved, said Daniels and Garcia, and they became believers in the model for the long haul. That was true for many SpaRRk parents: District surveys of SpaRRk families found that health concerns were the biggest initial draw, but by 2022 parents instead cited the program’s quality, the school’s close collaboration with families and the flexibility as reasons they stayed. 

More: Could video gaming hold the key to better learning?

Still, that enthusiasm wasn’t enough: The academy lost its biggest class, of 54 fifth graders, when they graduated to middle school in 2022, while other families moved out of the school district or returned to in-person learning as pandemic fears eased. Enrollment at Rio Rancho’s Cyber Academy for older students also declined, from 285 to 205 this year.

Remote school interest declines in the post-COVID era

That mirrors what’s happening in other districts. Overall, total virtual enrollment remains higher than before the pandemic, but in some cases it has declined relative to its pandemic peaks, according to Gary Miron, a professor with Western Michigan University’s Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology. 

In Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, 782 families opted into the district’s full-time online offering during the 2021-22 school year; today that figure is 508. When Salt Lake Virtual Elementary in Utah’s Salt Lake City School District opened for the 2021-22 school year, 257 students enrolled, but that number plummeted to 87 students this year . This June, the school board plans to decide whether to close the school altogether. Nearby Jordan School District’s virtual elementary option, Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary, saw enrollment drop from 604 students during the height of the pandemic to 273 students this year. Wyoming Virtual Academy, a virtual option available to K-12 students statewide, saw enrollment surge from roughly 500 students every year since its founding in 2009 to nearly 1,200 students at the height of the pandemic. Enrollment fell to about 600 students for this school year.

Less than 20 miles south of Rio Rancho, the Albuquerque eCADEMY High School, a virtual program created by the Albuquerque school district in 2013, saw enrollment jump during the pandemic from 276 students to 726 . Seeing this demand, the Albuquerque school board voted in June 2020 to allocate $8 million in pandemic relief to create eCADEMY K8 and expand virtual offerings to lower grades. In its first year, nearly 1,400 students enrolled, according to data made publicly available by APS.

This school year, enrollment dropped for both eCADEMY programs – to about 950 high schoolers and 747 elementary and middle schoolers , though the numbers remain well above pre-pandemic figures. While many students stay enrolled in eCADEMY’s high school program for increased flexibility, Principal Erin Easley said, the program also sees large percentages of students who are coping with debilitating medical conditions or social anxiety, while others come from difficult home environments or have historically struggled to succeed in the classroom.

Overall, though, virtual enrollment may be dropping amid questions surrounding the quality of remote learning. Student academic performance took a beating during the online learning experiment of the pandemic. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, shows that fourth graders lost the equivalent of two decades of progress in reading and math, and eighth grade math performance fell in all but one state. And research on some online academies that existed before the pandemic, including for-profit online charter schools , has tended to show poor student outcomes and low graduation rates .

Yet a growing number of educators and researchers caution against making conclusions about virtual learning based on that research. The transition to online learning during the pandemic was haphazard; online programs have continued to evolve and improve. Parents will increasingly expect districts to offer a virtual learning alternative as technology’s role grows and pandemic-era workplace flexibility becomes more commonplace, education experts say. 

More: Online youth mental health services provided at some schools offer lifeline amid crisis

“The idea that we think our education systems are going to remain paper- and pencil-based and in this face-to-face instructional model – it’s going to change,” said Miron, the Western Michigan University professor. “It is changing.”

But the approach that districts take matters. When the time came to select a middle school for her older child, Garcia said the family chose Cyber Academy, Rio Rancho’s existing virtual program for grades six to 12. She quickly found that it was “not even comparable” to the experience at SPaRRk, she said, and withdrew her daughter after winter break in favor of the local middle school.

“SpaRRk teachers took the time to hang around to go over any questions the students had, and made themselves available throughout the day. They are wonderful. I’ve never dealt with teachers like them,” Garcia said. “At Cyber Academy, the teachers and curriculum were not great, and the teachers didn’t offer help when kids needed it.” 

New forms of remote schooling differ

Education experts say the most successful online programs tend to be those that provide individual attention to students, staff the school with dedicated district employees, guarantee low teacher-to-student ratios and rely on curriculum developed by school districts rather than off-the-shelf programs run by for-profit charter schools or other companies. Hybrid programs that incorporate some in-person learning and extracurricular activities, like SPaRRk’s, have been most successful at providing the benefits of online learning while retaining the social skills some fear could be lost in a virtual environment, according to Miron and others. But as Rio Rancho is finding, such programs require significant resources that can be hard to justify if student enrollment falls.

