Distance Learning Isn't All Bad… Is It?

Is there an upside to virtual school? We teamed up with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs at Black River Falls in Wisconsin to learn how students have been dealing with the pandemic and online learning.

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. https://learn.kqed.org/discussions/87

ABOVE THE NOISE is a show that cuts through the hype and investigates the research behind controversial and trending topics in the news. Hosted by Myles Bess.


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The coronavirus is taking a toll on folks physically and mentally all around the world. As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, students are working virtually as the majority of schools nationwide are doing some form of distance learning.

**What are the problems with remote learning?**
Since the announcement of the first lockdown almost a year ago, the pandemic has since taken a toll on almost everyone’s mental health. Multiple studies show that young people’s grades are at lower levels than before the pandemic, and they often experience feelings of unhappiness, depression, and overall difficulty to stay engaged. These feelings can be especially intense for students who are dealing with additional challenges, such family members who are essential workers, unemployed, or dealing with illness.

**What are some benefits of distance learning?**
There are some positives. Studies point out the hidden benefits of distance learning, including how helpful later school start times are to students’ physical and mental health. Remote learning can also make the school experience easier for students who suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD) or other mental health issues. Students say some upsides are not having to go to physical school, more access to teachers online, ability to work at their own pace, and enjoying the comforts of home.

**What parts of online learning should remain post-pandemic?**
Once we’re able to safely work and go to school in person things will not be as they were prior to the pandemic. In the video, students share aspects of distance learning they would like to see remain as part of their education.

Selected Sources

K-12 Figures

Map of where schools are closed

Advantages to distance learning

Online Schools benefits for Students with Anxiety

How Can Online High School Benefit Students Who Suffer From Anxiety?

Study of how students are coping

Benefits of Later School Start Times

Disparities in Remote Learning

Virtual Learning Challenges

#distancelearning #virtualschool



  1. April 20, 2021
    Above The Noise

    Hey everybody! We're baaaack! We've been taking some time to – you know – survive during this pandemic. But let us know what you think of this episode, and virtual school or work. Are you suffering, or OK with it, or somewhere in between? What would you want to keep when things get back to "normal"?

  2. April 20, 2021
    Eco skies

    Virtual stuff is lame.

  3. April 20, 2021
    Eco skies

    Zoom is hella lame.

  4. April 20, 2021
    Eco skies

    I love getting high then going to school.

  5. April 20, 2021
    Theresa Shaw

    Nightmare have a second grader who has been out a whole year. Which means I'm having to teach his teachers entire curriculum. I work full time & I'm am single parent. All I do is go to work. Clean my house because we cant go anywhere & spend any time I have left attempting to do the teachers curriculum, if my kid is even able to pay attention long enough 😬

  6. April 20, 2021
    Crap Content

    Tbh, I used to be a much more active, happy and motivated person than I am now. Online school has made me depressed, disconnected, demotivated to do anything, unhappy, and much worse. I hate online school! I hate it more every day, and I feel a little less happy and hopeful that I will ever be like my normal self again. Online school has massively fueled my constant addiction to the internet and I keep finding myself sleep deprived because of it. I just don't feel happy anymore. Thx online school ):

  7. April 20, 2021

    God I love PBS, taught me about self love when I was a kid, teaching me about minimum wage laws a decade later

  8. April 20, 2021
  9. April 20, 2021
    Martin Cortinas


  10. April 20, 2021

    laughs in google classroom what a zoomer

  11. April 20, 2021
    Connor Picard

    Lol i love distance learning

  12. April 20, 2021
    Audrey's Name

    I remember in the beginning of online school, I was a mess. My teachers gave even more HW, and I didn't know how to deal with all the changes. But now that I'm more experienced, I'm really able to benefit from all the positives. Back when we weren't in a pandemic, I struggled with anxiety and mental health. I barely had any friends, so that part of school was non-existent for me. Now though, my mental health is getting a lot better. And even though my work load is quite heavy, I've learned how to manage my time. If any student out there needs some tips on how to stay on top of HWs and assignments, I suggest making a to-do list. Have one small book where you're just able to write down all the work that's been given to you. Checking them off is really satisfying and makes you feel like you've done something productive, and you have. It gets me motivated and also helps with my mental health, so I highly recommend y'all to do the same.

