The pros and cons of distance learning

According to students, virtual learning has both a positive and negative side.


Nick Morrison

Photo Courtesy of Nick Morrison via Unsplash

Alicia Ernst, Staff Writer

With the COVID-19 pandemic still prevalent in our lives and a new school year quickly progressing, academics persist – but under new conditions. Last spring, the Oakton student body was able to catch a glimpse into the future of virtual learning and its challenges; however, after experiencing a few weeks of graded, vigorous virtual schooling, similar opinions among the student body have emerged. Many students are able to relate to each other – the unified student population is in the same boat, all struggling with similar issues and tackling difficulties that virtual learning has presented to them. 

Students are quickly familiarizing themselves with a plethora of new challenges, unintroduced by any previous school year. Presently over one month into the 2020-2021 school year, students are finding themselves overwhelmed, juggling stressors such as an unexpected abundance of homework, trouble concentrating in lengthy classes, and lack of engagement in the virtual classroom.

One thing I don’t like is that now, I’m spending so much time staring at my computer screen then inevitably staring at my phone later to relax. I feel like it’s unhealthy, especially considering the recommended time teens are supposed to be on their screens is like, four hours a day maximum. The hardest part of school this year is definitely concentrating for so long, it’s really draining to be sitting all day giving your undivided attention to a screen,” says Naomi Yoon (10). 

For many students, the lure of being home where they are free to relax, eat, and use their phones is stronger than the lure of stressing over homework.  “Since we’re not in a typical learning environment, it’s much harder to find motivation to do work. I also find it difficult to stay organized, like keeping track of all my assignments on all the different websites I have to look at makes me think I’m missing something.” said Paris Phan (10). A new student at Oakton, Daniel Son (9), gives his insight as well: “It’s hard to motivate myself to do my schoolwork and classes online. It feels optional.” 

Distance learning not only halts students from the interactive, hands-on environment in-person classrooms provide, but also isolates them from the social aspect of school – which is often described to be the best part. Naomi Yoon (10) explains “It’s hard to make friends in classes online so I’m mostly just sticking with the people I already know and not meeting anyone new, because it’s too awkward and we don’t use class time to socialize so it wouldn’t be possible anyway.” 

Although this school year has posed quite a challenge so far, it is a necessary step in striving for the safety of Oakton’s students and staff. According to students, virtual learning comes with its conveniences, too. Naomi Yoon (10) says that she enjoys the abundance of time, both inside and outside of virtual school day hours. “There’s more time to do school work, because the commute to and from school is nonexistent. I also like the one-hour lunch break we get now, it’s the perfect amount of time to relax or take a nap.” Paris Phan (10) expands on this, noting the convenience of how distance learning eliminates the commute to and from the building. “It’s much more convenient. You get to pick the location and device to use to attend classes.” With the opinion of Daniel Son (9), somewhat of a consensus presents itself. “I find it easier to keep track of assignments, because everything is on my laptop. There’s also more time to do extracurriculars or other activities. I also find it less physically and mentally draining, because I can do school from the comfort of my own home.”  


Many students hoped school would be in session face to face, and gratefully accepted the original opportunity of attending school in person twice per week (a system shortly reversed by FCPS after the idea amassed more student sign-ups than anticipated). When asked if students would attend school in-person if given the chance, the response was mixed. “It depends on how FCPS decides to carry out the plan. I feel like people won’t take precautions seriously. I’m doing basketball conditioning and people tend to take off their masks halfway through – I doubt people would be able to sit through seven hours with a mask. Plus, I bet it would only take a week for someone to get sick, and school to shut back down entirely. It would just be too risky, so I would continue distance learning,” notes Naomi Yoon (10). Other students would take the opportunity, for the sake of productivity. “I would go back into school. I’d say I’m much more productive in school than at home. I think I’d enjoy in-person school more,” says Paris Phan (10). As suggested by Daniel Son (9), it all comes down to safety. “If we were in a safe situation, I’d definitely go into school. It’s my first year of high school and doesn’t feel as real.” 

With these student perspectives in mind, do the pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa?