In 2020, the advent of COVID-19 has caused perhaps the largest disruption of our modern education system. According to the United Nations, the pandemic affected nearly 1.6 billion learners and up to 94 percent of the world’s student population. Our goal at Quizlet is to help our users practice and master whatever they are learning. Today, that includes being a helpful resource to students, educators and the community-at-large as they navigate a new and changing learning environment.
Over a billion questions are answered on Quizlet each week. With the incredible amount of studying that takes place on the platform, across a wide variety of subjects, we’re able to synthesize the data and identify broad patterns in study activity. We turned to our data to understand how high school and higher education students’ study behaviors were affected amid school closures, and to identify key takeaways that can help close the learning gaps as students head “back to school” this fall, whatever that may look like.
Explore our full "State of Remote Learning Report 2020" or download it here. Check out some of our key findings below too!
COVID-19 impacted independent learning
Research shows that typically, students in higher ed study longer hours than high school students. Prior to COVID-19, high school students were studying about 65 percent as much as higher ed students, on average. But when remote learning hit, high school study duration dropped to 50 percent that of higher ed – which represents a 23 percent disparity in study duration. This data spotlights an increasing gap in independent study. Remote students and incoming college freshmen may face challenges as they adapt to time management, different class formats and new forms of assessment. For today’s incoming college freshmen, proactivity and self-discipline will be an even more important skill to master independently, as many students embark on a fully remote class situation this fall.
Students sought personal interests
In the absence of a structured school week and regularly held classes, and as testing and final grades were no longer required in many areas of the U.S., students shifted their learning priorities. We found that sports were of particular interest to students, coming back at 73 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels in high school and 75 percent in higher education. This includes studying the history and stats around sports and athletes, as well as studying actual strategies and plays. Hobbies also rebounded at 58 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels in high school and 61 percent in higher ed. Popular hobbies studied on Quizlet include creative endeavors like cooking recipes, gardening and plant care, and travel-related topics, as well as life skills such as interview and resume tips. As students head back-to-school, in addition to testing, teachers should consider assigning project-based learning opportunities that allow students to explore their own interests. Encouraging students to apply their real-world hobbies to course content can help them get excited and stay engaged in the material, especially when remote.
Remote learning widened the education gap
By comparing U.S. Census Bureau data on income levels by region, we found that, prior to the crisis, students in both the highest income regions and the lowest income regions studied, on average, an equal amount online. However, after school closures took effect, students’ studying in low income regions fell off the most over time.
In addition, we found that usage of desktops and/or laptops while studying jumped from 67% to 78% for students in higher-income regions ($100k+), while students in lower-income regions ($0-$50k) continuously hovered around the 65% mark with no real increase in desktop usage – and continued to rely on cell phones and tablets for learning. With students in lower-income regions facing a digital divide as they head back-to-school, technology support and resources are needed to narrow the gap. In addition, teachers can consider adding in a review of key concepts from the prior year instead of introducing too much advanced material upfront, and provide activities that don’t require high speed internet to help groups that may have fallen behind.
As we all enter a unique back-to-school landscape this fall – whether remote or not – we hope these findings will provide awareness and guidance for students to feel engaged in their learning and for teachers to help counter potential learning gaps in their classrooms.