  13. April 20, 2021

    As a computer science teacher (university level), I have to say, videoconference classes are pretty bad. I can't read their non-verbal communication. I can see if they're perplexed, if they acknowledge, if they're super into it or distracted. When I put a joke there, I can't tell if they go it or if they might take it too literally. During practical sessions I can't just walk behind them. Which would motivate them to minimize the temptation to slack off. Helping one debug their code is also harder if I can't sometime type some quick stuff. Not to mention the ocasional video or audio quality drop.
    Also, something very much lacking in every videoconference softwares so far: audio spatial awareness.
    I mean, during a lecture I'm the one talking to everyone, ok. But during practical sessions, I want to walk up to some position of the room and direct my speech to a given location of the room and have mostly the students in this area of the room to hear me correctly. I want them to speak with their neighbours, to explain stuff to each other, and not have one person in the inter room to speak at the same time. This we can't do. IMO, this feature would be crucial to regain some of the social experience of physical interaction, it would make the experience more engaging. No need to go full "virtual reality" on this. Some simple 2D rectangle where everyone can pick their location would be enough.

    On the plus side, as a night owl (it's 7AM here, still not sleeping) it's completely awesome to be able to wake up 5 minutes before the class, jump in my clothes, turn on the webcam and be ready. It's also awesome to be able to take a nap during the lunch break.

  14. April 20, 2021

    Hey Myles. I find you quite a slow talker in this video. Since you seem to present the lockdown as huge drag, I hope it's not the symptom of some deeper issue. Take care.

  15. April 20, 2021
    Aditya Pisupati

    Wassup James Hardin?

  16. April 20, 2021
    Cameron Norris

    online school is WAY better for me, I never got to hang out with my friends before and now I can get my work done faster because other students aren't messing around and stopping the class

  17. April 20, 2021

    I’m a middle school student and our school uses a program named “summit” for stuff like test and pretty much everything is online. I would be fine with doing everything online since it’s easier for me but to take these things called “Power Focus Area’s” (PFA for short) you have to get “evidence” to take one of these. A pfa is basically a test for the unit your are doing currently and to get evidence there are these things named objectives that are under each PFA, there are about 2-4 objectives per PFA. Most of the time you HAVE to get a piece of evidence for each objective + a study guide. All this is on top of projects, google classroom assignments, and a hard way to communicate. This is my second year at being at this school and the reason it’s keeping me there are my friends, why can’t we just do school “normal” now? This summit platform is so hard to keep up with because you have to get evidence just to take a test, I’m constantly behind in my weak subject (science). All of my friends from other schools just have to do work on the google classroom and it’s a day.

  18. April 20, 2021
    That one guy

    I'm in my Sophomore year, It's very hard to focus because I can see everything else on my laptop compared to my phone or sitting in a class, y grades have dropped from my inability to focus due to this. I have ton's of work from my school. I'd much rather be in person.

  19. April 20, 2021
    smecherul ce faci fa

    They called me an n word…Like wtf??

  20. April 20, 2021
    Timothy Gary Carolus

    I'm currently in my postgraduate level of studies, and it sucks. It kind of even worsened my anxiety issues. As I had structures and groups in place to cope.

    I'm the first one in my neighbourhood to do a PhD. Still I can't believe that I started with it a month before lockdown 😥.
    My Wi-Fi is terrible. So can't even can't to the campus email, let alone the cluster or servers I need to execute my research.

  21. me sleeping till 2 in the morning doing homework and waking up at 7:30

  22. April 20, 2021
    Soko Gakuen

    Re: ONLINE TEACHING/LEARNING. We believe in science.

    Online Teaching/Learning" may not be as prudent as many educators and administrators think it is.  One recent scientific study indicates statistically significant differences 3.77** (critical value of t-test 1.99) plus the Effect Size (ES) .-0.92 on Midterm Exam (MT),  Q2, and Q3,  (see below) between regular in-person classes and online.
    …… online teaching/learning may be nothing more than an academic exercise.  Technology can leverage faculty time, but it also can replace human contact.  Other considerations for the instructor might be the following:  How much time would it take to prepare and to maintain the online supplement material? 

