Posted Tuesday June 23, 2020


Study investigates virtual learning impact on families

Virtual learning was already coming. In fact, it was here. But the abrupt shift to physically distant education during the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for families with grade school-aged children in Ontario.

The Western-led LEAP (Learning, Education, and the Pandemic) study aims to assess family experiences with learning during COVID-19. Specifically, Western Education researchers are exploring how family stress and virtual learning during the pandemic impacted students’ education.

Education professor Emma Duerden, and her co-investigators Diane Seguin and J. Bruce Morton, will also assess how a child’s physical activity, sleep patterns, extracurriculars, thinking-reasoning ability and time spent socializing impact these associations.

The study’s findings, researchers say, could shape best practices around virtual learning into the future.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario school closures have resulted in education shifting from the classroom to the living room, and the burden largely falls on parents,” Duerden said. “For parents of elementary school children who are working full time from home, this involves juggling home and work commitments, which can be stressful.”

Toward this understanding, Duerden and her Developing Brain Lab team have developed a short online questionnaire for gathering data from parents and caregivers.

Following the parents’ questionnaire, there are also optional cognitive games for children to play on a computer or tablet for further data collection. The study takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. ​

Any Ontario families with children ages 6-12 who are participating in online learning through their school board because of the pandemic are eligible.

“Now more than ever, parents want to keep their children safe and offer a supportive learning environment. Yet, as many parents are finding out, online schooling comes with many challenges,” Duerden said. “The LEAP study aims to explore those challenges as online schooling is continuing for the remaining weeks of the school year.”

Seguin, a Western postdoctoral scholar, believes it isn’t an understatement to say that the education environment changed “drastically” for most families when the pandemic started.

For school boards and teachers, this meant learning new skills and technologies to enable virtual education, as well as adapting curriculum and lesson plans to this new medium. In turn, parents and students have had to adjust to learning from home and the loss of teacher and peer interactions.

“Our study is looking to identify how home life has changed for families and which aspects of virtual learning they find most beneficial. If some virtual learning continues in the fall, or if a return to virtual learning occurs, we hope the results of this study can offer support to both parents and educators.”

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