The Effects of COVID-19 on Learning

Derar Serhan has a Ph.D. in curriculum and Instruction/Educational Technology and is a professor in mathematics at Arizona State University.


For the first time in recent history, we have seen a pandemic completely shift our behaviors and influence our everyday lives and attitudes.  This has become exceedingly apparent, in the matter of how individuals interact with one another, and more specifically, how students and their respective professors communicate.

We have seen most classrooms navigate to online applications, which has aided in originating virtual environments where professors and students can see each other and host class in real time.  The most well known amongst these online platforms has become Zoom, in which students have been found to have mixed feelings about distance learning, a result of research conducted by Dr. Serhan.  

Using a 5-point Likert scale, Dr. Serhan conducted a survey on 31 university students who were attending a large United States university during the spring semester of 2020 during the pandemic.  Dr. Serhan wished to answer five important questions, “What are students attitudes toward the use of Zoom for learning”, “how do students’ perceive the effect of using Zoom on their learning”, “what are the students’ perceptions of their classroom engagement while using Zoom”, “do students’ prefer the Zoom classroom or the traditional face-to-face classroom”, and “what are the students’ perceived advantages and disadvantages of using Zoom”?

Dr. Serhan came to some very interesting conclusions. She first found that on Zoom, “22.58% agreed that they enjoyed using it while 48.39 % disagreed,” meaning that most students had a negative attitude towards using Zoom.  She also found that “9.68% agreed that the use of Zoom improved their learning, while 61.29% disagreed,” going on to add that students feel that they learn more while attending his in person classes, as opposed to her Zoom classrooms.

Furthermore, Dr. Serhan found that, “The use of Zoom had mostly a negative impact on their classroom engagement and did not increase their interaction on any level, and student participation through Zoom was low; students occasionally shut down their webcams and did not answer when they were called upon.”  When he looked into whether students liked in person learning or Zoom learning more, he discovered that “Students favored the traditional face-to-face classroom instruction in comparison to the Zoom sessions, and they wish to go back to the face-to-face instruction post the COVID 19 lockdown.”

In regard to his final research question, he also found some advantages and disadvantages from the students’ perspectives.  Overall, he concluded that students overwhelmingly found more disadvantages in their online Zoom education experience rather than advantages.  

In terms of advantages, Dr. Sehren found that the most supported reason for wanting to continue their Zoom education was the flexibility that it provided, “Students in their study liked the flexibility and convenience of attending lessons via Zoom at remote sites. Students found Zoom sessions to be more flexible in comparison to face-to-face classrooms; it allowed them the flexibility of attending lessons anywhere.”  He went on to elaborate on this point stating that students liked that they could have a more adaptable schedule, go to class in their own home, not having to show their face all of the time, and not having to drive to class.  

A few other notable advantages that Dr. Sehren shared were that students felt as though smaller online class sizes allowed more interaction, where students can chat their questions as soon as they think of them (he also noted that students appreciated not having to speak for their voice to be heard), and that they have access to digital resources as opposed to having a bunch of hard copies.

When he moved on to discuss the disadvantages of Zoom versus in person learning, he found many more of them, as well as a larger portion of the students involved in the survey voicing their concerns with the online learning platform.  Although they were very close in terms of reported dissatisfaction, Dr. Sehren found that the biggest problem students had with the online learning platform were distractions where students said things such as, “There are more distractions around in one’s home, it is very difficult to stay focused, my attention to anything goes way down because I get distracted by my family, phone, anything outside of a classroom environment, and I am outside the classroom environment which can lead to more distractions.”  

Another major disadvantage that students reported was that instructor feedback was not the same as it is in person, taking the face-to-face personable interactions out of learning which made it hard for students.  Students also felt as though their quality of education was awful, and they felt like they were not learning anything, and they feel as though tuition should be lowered as they are not getting the same experience.  One last minor difficulty that students reported in Dr. Sehren’s study were technical difficulties. Students stated that going to class eliminated issues that we have all dealt with before, such as being logged out in the middle of a class session or test.

Overall, COVID-19 has created many new obstacles and challenges for all of us.  One of the greatest potential issues comes from communication, and how students would continue to communicate with their professors and receive their education.  Through the implementation of Zoom students have been able to continue their education, but as Dr. Sehren highlighted many students find more issues with the online learning platform than advantages.  Dr. Sehren found that “students were not fully satisfied with their learning experience during this transition period and instructors were not ready for this sudden change that required the use of a new platform and the design of alternate activities and delivery methods.”  He looked to five tips that could improve the online learning platform and student satisfaction with it while we continue to deal with the pandemic including “Appropriate relevance between online instructional design and student learning, effective delivery of online instructional information, adequate support by faculty and teaching assistants to students including timely feedback, tutoring and email guidance after class, high-quality participation to improve the breadth and depth of student learning, and contingency plan to deal with unexpected incidents of online education platforms.”  As we continue to try and improve our education through online learning, hopefully we can look at Dr. Sehren’s research to better understand how we can help not only students, but teachers as well thrive in the online learning format.

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