    Table 2   Means, Standard Deviations, t-test Results, and Effect Sizes for Quiz and Examination Data Broken Down for Comparison and Experimental Groups

                           w/o online                                  w/ online
                    Comparison Group                     Experimental Group
               (Fa97, Fa99, Fa01, Sp02)            (Fa02, Sp03, Fa03, Sp04)
                ____________________       ____________________      

    Test        n        M           SD                        n         M           SD                   t            df       ES a

    Q2         37     84.57      8.75                      47     78.17        9.83               3.11**    82      -0.73

    Q3         38     73.11     15.47                     47     64.40      16.49               2.49*      83      -0.56

    MT        39     86.39      6.36                      47     80.51        7.82               3.77**     84      -0.92

    Details available at https://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/y.shimazu/withOrWithoutOnline.html

  23. April 20, 2021
    A CG

    1) Welcome Back!
    2) For anyone contemplating a career that requires graduate school (or even a university degree in some cases) this seems good practice. You guys will be pros by the time you get there
    3) @AbovetheNoise: are you going to do a piece on the impact of this stuff on teachers trying to keep students engaged (at both high school and tertiary levels) while managing student stress and their own at the same time? Seems like that would balance the story and maybe give students a perspective they didn’t have before (just as this gave the teachers some perspective). If I missed that one; my apologies. But if you haven’t done it yet it seems like a good one to do.

  24. April 20, 2021
    Cari Garafalo

    I would have loved distance learning, I was relentlessly bullied and physically beaten at school as a routine going back as far as elementary school. This would have prevented the time I was cornered in the bike lock and whipped by a pair of classmates with their bike chain in 3rd grade. I could have avoided being jumped by half a dozen kids who wanted to steal my nokia in middle school. I could have avoided being arrested when I had to put a bully in a choke hold when they wouldn't stop kicking me in the head in high school. I was already disconnected from teachers and classmates and genuinely wanted to commit suicide. Learning from the safety of my home would have been a godsend.

  25. April 20, 2021
    Samara _

    I'm sure that autistic students or highly sensitive students are benefiting from the at home learning. I remember how intense the sensory overload from high school was, it felt like getting splashed with ice water. Truly shocking to your system, it's impossible to be your best self in a highly stimulating environment when you are sensitive to sensory info

  26. April 20, 2021

    I'm definitely somewhere in between on this. I struggle to stay focused since I no longer have to leave my bedroom for work or school. Going somewhere and being with other people doing the same thing helps with motivation so much. But at the same time, as someone with a chronic illness, being able to take a break and lay down when I need to also let's me get more done then I would have before.

  27. April 20, 2021
    Alexis Raguénès

    "all work no play makes Myles a dull boy" 06:22 🤣 best references

  28. April 20, 2021
    Danu Setia Nugraha

    That wifi problem is so relatable to me😩

  29. April 20, 2021
    Alister Puddifer

    I'm a student with the Open University in the UK. It's a university which is specifically designed for distance learning. Overall, I actually prefer this method.

    The hours are flexible, so I can work around other commitments and disability, and I could have chosen to just take one module at a time for up to 16 years. It costs a fraction of the price, and I didn't need any previous qualifications. It sets out exactly what to do and when, there are plenty of helpful resources available at the touch of a button, and forums where I can discuss the work with tutors and other students. Most tutorials are recorded, so I don't have to attend.

    It's not perfect though. There's virtually no opportunity to socialise and make friends, and even most of the practical work is virtual. Since it's the only university to operate in this way, it has to cater to everyone, so that the modules are not very specific. And you start from scratch, so it's like taking a GCSE, A-level (school qualifications), and degree all in one, which is a lot of work (I would never recommend taking it full time).

    I think the problem with most schools and universities, which have now switched to online learning, is that they haven't had decades to perfect the method like the OU has.

  30. April 20, 2021
    Cosmic Wonderhoof

    I love online learning, at least the way it's being done around me. My classes seem short now, and if I walk to go do whatever I want the lessons my teachers are doing are online. And if it's not I record what the teacher is doing or saying, plus my parents dont care as long as I get straight As and they dont get a call from school. So I dont get a talking to from them whenever I wander off. So it's sad when my parents tell me I have to go back to socialize…..

