Student perspective on distance learning

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By Rebecca Diers – SUNY Cortland

Last year, with almost no warning, students’ lives switched from sitting in classrooms with their teachers and peers to watching them on a screen. Today, almost a year later, this is still the case for many students. Last semester at SUNY Cortland, the entire campus was moved to distance learning after the number of positive COVID cases on campus exceeded 100 for several consecutive weeks. With a new semester just starting this week, 70% of all Cortland courses are still taught online, with only a handful of in-person meetings. For most of the students, the switch to distance learning has been a challenge.

The inability of many students to attend face-to-face lessons has strained their ability to learn. For some, this stems from the distractions that come with online learning. It seems that the students I interviewed agree that they are much more focused and retain more information when learning in the classroom than when learning remotely.

When asked about her experiences with distance learning, Emily, who is in an athletic training program, said, “I have to be in class – whatever is online, I don’t. just not absorb as much…. When I’m in online classes, I don’t really feel like I’m there… I don’t participate, I can’t listen, I can’t concentrate.

Lindsay, a physical education major, felt the same as Emily: “When I’m in a classroom I focus on my teacher, but when I’m online and looking at my computer I’m a lot. more distracted because I am lying in my bed and have my phone next to me.

Lindsay also said, “When I work online I think I’m just trying to get things done rather than actually learning. “

After hearing Lindsay’s response, I asked other students if they felt like they were actually learning when they were online, or if they also felt like they were finishing and submitting. a job for the notes. Kevin, an outdoor recreation specialist, raised some interesting points about this.

He said, “I think it’s relatively the same for any online job. Obviously anything done in a classroom is a lot more lively and useful I think, but it’s all in the way you learn. Some people are practical, some people are technical – they need someone to explain it to them at the moment, they also need visual stuff. Online is a tool. When used with physical learning, it’s great. When used alone – for me personally – it is not effective. I don’t think I will learn it less, but the way I retain knowledge does not correspond to distance learning. Through all of this distance learning, I got better at learning through online methods.

In terms of efficiency, there isn’t just one way to learn from a distance, making it difficult for students to settle into routines and comply with the many methods used by their teachers.

Speaking of which, Kevin said, “Almost every instructor, teacher or facilitator has had a different approach to distance learning, whether it’s different programs or different teaching styles. No single method was used between all of my classes. so it has been very difficult to adapt to each one, and it has been a big obstacle to effective learning throughout my last three semesters now.

Another challenge with distance learning is how it takes away the hands-on experience that many students need for their majors and future careers.

When asked how she thought distance learning would affect her future, Lindsay, who hopes to teach physical education to elementary school students, said: “Since I don’t have in-person classes , I have no experience or practice. education. Last year, when I was teaching in my classes, I got better every time, but now I don’t have the chance to do it anymore.

Likewise, Rachel, who is studying therapeutic recreation hoping to work in occupational therapy, said, “I don’t have the hands-on experience of people to help me throughout my career. I also think that without this experience it will be more difficult for me to find a job because I don’t have the knowledge that other people have gained through their experiences and simply by interacting with people.

Due to the lack of practical experience she gained, Emily – who would have already had 450 hours of clinical experience if distance learning had never had to be implemented – considered changing her career path. . She said: “I’m already thinking about changing careers because my career, as you know, is so hands-on and we haven’t had any clinical practice at all, so basically I want to change for something that I can. to do. online, because it feels like it’s never going to end.

Despite these drawbacks of distance learning, Kevin pointed out something optimistic about it: “I think learning will become more accessible to people who thought it wasn’t for them in the first place. So someone who thought, “Oh, school isn’t for me,” maybe it’s more accessible to them now that it’s online. I think it will do [learning] more widespread.

For now, distance learning is something that most students have to learn to adapt to until the world becomes “normal” again. Until then, maybe the challenges it brings will make us all better connected to each other.


Rebecca Diers is an intern at Pressenza as part of her professional writing major at SUNY Cortland. Her other major in Anthropology fuels her passion for understanding different cultures and connecting with people. She uses writing as a way to make sense of the world and inspire a sense of humanity in her audience.

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