At the Rio Rancho Board of Education building overlooking the Sandia Mountain foothills, dozens gathered in February for a vote on the online academy’s future. 

Most who spoke favored keeping it open. “At least give us a chance, give the community a chance to know about this program,” pleaded Ruby Holden, a special education teacher at SPaRRk Academy, during public comment. “We just need an opportunity to have our program open for parents and families to know about us, and I just don’t feel like we’ve had the opportunity to spread the word about our program.”

But when Aaker was pressed on how many kids she could enroll in the next two years, she said about “one class per grade level,” or 20 to 25 students each, more than current enrollment but not the 300-plus target she had thought might be viable when SpaRRk Academy was first founded.

Less than an hour later, the board voted to close the school after only two years in operation.

“Enrollment is not going in the right direction,” Sue Cleveland, the Rio Rancho superintendent, said at the meeting. “It’s substantially more expensive than what we are spending on other students in the district. I wish we had enough resources that we didn’t have to make hard choices like sometimes we have to make.”

After the vote, SpaRRk families and administrators shared tears and hugs. “We wish we had more time to provide an opportunity for our school to grow,” Aaker said.  

Garcia, who did not attend was not at the meeting, said she’ll enroll her rising fourth grader in the local brick-and-mortar option, which, she said, “is not what we would want at this time.”

More: The pandemic changed American education overnight. Some changes are here to stay.

Daniels said she plans to homeschool her son for the upcoming school year rather than send him back to a local public school. “I think it’s such a loss for the district,” she said. “I feel like they are taking three steps back.”

“Ironically, one of the board members was literally attending the meeting virtually. I guess we do board meetings virtually – but not learning.”

This story about online academies was produced by The Hechinger Report , a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter .

Pandemic relief, pay increases and more: What to know about Nashville schools budget talks

essay on online education during pandemic

Offsetting the expiration of hundreds of millions in federal pandemic relief money and raises for educators and support staff took center stage as city and district leaders discussed the Metro Nashville Public Schools budget Thursday.

MNPS Director Adrienne Battle, Co-Chief Financial Officer Jorge Robles and Board of Education Vice Chair Freda Player were on hand to discuss the proposal before the Metro Council Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday. Several members of the MNPS board and representatives from Metropolitan Nashville Education Association were also present, looking on from the public gallery in the council chambers.

Here are five key takeaways from the discussion.

A $1.3 billion proposal

The proposed budget for the district, mapped out by Mayor Freddie O'Connell, includes a $41.6 million increase to the district's operating budget that will support a 3.5% cost-of-living adjustment for staff, step increases for staff pay and inflationary increases. The proposed budget also asks for $18 million in one-time funding for textbook materials, including new science textbooks for the 2024-25 school year.

The total 2024-25 proposed operating budget shakes out to just shy of $1.3 billion. That makes up around 38% of the mayor's $3.27 billion proposed budget for Nashville .

In May, O'Connell said his proposed budget has Nashville "tightening our belt just a little" as revenue growth flattens statewide, while still making gains. The proposed MNPS budget does include a $15 million budget cut. Battle said she and her team are still assessing where those cuts would land.

“What we are not planning to do is touch our school-based budgets," Battle said.

What to know: Nashville's proposed budget has city 'tightening our belt' for 2025

Offsetting expiring federal pandemic relief funds

Player and Battle both pointed to the district's diligent efforts to avoid a "funding cliff" that districts nationwide are facing as the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, also known as ESSER, is set to wind down later this year.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, MNPS received a total of $425 million in ESSER funds that covered everything from student nutrition support to money for things like laptops and other technology. Battle said district leaders worked to build a "bridge" as the funds run out.

During the budget hearing, Player showed a slide with grim headlines from around the nation about schools facing teacher layoffs and sharp budget cuts due to the expiration of ESSER.

"We're having a very different kind of conversation," Player said as she praised the district's efforts.

The district previously gained approval from city leaders to use $66 million from its reserves to offset the effects of ESSER funding expiring. The district also folded some of the expenses funded by ESSER into last year's operating budget. They are now asking the council to sign off on allowing them to use an additional $11 million in reserves this year.

The total of $77 million in reserve funds would support things likes nurses in every school, tutoring, summer learning camps and mental health supports, among others.

Discrepancy in last year's cost-of-living adjustment

As proposed, the mayor's budget includes a 3.5% pay increase for all MNPS staff through a cost-of-living-adjustment, also known as a COLA. It also earmarks $10.2 million for step increases for teachers, support staff and nutrition services staff.