  31. April 20, 2021

    This video is right on time! Thank you for providing relevant covid content that I can share with my Health classes.

  32. April 20, 2021

    For me, online learning is a double-edged sword. I am a commuter student that travels roughly two hours to get to my college. My routine use to be that I had to get out literally before dawn, then walk or take the bus to the nearest commuter rail stop for the line to that particular town then take the (generously speaking) "less-than-perfect" commuter rail train to that particular town where my college is located in and then walk some distance, which totals to roughly two hours but two hours is only an estimate though, could be more than or up to 4 hours in total.

    For me, that commuting routine itself had been extremely stressful since my schedules are controlled by the commuter rail as well as local transits schedule so that I would be able to get home. That of course, also left me with very little time to do assignments (much less, time to practice any of the skills I need for my career.) and often times stresses me out to the point where I had a few burn outs that forced me to miss a few classes.

    Since mid-March of last year, we've been fully remote and that gave me a lot of time to work on my assignments as well as practice out my skills and learn a few new things on my own since our professors has been very flexible on times. That itself had been quite a blessing in my opinion. However, there are also downsides as well. And the downside mainly being people getting lazy and doing group project with people who aren't as motivated to learn as I am. Team members also gets combative as a result of stress and whatever else is happening in life and thus, it caused a lot of frustrations and fights. Though luckily for us, our professors has been very attentive and would offer up an ear if we need to voice out our frustrations. So that really helped us get through these very stressful times.

    In short, what I'm saying is that distance learning can be stressful for students like me but if the professors or teachers or someone is letting us at least voice our frustrations, then we all can get through this. Also, professors/teachers have to be flexible sometimes and not be overly strict on certain things. I know that there's an expectation of "professionalism" when it comes to meetings or classes. But you don't have to make a big fuss over little things like some professors/teachers do. I've seen on the news of how some teachers even threatened disciplinary reporting for kids that don't act the way they want and that is definitely NOT helpful at all for kids (and adults too!) dealing with stress. So the professors/teachers definitely gotta think outside the box at stressful times like these. They can't just go "strictly by the book". They gotta remember that we're human beings just like they are and we're just as stressed as they are too. We're all in the same boat I mean. And that's all I'd like to say.

    Stay safe all!

  33. April 20, 2021
    Samuel Stephens

    I have a hard time learning, especially over zoom. I'm able to have in person school again but when it was over zoom it was pretty much guaranteed that I would need to call or text my teacher over whatever we learned. I hope when things get normal that I can actually be with my teachers and just not have class if we cant go to school. And even though school can be the worst, being by myself can be really lonely

  34. April 20, 2021

    Where I live it rains every day at 6PM, exactly when I go to school, and it rains a lot, like when your umbrella is completelly useless, and studing from home is really helping me. It was reaaaaally stressful to just get at school, now I can just turn on the computer and be in the class. If I could choose, I would keep distance learning after the pandemic.

  35. April 20, 2021
    Evil Otto

    more time with family ☺️

  36. April 20, 2021
    Jaxboss 2020

    one pro is that it's easy to do everything cuz I can just search it up, it's easy but tough

  37. April 20, 2021

    Online college is a nightmare. I just feel like I'm going through the motions and just doing enough to get a good grade. Don't even get me started about doing Engineering labs online. Yeeesh

  38. April 20, 2021

    Nice ideas. Unfortunately, learning is a highly social activity, just look at the abysmal completion rates of MOOCs

  39. April 20, 2021
    Brandon Gillette

    When evaluating the educational pros and cons of distance learning, we should look at more than if teachers or students like doing it. Most students don't like reading, and most teachers don't like grading, but I think it's obvious that both of those things should continue…

  40. April 20, 2021

    I think this can come with a huge advantage, but the distance learning took away what I was enjoying about my degree. The advantage I would like to see implement is that this is still used after the pandemic. For students that miss class due to an illness or may be running late so they don't miss out on class. This may work better for college but it may work for high school. I'm sure someone in the high school field could drop a comment

  41. April 20, 2021

    The best pro imo is that I get to sleep in a bit more lol


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