The whirlwind that was 2020 spared no person, place or institution as a global pandemic took precedent in most of our lives. The way we communicate, work, date, travel, etc., was reformatted in its entirety within months- and important to our generation specifically, so was the way we learn.
Zoom University was attended from the comfort of our own beds, with the only physical interaction taking place between your own fingertip and the mousepad as the professor assigned breakout rooms. Education professionals and students alike entered a new world of course structure based around technology, and many of the struggles that faced either were unprecedented with no clear solution.
After nearly a full trip around the sun since COVID-19 sent the entire world into lockdown, students are beginning to report the effects of remote schooling and how for the general majority, the pandemic has diminished their love for learning.
In a small anonymous survey, I asked participants to talk about the positives and negatives of remote education, whether or not they feel like they’ve fallen out of love with learning, and about what new practices they feel will continue on, even when in-person classes resume.
Several individuals noted the up-sides of virtual learning to be flexibility in their schedule, accessibility to lecture materials and course content, and increased understanding on part of professors. One response noted,
“Flexible schedules are the biggest [positive]. I also feel like some teachers have made [their classes] more personalized.”
With this, it is hopeful to imagine that the pandemic has expanded our horizons to new forms of learning and communicating with peers and educators. But alas, with every positive comes a negative with equal or greater amplitude.
When asked what some of the greatest obstacles presented by remote education are, the vast majority included decreased motivation, being easily distracted, and feeling disconnected from professors and classmates in their answers. Here are some direct quotes from participants of the survey:
“I feel like I am not getting the full experience. A lot of my labs are being done online and watching the lab videos happen is different than being able to do it in the lab myself.”
“Lack of understanding from professors is big. While some professors have adapted well, some have not- an example is my sign language teacher who will not do Zoom. I don’t know how to practice for the class with only being able to email him.”
“I have no motivation. I open my laptop and then go back to bed. In-person class forced me to get up and have a routine which made me productive and overall happier [when] interacting with people in person.”
These opinions are widely shared by university students all over the world, as the certain disconnect in our education systems during this period has made students feel their educational needs are not being prioritized or acknowledged. Many are fearful of what their futures might look like after graduation- with stresses of continued economic recession, low employment opportunities and whether or not the education they are receiving currently will be adequate compared to the applicant pool of those who have graduated before them.
Not only has the zeal for sitting in front of a computer screen for class faded, but so has students’ overall passion and drive to learn. Many participants stated that decreased motivation has taken away the joys of being educated, even in subjects they previously enjoyed. Even those who have always considered themselves to have an elevated love for learning say they are experiencing remote learning fatigue:
“I definitely enjoyed going to class more before Covid. Now I dread having an in person class, even though I do better in them” stated one respondant.
Another notes, “I’ve never been in love with learning but online school doesn’t even make me want to go to class, which I loved doing last year.”
The effects of virtual learning have pardoned upperclassmen the least, with many now in their third semester of digital courses. With general requirements out of the way, those in their junior or senior years are now taking career specific courses via online platforms.
“[I’ve fallen out of love with learning] Quite a bit, specifically just with my major related classes cause I am a junior and they are super tough!”
As the pandemic continues wreaking havoc on the simplicities of everyday life, we might find reason to look at our schooling opportunities in a “glass-half-full” light. Though the changes endured by converting courses to online have been grueling, there is something to be said about the different techniques and learning tools we have been introduced to since March of last year.
With a larger population of individuals gaining a more cohesive understanding of technology, we can expect to see some learning tools outlive the pandemic. For example one respondent said,
“I think that Zoom office hours will become a thing- super easy for scheduling. I also think that less paper homework will become more prominent.”
This was a common response among participants in the survey, each saying that the ability to connect privately with professors via video chat has increased their accessibility of asking questions and having them answered.
Another respondent supported this answer while also mentioning how increased mobile abilities could lead to less class cancellations in general:
“Basically [we will] never have a class cancelation (i.e. under weather conditions you’ll just have class on Zoom). Also, the ability to work with higher education or professionals in a certain field via Zoom rather than that person having to come into class to share experiences etc. [will remain].”
So maybe this whole virtual college thing isn’t all that bad, right?
Well, I won’t go that far.
Taking away from the opinions of my peers, I feel more validated in the sense that it isn’t just me who is finding it hard to learn with enthusiasm and dedication when online. To the benefit of all university students, these issues are not isolated and are hopefully, in-turn, being voiced to educators and administrators alike.
The shared experiences of peers serves as a reminder that it is okay if the way you learn and your eagerness to do so looks a little different during this time. Afterall, our shared experience of living through a pandemic is new to each and every one of us, so it is anticipated that our everyday life will look new too. It can be difficult at times to view the work we’re doing while under unprecedented conditions to be worthwhile, but any progress is just that- progress.
It is important to keep in mind that the normal we exist in now won’t be the normal forever, and one day walking through the doors of a lecture hall on the first day of the semester will feel a lot less dreadful and more like a sigh of relief.
So keep your nose to the grindstone, head in the books, and fingers on the keyboard! Your perseverance to continue your education during hard times will undoubtedly pay off when classroom doors reopen, and when the masks are finally shed.