The Lasting Effects of Zoom: How Have Learning Strategies Changed?

Austin Li

“It’s so weird to see everyone in person again!”—It’s the fourth time you’ve heard a teacher say that today. School is back fully in person, and once again, you’re waiting in crowded hallways hoping you’ll make the next class within two minutes after the second bell. 

In the last academic year, teachers needed to significantly adapt to online learning. From a student’s perspective, all things were defined by Zoom: waking up three minutes before your first class, watching your teacher figure out how to share audio for a video clip, and half-listening to a lecture while doing the next class’ homework. For eight hours a day, your eyes focused on a screen. Have we gotten better at learning after our remote learning experience? Was the online year a one-time passage, or did it have long-lasting effects?

I believe learning online makes the student experience far more personalized: you have the freedom to make decisions about your classes without any immediate consequences—unless you had a teacher that cold called, that’s a different story. Regardless of whether class time was a group activity, lecture, or silent work time, students had the ability to choose how to best spend their time. In high school, this is beneficial as students should develop time management and independent working skills. If I had a Chemistry test during a silent work period for English, I could make the tradeoff to study for Chemistry and work on my English essay later that night. Yes, it’s possible that someone might struggle to do work without an authority figure, but if students aren’t motivated to use their time effectively, having a teacher to direct them wouldn’t help. To clarify, I’m not advocating for an unstructured class, only that online learning facilitates individual decision-making.

Another large part of the learning experience was the way in which teachers provided instruction. For me, the most effective teachers wrote up lectures through slideshows and documents, guiding students through them during class. Although sometimes it was exhausting to see a chemical equation be balanced over eight slides, having online resources significantly helped my learning process. Whenever I was confused on a homework problem, I could look back at the practice problems and solutions shown in the slides. Prior to the pandemic, I rarely saw slides (at least not as developed as they were during the online period), and the majority of classes were done on the whiteboard. I have found that teachers who continued posting online solutions this year have significantly aided the learning process.

Now, to talk about the clear disadvantage to Zoom: cheating. Significantly more often, students knew test questions, hopped on calls during tests, and scoured the internet for answers. Although I don’t see how the latter two could ever be helpful in a test environment, students from all over the country implemented bizarre cheating strategies during online classes. While teachers likely knew about the growing cheating culture, there was no solution beyond making tests more time crunched or writing entirely new questions. Cheating negatively impacted students’ ability to truly understand new content, and created inequality between students who did not cheat and those who did. Returning to classes in person, students who resorted to cheating likely faced challenges with in-person assessments. Although the degree of cheating didn’t continue into the new school year, there have been other effects. Beyond affecting student preparedness, student cheating bolstered LHS’ competitive culture. The threshold to do well during classes decreased, thus “standing out” became increasingly difficult. As students entered school this year, the “COVID GPA Boost ” was infamous. 

Ultimately, online learning inevitably changed the way students interact in the classroom and the structure of each class. Although we still wear masks at school, have distancing rules, and sit in on Google Meets when we’re sick, the return to school has reversed many impacts that online learning had on students.