New Survey: Majority of Teens Say Online Learning Is Worse Than In-Person, but Only 19% Think School Should Return to Full In-Person Instruction

Teens Say They Learn Better in Person and Worry About Falling Behind but Have Little Confidence Their Schools Will Keep Them Safe from the Coronavirus
Common Sense Media
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO, September 16, 2020—A new poll released by Common Sense/SurveyMonkey shows that teens are taking the coronavirus more seriously than some may think. Despite 59% of teens surveyed saying that online learning is worse than in-person schooling—with almost one-fifth (19%) characterizing it as "much worse"—fewer than one in four teenagers (19%) say they think their school should take place fully in person this fall, while 42% would prefer to be fully remote and 37% would choose a hybrid model. 

Two-thirds (66%) of those who want their instruction to take place fully remotely say it's because they think the coronavirus is too big of a threat. Just three in 10 teens say they trust their school "a lot" to take enough precautions to keep them safe during the pandemic, while 52% trust their school "a little," and 17% don't trust their school at all. Almost seven in 10 teens (69%) are worried ("very worried" or "somewhat worried") that they or someone they know would get sick because of in-person schooling. 

"It is critical that we hear directly from teens on how they feel about returning to in-class instruction and the impact of online learning during the pandemic," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "This is a very complicated issue that not only impacts families and educators but also students themselves in fundamental ways. We've heard from parents, teachers, and elected officials on the back to school issue, and we hope the voices of teens will be considered as well."

While fear of the coronavirus is the driving factor for teens wanting to stay home, teens say online learning is creating significant disadvantages for their ability to learn this year and fear the potentially long-term negative impacts on both their social and academic growth. Among those teens who want to return to school in person, nearly half (46%) say they want to do so because they learn better in person. Overall, more than six in 10 teens (61%) say they are worried about falling behind academically because of the pandemic.  Almost one third of teens (32%) cite the lack of access to teachers as a major academic challenge, along with 27% who are worried about unreliable internet at home.

Not surprisingly, the data shows that teens are feeling the strain of social distancing orders on their relationships with friends and family. But their focus and concern is largely on their future. Many fear that, because of remote learning, they won't get the scholarship assistance they need or be ready for jobs or college after high school. More than half of teens (52%) are concerned about losing opportunities for scholarships, and 50% are worried that the pandemic will hurt their future job or college aspirations.

“More than any other issue, teens point to remote learning as their biggest academic challenge this fall,” said Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. “So much of the national conversation on virtual schooling focuses on the burden it places on parents and corresponding losses in workplace productivity, but it’s possible that the day-to-day impact on students that will have longer-term implications.”

The survey also found that teenagers of color are feeling the long-term disadvantages more strongly than White teens. Hispanic and Asian teens or teens of other races/ethnicities are particularly likely to say they are worried about falling behind (79% and 67%, respectively) compared to White teens (55%). The majority of teens of color also cited a loss of scholarship opportunities as a top concern, as well as getting sick with COVID-19.

This latest survey is part of a Common Sense partnership with SurveyMonkey to examine media and technology trends affecting kids and to share actionable data and insights with families. 

Key Findings

  1. Teens definitively think online learning is worse than in-person learning. A majority of teens (59%) say that online learning is worse than in-person schooling, with 19% characterizing it as "much worse." However, Black teens are less likely than teens of other races/ethnicities to think online learning is worse. Only 45% of Black teens consider online learning to be worse than in-person schooling, compared to 60% of White teens, 64% of Hispanic teens, and 62% of Asian teens or teens of other races/ethnicities. 

  2. Learning drives the desire for in-person schooling. Among those who want to return to school in person, almost half (46%) say it's because they learn better in person, with fewer teens (30%) saying it's because they miss the social interaction they have with friends and other students.

  3. But only a small percentage of teens think school should be fully in person. If the choice were up to them, only 19% of teens say they think their school should take place fully in person this fall, while 42% would prefer to be fully remote and 37% would choose a hybrid model. Fully two-thirds (66%) of those who want their instruction to take place fully remotely say it's because they think the coronavirus is too big of a threat.

  4. A majority of teens are worried about falling behind because of the pandemic. More than six in 10 teens (61%) say they are worried about falling behind academically because of the pandemic, with Hispanic and Asian teens or teens of other races/ethnicities particularly likely to say they are worried about falling behind (79% and 67%, respectively) compared to White teens (55%).

  5. Access to teachers and unreliable internet are big challenges for many students. Almost a third of teens (32%) cite lack of access to teachers as a major academic challenge. More than a quarter (27%) say unreliable internet will be a major challenge in their schooling.

  6. Most teens have little confidence that their schools will be safe. About 70% of teens say that they trust their school only "a little" or "not at all" to take enough precautions to keep them safe during the pandemic. Only three in 10 teens (30%) say they trust their school "a lot." Black and Hispanic teens are more distrustful of their schools' capabilities to keep them safe compared to White teens (74% each versus 67%).

  7. Teens of color are more concerned about getting sick from in-person schooling. Teens of color are more likely to be worried that they or someone they know will get sick as a result of going to school in person: 62% of White teens versus 78% of teens of color, a difference of 16 percentage points. Overall, 69% of teens are worried that they or someone they know would get sick because of in-person schooling.

Methodology:

This SurveyMonkey poll was conducted August 20 to 27, 2020, among 890 teens age 13 to 17 in the United States. Respondents for this survey were selected from more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is plus or minus 5.5 percentage points. Data has been weighted for age and sex using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 13 to 17.
 

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About Common Sense

Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.

About SurveyMonkey

SurveyMonkey is a leader in agile software solutions for customer experience, market research, and survey feedback. The company's platform empowers over 17 million active users to analyze and act on feedback from employees, customers, website and app users, and market research respondents. SurveyMonkey's products, enterprise solutions, and integrations enable more than 335,000 organizations to deliver better customer experiences, increase employee retention​, and unlock growth and innovation. Ultimately, SurveyMonkey's vision is to raise the bar for human experiences by amplifying individual voices.

 

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