ATLANTA—When school districts switched to virtual learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students in one metro Atlanta district spent less than half the hours learning in virtual applications, overall, than they did in face-to-face instruction prior to the pandemic according to researchers at Georgia State University.
“We found these students logged an average 14 hours per week in virtual learning applications, significantly less than the 33 hours per week they had experienced in class prior to the pandemic,” Jennifer Darling-Aduana said. “While some students may have received additional instruction outside of the virtual learning environment, this difference is striking.”
She, Tim Sass and Henry Woodyard used data from student records, formative assessments and course progress information to examine patterns in student engagement and achievement during fall 2020 in a district in which nearly all students spent the majority of days learning remotely and a quarter of students received no in-person instruction for the full fall 2020 semester. The study was conducted with the Georgia Policy Labs in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
Weekly achievement growth during this period was lower than pre-pandemic trends predicted, and usage patterns differed across student groups. Female students logged significantly more time across many learning applications than male students. Black students logged more time in synchronous meetings than white students.
Students who logged more hours virtually experienced higher rates of student achievement growth throughout the semester. More time spent in programs with student-directed, interactive assignments was associated with the largest gains in growth. The report outlines recommendations associated with engagement, which is relevant as schools continue to navigate virtual learning.
“The observed differences in achievement growth and time spent logged in to virtual learning platforms may reflect a variety of factors, including access,” Sass said. “It’s important to give students equitable access to the virtual resources they need to learn.”
“This research provides a benchmark and insights into how best to provide students equitable access to quality virtual educational opportunities,” Darling-Aduana said. “Understanding what worked well, and for whom, during a time of almost universal virtual learning will help policymakers, educators, families and students make decisions that best support student learning.”
Find downloadable copies of the report and brief, “Virtual Learning Trends During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” at gpl.gsu.edu.
Distinguished University Professor
Georgia Policy Labs
Tim Sass is an applied micro-economist whose research focuses on the economics of education. Specific areas of interest include teacher labor supply, the measurement of teacher quality and school choice. He is also the faculty director of the Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education in the Georgia Policy Labs. He holds the W.J. Usery Chair of the American Workplace.