Last year, Metro employees received a 6% raise through a COLA allocation. However, MNPS employees only received a 4% increase. That discrepancy sparked frustration and pushback from MNPS board members, support staff and the local teacher's union.

"Last year we messed up and didn’t communicate well on that," Councilmember Burkley Allen said.

"Yes," Battle responded with a chuckle, as onlookers snapped their fingers in support and laughed from the public gallery.

Allen asked district leaders to provide council with a number that would offset that difference. Councilmember Chris Cortese later asked where the district would put any "extra dollars" the council may find to get the greatest return on investment. Battle cited the $15 million budget cut and "critically important" COLA increases.

Analyzing board member pay

Councilmember Tom Cash voiced his support for the district conducting a study on how much school board members are paid and what it would take to increase that amount.

At present, MNPS board members make $14,560 a year — an amount that has not increased since 2003, according to Player. She said school board members in comparable cities, like Memphis and Knoxville, make around $30,000 per year.

Player said the board's workload has increased since it must now run two elections during each election cycle due to a state law that allows for partisan primaries in school board races. She said the study would create transparency around what a potential increase to school board pay would support.

"We do not want to do this in a vacuum," Player said.

What's next

Councilmembers will conduct several more budget and finance hearings and work sessions in the weeks to come before finalizing the budget. The full council is expected to vote on the final budget during its June 18 meeting. The school board will then vote on the finalized budget by June 30.

The new budget will take effect on July 1, which kicks off the 2024-25 fiscal year.


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    The challenges and opportunities of online and continuing education during the COVID-19 pandemic is summarized and way forward suggested. Pedagogy for Continuing Education Through Online Lockdown and social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to closures of schools, training institutes and higher education facilities in ...

  3. Students' experience of online learning during the COVID‐19 pandemic: A

    This study explores how students at different stages of their K‐12 education reacted to the mandatory full‐time online learning during the COVID‐19 pandemic. For this purpose, we conducted a province‐wide survey study in which the online learning experience of 1,170,769 Chinese students was collected from the Guangdong Province of China.

  4. The rise of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Follow. The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. Research suggests that online learning has been shown to ...

  5. Students' experience of online learning during the COVID‐19 pandemic: A

    Online learning has been widely adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuation of K-12 education. Student success in K-12 online education is substantially lower than in conventional schools. Students experienced various difficulties related to the delivery of online learning. What this paper adds Provide empirical evidence for ...

  6. Shaping the Future of Online Learning

    CB: While these changes have improved the online learning experience, challenges remain, including addressing the digital divide, maximizing student engagement, and refining the quality of online courses. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning and its impact will likely continue to shape higher education for many years to come.

  7. Adoption of online teaching during the COVID-19 Pandemic: a systematic

    Rapanta et al. (Citation 2020) also collected online education experts' perceptions on the global online transition during the Pandemic and stress the importance of the effective design of online learning activities, which increases teacher presence, and an assessment and feedback mechanism for successful online teaching.

  8. Capturing the benefits of remote learning

    For example, in a meta-analysis of studies, researchers linked parental engagement in their middle schoolers' education with greater measures of success (Hill, N. E., & Tyson, D. F., Developmental Psychology, Vol. 45, No. 3, 2009). During the pandemic, parents had new opportunities to learn about their kids and, as a result, help them learn.

  9. Student's experiences with online teaching following COVID-19 ...

    Background The COVID-19 pandemic lead to a sudden shift to online teaching and restricted campus access. Aim To assess how university students experienced the sudden shift to online teaching after closure of campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Material and methods Students in Public Health Nutrition answered questionnaires two and 12 weeks (N = 79: response rate 20.3% and 26.6%, respectively ...

  10. Students' online learning challenges during the pandemic and how they

    Recently, the education system has faced an unprecedented health crisis that has shaken up its foundation. Given today's uncertainties, it is vital to gain a nuanced understanding of students' online learning experience in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many studies have investigated this area, limited information is available regarding the challenges and the specific strategies ...

  11. Engagement in Online Learning: Student Attitudes and Behavior During

    Introduction. In Spring 2020, 90% of higher education institutions in the United States canceled in-person instruction and shifted to emergency remote teaching (ERT) due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Lederman, 2020).ERT in response to COVID-19 is qualitatively different from typical online learning instruction as students did not self-select to participate in ERT and teachers were expected to ...

