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Student Voice Survey Series: 'I can't talk to my teacher in-person, so it makes my learning harder'

What students are experiencing during the coronavirus outbreak while learning at home

Last week, we began the series on students’ perceptions of coronavirus with a blog summarizing the technological devices available to students at home as well as their internet access and quality. This week, we highlight students’ responses related to learning experiences at home.

Learning at Home

We asked students how well learning at home is going, online and otherwise, compared to when they attended school.

Overall, students expressed concern that their learning experience is not as effective as in classroom settings.

In late March, the majority of students (89%) reported a continuance of class-related work even when their schools were closed. And of those students, 95% reported receiving at least some form of instruction from at least some of their teachers.

However, the format differed depending on where students live. Rural students, in particular, reported receiving more printed learning materials and less access to online learning than counterparts in urban, suburban and other communities.

In all, seventy-six percent of students reported receiving online instruction for classroom materials, while 15% received printed instructional materials.

It was clear from their responses that students miss their access to informal, real-time teacher feedback and interaction with peers. Without this traditional approach, learning new material is difficult, particularly during the sudden shift to an online setting.

Comments from students reflect a range of concerns about learning without the physical presence and support of teachers:

  • "It’s a little harder to learn the material because the teachers are not actually present, and it’s all through the internet."
  • "I feel like I’m not learning as efficiently and effectively at home rather than school. It is very hard to learn new topics at home without the instruction of a teacher right in front of you. I prefer learning at school than at home."
  • "It is much harder to learn online especially when many teachers are not actually teaching, they are just dropping new materials. I am a person who needs physical interaction to be able to comprehend and learn well."

New Normal

Students also expressed concern that they are not able to focus as well at home as they are in a classroom and feel less motivated. This creates challenges for maintaining academic success, which may impact further educational pursuits.

Thirty-seven percent of students said school closure will affect their academic preparedness “a great deal,” and another 51% said “somewhat.” Students clearly expressed strong preference for their traditional classroom setting.


  • "I feel more engaged and motivated in school than at home. It is harder to learn new topics at home."
  • "Online classes do not take into account the attention span of teenagers and it is sometimes difficult to communicate with teachers outside of class or do online work when the internet cuts out."
  • "It was better in school because it was easier to ask questions. Also, the school environment improved focus."


Teachers are Essential

Our survey results highlight the importance of instruction and the significant role that teachers play in students’ ability and willingness to learn new materials.

For this reason, while CARES Act funding to states will potentially enable students to have greater access to technology (e.g., one-to-one devices and internet services), technology in and of itself will not wholly fulfill students’ academic needs.

Exploring ways to improve the delivery of online education—for example, funding professional development and support for teachers to conduct effective distance learning—will be a critical investment in our current environment as well as in the future.

ACT Student Survey Series

At least 55 million students are now learning at home after approximately 124,000 public and private schools have closed their doors due to the coronavirus.

ACT wanted to hear from students about their experiences during the pandemic. We invited 130,000 college-bound high school students who registered to take the national April or June 2020 ACT test to participate in an online survey. A total of 13,000 students participated between March 26 and April 1, resulting in a 10% response rate.

We sought to gather students’ responses related to…


  • the technological device and internet quality that they have access to at home for school-related activities.
  • how well they are learning at home and online compared to when they were in school.
  • whether their basic needs (e.g., housing, food) are being met during the pandemic.
  • their current living situation, including whether they are employed, need to care for others, or are home alone.
  • the types of health behaviors (e.g., eating healthy, exercising) they are engaged in during the pandemic.

Read More from the Series:

· Inequities in Technological Devices and Internet Connection Persist During the Coronavirus


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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.

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