Can Distance Learning Worsen School Performance?


Sharon Sun

Distance learning has merged the bedroom and the classroom into one. But could this have consequences for students in their school performance?

Sharon Sun, Photojournalist

There’s no doubt that distance learning offers students an unbridled convenience that cannot be matched by in-person learning. In the midst of a pandemic, the cost and time of transit to school disappears as a simple click on the Zoom app opens up the online classroom. Rather than preparing meals the night before or queuing in the cafeteria at lunchtime, most students have the kitchen a short trip downstairs or a few feet away. However, while online students enjoy such convenience at home, learning digitally rather than in-person may have negative effects on school performance.

One thing is for sure: online learning has drastically increased students’ screen time. According to Yorba Linda High School’s hybrid schedule, periods one through six are a combined 305 minutes (nearly 5 hours). And that isn’t counting zero or seventh period, which each stack on fifty minutes. Pre-pandemic, these five hours would have been spent in school in a physical classroom, whereas now students are forced to undergo five hours at home staring at a screen to attend class. Added onto further screen time spent on recreation and homework, the sheer weight of the added hours online just to attend school is exhausting, as, according to, too much screen time can lead to behavior problems, obesity, difficulty sleeping, and back and neck problems.

Further, online learning prevents the personal interactions between teachers, students, and peers. Reduced interactions between peers can also negatively affect motivation and behavior. Joyce Lin (11) feels that, due to distance learning, her school performance has gotten worse. “With distance learning, I have to stare at my computer screen for at least 6 hours every day,” she explains. “This really tired me out. Also, without interactions with peers, the school has been really boring and I lack the motivation to study for anything.”

Reduced interactions with teachers have their effects as well. Teachers have fewer opportunities to motivate their students and develop personal connections when lecturing through a screen. Online learning also reduces the capabilities of teachers to offer direct assistance and detailed explanations to their students, which can lead to worse performances than in-person learning. 

In addition, the technology aspect presents another issue. Students and teachers can be prone to issues with technology managing the online meeting. Meaning, both parties must be tech-savvy enough to handle digital conference platforms. Such dependence on technology means that, as a result, a short power outage or even a glitch can completely ruin the day’s important lesson.

Academic honesty is another issue of distance learning that cannot go unmentioned. Proctoring only through webcams, teachers have found it even more difficult to detect students sharing or searching up answers online. This dip in academic integrity may have also been incensed by difficulties to absorb information thoroughly in online lessons, leading students to feel more inclined to cheat.

In the end, while distance learning presents undeniable convenience for its students, it simply cannot suffice as a proper substitute to in-person education. However, in such a unique era of the coronavirus, students, teachers, and parents alike will just have to bear its effects until the pandemic’s situation improves and the nation can return to normal.