  12. PDF The Impact of Covid-19 on Student Experiences and Expectations ...

    expected GPA.4 There also is substantial variation in the pandemic's e ect on preference for online learning, with Honors students and males revising their preferences down by more than 2.5 times as much as their peers. However, despite appearing to be more disrupted by the switch to online learning, the impact of

  13. Teaching in a pandemic: a comparative evaluation of online ...

    The COVID-19 pandemic forced the education sector to transform significantly in order to support students across the world. Technology played a crucial role in enhancing and adapting traditional learning to digital resources and networks, which are now an essential component of education. However, there is concern about the quality of teaching and its effectiveness in remote teaching due to ...

  14. Academic and emotional effects of online learning during the COVID-19

    Introduction. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge in education, leading to the suspension of face-to-face teaching (UNESCO, 2020).This change has been particularly challenging in university undergraduate engineering degrees since much of the learning process is based on practical applications, laboratory classes, and direct contact with teachers and other students.

  15. Unequal Educational Opportunities and Challenges in Online Learning

    Enforcing online classes during the lockdown due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the living and learning conditions of students from the most marginalised sections in India. Against this backdrop, this study seeks to shed light on the risk of the rapid adaptation of online teaching methods under extremely unfavourable ...

  16. COVID-19's impacts on the scope, effectiveness, and ...

    The COVID-19 outbreak brought online learning to the forefront of education. Scholars have conducted many studies on online learning during the pandemic, but only a few have performed quantitative comparative analyses of students' online learning behavior before and after the outbreak. We collected review data from China's massive open online course platform called icourse.163 and ...

  17. Coronavirus and schools: Reflections on education one year into the

    March 12, 2021. 11 min read. One year ago, the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. Reacting to the virus, schools at every level were sent scrambling ...

  18. The Effect of COVID-19 on Education

    The transition to an online education during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may bring about adverse educational changes and adverse health consequences for children and young adult learners in grade school, middle school, high school, college, and professional schools. The effects may differ by age, maturity, and socioeconomic ...

  19. Is Online Learning Effective?

    218. A UNESCO report says schools' heavy focus on remote online learning during the pandemic worsened educational disparities among students worldwide. Amira Karaoud/Reuters. By Natalie Proulx ...

  20. Online Learning During the Pandemic

    This paper, "Online Learning During the Pandemic", was written and voluntary submitted to our free essay database by a straight-A student. Please ensure you properly reference the paper if you're using it to write your assignment. Before publication, the StudyCorgi editorial team proofread and checked the paper to make sure it meets the ...

  21. The pandemic has had devastating impacts on learning. What ...

    To help contextualize the magnitude of the impacts of COVID-19, we situate test-score drops during the pandemic relative to the test-score gains associated with common interventions being employed ...

  22. Online education and its effect on teachers during COVID-19—A case

    Background COVID pandemic resulted in an initially temporary and then long term closure of educational institutions, creating a need for adapting to online and remote learning. The transition to online education platforms presented unprecedented challenges for the teachers. The aim of this research was to investigate the effects of the transition to online education on teachers' wellbeing in ...

  23. The Internet and the Pandemic

    While 82% of the Americans with lower tech readiness say the internet has been at least important to them personally during the pandemic, they are less likely than those with higher tech readiness to say the internet has been essential (39% vs. 66%). Some 21% of those with lower tech readiness say digital interactions haven't been of much use ...

  24. Experiences with Online Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic-Stricken

    Abstract: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that bursted out this year, online education has become a main type of education and an entire education system was forced to make a switch from classrooms to World Wide Web. The impact of the students receiving education online for the entire semester on their final grade was analysed and the results are shown in the paper.

  25. Reimagining the Purpose of Vocational Education and Training

    Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which emphasises inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all was achieved by online teaching even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, online education helped reduce the cost of education, making it more accessible to individuals who might not be able to afford traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

  26. Students' online learning challenges during the pandemic and how they

    It is very difficult to have online class during this pandemic, not all family are blessed to have a good shelter, good gadget and good connection. ... Althunibat A. Exploring the critical challenges and factors influencing the E-learning system usage during COVID-19 pandemic. Education and Information Technologies. 2020; 25:5261-5280. doi ...

  27. Online school options are shrinking. What about kids who thrive there?

    The transition to online learning during the pandemic was haphazard; online programs have continued to evolve and improve. Parents will increasingly expect districts to offer a virtual learning ...

  28. Pandemic relief, pay increases and more: What to know about Nashville

    Pay increases and the expiration of hundreds of millions in federal pandemic relief took center stage during MNPS budget talks Thursday.