Challenges faced during distance learning
Cisco Webex Research Blog Series
The Design Group at Cisco is a global team of Red Dot Award winning creatives who explore peoples’ needs through research and empathy to make the world a better place to work. This series explores their research and some best practices to make everyday interactions more effective.
What are some of the challenges of distance learning for students and educators?
The recent transition to distance learning has been a sudden, abrupt, and – at some levels – a hard change to adapt to – not just for educators but also for students. We recently conducted a research study with students to understand how their transition to distance learning has been and learned about their experiences.
When asked what students liked about distance learning, many spoke about the ease of not traveling and the reduced expenses on public transport or fuel.
“Learning online gives me a lot of time and flexibility as I don’t have to travel much.”
However, for students who are used to in-person classes, and socializing with friends at school, the conversation quickly moved on to the discomforts they were facing staying back at home.
“I experience video-fatigue. I take many classes, some of which are back to back. In college getting to another building or classroom takes 5-10 mins to wait for everyone to come and greet everyone and then get started. Online classes don’t have any of that.”
Learn more about how Webex can help you with virtual learning
Easy boundary and burnout solutions
The lack of clear demarcation of boundaries between different classes and between school and home left students feeling a little burned out and overwhelmed. The good news is that there is are some easy solutions for this:
- Educators and school administrators can help students feel less overwhelmed by including short breaks within an online class where they can catch up.
- They can help students by ending the class a few mins earlier.
- Administration can also build in breaks between classes so students can refresh and relax before their next class.
- Instructors can start the class by greeting individual students and further personalizing the distance learning experience.
Watch a live discussion on how to use Webex for education in your distance learning experience
Students and scheduling drawbacks
Another drawback experienced by students was the inability to manage their new schedule and not knowing which online meeting they needed to be at.
“I’ve [had] to search through emails to find the online class link, which already makes me late to class. I’ve gone to so many wrong links. Having it on my calendar with the link would have made switching between classes a lot easier.”
A way to help students manage their schedules is to ensure that collaboration tools are linked to calendars, so there is a one-stop-shop for students to manage their schedules.
Most students also missed the daily interactions with peers and faculty at school. The visual cues they exchanged helped create a more natural environment for classes.
“I miss the little things, like asking the person sitting next to me for notes if I had missed a class. It’s a lot easier doing that in person as compared to online. Also, lecturers know how to pace the class better in-person to gauge if students are still taking notes or is ready for the next section.”
How to engage students in distance learning
There are several strategies to increase student engagement in distance learning:
- Providing an environment where students can use messaging for quick chats outside the class can help students have their own space to catch up and mirror offline interactions.
- Educators can also create break out team spaces to ensure that students can have smaller and more intimate group discussions that foster learning, file sharing, and collaboration.
- Online office hours and team spaces can be used for 1:1 interaction with the educator as well.
- Encouraging students to utilize their video during classes might also help educators understand if students are in sync with the lecture.
As students face distance learning challenges, they are starting to learn how to work around them and provide suggestions to their educators. What can you do to ease the transition? Reach out to your students and see how you can tailor distance learning to their learning needs.
Need help designing your own virtual course? Here are some tips from Webex on how to design an engaging virtual course for your students
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About the Cisco Webex Research Team
Kathryn Parkes, Senior UX Researcher
Kathryn is an experienced user researcher based in Dublin, Ireland, reporting into San Jose. As a member of the UX Research team, she leads research projects across the Webex Suite, working with various Cisco Collab teams in Ireland, the US and across Europe. The team uses a broad variety of research methods, including user interviews, usability testing, and benchmarking studies, to get a deep understanding of Webex user needs.
Varshine Chandrakanthan, Designer User Experience
Varshine loves observing people and their actions – hence she decided to become a User Researcher. She is passionate about creating an impact on people’s lives and loves to volunteer for education and human rights programs. Her interests include designing tattoos, illustrating for books, eating cake and meditating.
Mani Pande, User Experience Manager
Mani leads the user research team in San Jose. Her team is responsible for understanding the needs of Webex users to inform product strategy and direction, and ensure that the software we ship is not only simple and easy to use, but also delightful. You can find her and her team members huddling with Webex users understanding how they use our software and mapping opportunities of improvement. In another life, Mani worked as a reporter for the Times of India, India’s largest selling newspaper, covering media and crime. Outside of work, Mani loves to travel, cycle, run, and cook. She posts photos of food that she cooks and places she visits on Instagram.
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