College students report issues with distance learning

College age students reported issues with distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, including trouble concentrating, limited access to technology, food insecurity, and mental health issues, according to researchers.

Christian Athnasian, AB, a research intern at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, worked with fellow interns on a project led by research mentor Ruth Milanaik, DO, also of Cohen Children’s, who presented the research at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition.

Empty Classroom
College students reported issues with concentration, food insecurity and mental health, among other factors, during distance learning. Source: Adobe Stock

In an interview with Healio, Athnasian, who was a college student early in the pandemic, said that the inspiration for the project came from his and the other interns’ experiences in distance learning.

“We thought that it was a really unique opportunity to explore something that’s just so different in education, something that we had never seen before,” Athnasian said. “We just thought the opportunity to get feedback from students nationwide — given a couple of months of experience — would actually be good to have, to get kind of viewpoint.”

In June 2020, the researchers sent an anonymous survey to 166 accredited universities in 44 states that asked students about their experiences in distance learning, whether they faced barriers that affected their academic performance after making the transition, and what those barriers were.

According to the abstract, 682 students responded to the survey, with 307 completing it and meeting inclusion criteria.

Most students reported trouble concentrating (n=243, 79.2%) and responsibilities at home (57.6%) as barriers, and nearly half (n=142, 46.3%) reported mental health issues.

“Of note, 8.5% (n=26) of students reported having limited access to a computer or device to use for remote learning and 6.8% (n=21) of students reported having difficulty accessing food,” the abstract says. “Only 14 students (4.6%) reported experiencing no barriers to academic performance in a distance learning environment. Hispanic students experienced more responsibilities at home, including taking care of siblings and doing chores, than non-Hispanic students after returning home for remote learning.”

The group said the sociodemographic disparities in barriers to distance learning should be examined further. Athnasian suggested that the social effects on students in elementary, middle and high schools be looked at.

“Just having an understanding of how we can design distance learning settings, especially in such a way where students can remain social with their classmates, I think, is probably the most important factor,” Athnasian said.