Distance Learning During COVID-19: A Parent View

on May 13, 2020

A couple of weeks after the shelter in place orders started rolling out across the United States, we, at Creative Strategies, ran a study to capture some valuable information on remote work. We wanted to know which tools, both hardware and software, people are using while trying to work and supporting their children’s education efforts from home. We tried to get to a lot of the sentiment, both positive and negative, that emerged from using specific solutions and the pain points of new workflows. Our online questionnaire was taken by just over 1000 Americans, 850 of whom have been working from home during the quarantine. Among those, 342 have children living with them and in school.

There has been plenty of data shared by the leading tech companies on how they worked with schools and school districts to enable distance learning practically overnight. Many tools were made available for free by Microsoft, Apple, Google, Zoom and Cisco to enable teachers to hold classes over video, share material, mark work and more. With the success stories, we also heard the reality many schools faced with students who did not have access to devices or a fast and stable internet connection. The challenges schools faced were different in nature. Teachers faced technological hurdles, like learning how to use brand new tools like Zoom. They also faced more practical challenges, like deciding whether to deliver a class synchronously or asynchronously. Many settled on a mixed solution so they could be in touch with their students but also let them free to organize part of the workaround their family’s circumstances.

When we set out to do our study, we wanted to hear the voice of the parents, understand the challenges they faced in supporting their children as well as how prepared they felt their school and their children were for this new normal.

Device Ownership Paints a Familiar Picture

The trend that Chromebooks reign supreme in education was confirmed by our data that saw a range between 29 and 44 percent of children in the panel using a Chromebook for their schoolwork between third grade and college. Children between Kindergarten and second grade relied more on Windows PC (38%) and iPads (33%).

iPad penetration by grade is particularly interesting as it seems to corroborate the “need a notebook to do real work” mantra we often hear from enterprise users. iPad penetration among the respondents drops from 33% in K-2 to 17.5% among high-schoolers and 16.6% among college students. Benefitting from this decline seems to be the Mac, which grows from 13.3% in K-2 to 25.7% in high school and 28.4% in college.

Google Classroom Dominance

Considering the strength of Chromebooks, it should not come as a surprise that Google Classroom dominates as the most used software solutions across all age groups in our study, with the highest percentage among middle-schoolers where 52% are using Google Classroom for their distance learning. Google Docsmirrors the strength of Google Classroom with penetration as high as 49.4% among sixth to eighth-graders.

The correlation between iPad penetration and Apple Classroom shows there is more work to be done by Apple to match the popularity of its devices with their classroom software. Apple Classroom is most popular among third to fifth graders, but even there penetration remains limited, reaching 7%.

When it comes to video, Zoom is the clear winner with an average penetration across all children of 43% and a higher penetration of 51% in grades 3 to 5. It is interesting to note that Google Meet was unable to capitalize on the strong presence of Google Docs and Google Classroom, reaching a peak of 20% among middle-schoolers. Google Meet is certainly suffering from some branding issues as well as a less flexible set up compared to Zoom. Up to this week, in fact, Google Meet was only available to enterprise and education accounts, which meant, similarly to Microsoft Teams, it required a top-down set up through an IT manager. From May 12, Google has opened up Google Meet to anyone with a Gmail account. Users will be able to have video calls with up to 100 people and, until September 30, users will have no time limit. After that date, meetings will be limited to 60 minutes.

Kids’ Top Struggles

Kids will be kids, no matter their age! They all struggled with a lack of socialization. Third to fifth graders were the most impacted, with 62% lamenting that video is just not enough to connect with friends.

The very young (42%) and the pre-teens (41%) struggled with motivation because distance learning just did not feel like school. Kindergarteners to second graders also struggled the most with keeping still and staying focused, with 44% of the parents finding this to be an issue.

Parents’ Struggles

Except for college students, parents felt that their children required more assistance than expected in submitting classwork and doing assignments like taking pictures of work or videos (31%) with parents of kindergartners to second-graders most heavily impacted by this – 43.8%.

The other side of the same coin showed that, on average, 32% of parents wished that the school prepared their kids to problem solve more on their own. This sentiment was particularly strong among parents of third to fifth graders – 44%.

Post COVID-19

Most states have already said schools will be out for the remainder of the academic year and State Colleges in California announced this week that in-person classes would remain suspended even in the Fall semester. We wanted to see what parents hope will be retained once kids can go back to school.

Fifty-two percent of parents on our panel hope to see distance learning be an option when their children are sick or cannot attend school for other reasons. Another 35% expect to see their kid’s school use video for teacher/parent conferences. Finally, 28% of parents would like to see teachers offer “office hours” to get support for homework.

All in all, the parents in our study seemed to have been able to cope with their newly found role of teacher aid. This is neither remote work nor homeschooling, but a juggling act that we hope will end as soon as it is safely possible. That said, there is no doubt that this experience will impact both businesses and schools going forward. The extent of the change we will see as we establish yet again a new normal will depend on many factors from the level of investment required to the forward-thinking mentality of the leaders as well as any kind of crisis preventative measure imposed by the government.