Use this lesson plan to help students discuss the pros and cons of online vs. in-person learning.

Teenage boy sitting at a kitchen table with a laptop

The COVID-19 pandemic may be waning in the U.S., but it continues to disrupt lives around the world. For both students and teachers, online learning has come with a lot of challenges, from the digital divide and technology access to mental health impacts, or a lack of essential school and community supports. And the negative aspects of the pandemic have been especially significant for lower-income families and students of color.

But a handful of students have been thriving during online or distance learning. Some teachers and parents tell of improvements in students' learning and grades since the start of the pandemic. While online or remote learning clearly don't work for every student, it's possible that fully in-person learning also might not benefit every student. With reports that remote work may be here to stay for some employees, is it also worth considering a remote learning option for students who find it helpful?

As learners, each of us is different. Just as some of us enjoy being in a physical classroom, others might prefer to learn solo, from home. Students with ADHD, for instance, may find that learning from home actually limits distractions. Other students -- for example, those who struggle with anxiety or social differences -- may find in-person learning a negative experience. As we emerge from the pandemic, could a more diverse range of educational options be a solution? Use this lesson to start a discussion with your students about teaching and learning in the digital age.

Recommended for: 

Grades: 8-12

Subjects: Media literacy, SEL, social studies, ELA

Prep for teachers

In the classroom

Hook (8-10 minutes): 

Before screening the video, give your students an essential question to focus their viewing: Should remote learning remain an option for some students after the pandemic?

If you haven't already, distribute the handout and ask students to use it to take notes as they watch. Explain that they can fill in the three columns at any point during or after watching the video.



Show the video Distance Learning Isn't All Bad ... Is It? Consider pausing at various points throughout and/or screening the video more than once to aid in students' understanding.

Pressing play on the YouTube video will set third-party cookies controlled by Google if you are logged in to Chrome. See Google's cookie information for details.

Discussion (20 minutes):

Start off by asking students to share what they wrote down on the Are There Benefits to Distance Learning? handout. Continue the discussion using any or all of the questions and prompts below:

  • How does remote learning affect or change the classroom environment? What are some positives? What are some downsides?
  • Are there some things that simply must be learned in person, and can't be learned online? Are some subjects more or less conducive to online learning than others? Should it be mandatory for these classes and activities to be held in person?
  • At what age do you think students are ready to get the most out of online learning?
  • Should all students and families have the freedom to choose between fully in-person, hybrid, or fully online learning? Do you think state governments and school districts should set guidelines to determine who is allowed to learn from home and who must attend in person? If so, what guidelines might be necessary?
  • If online learning becomes a larger part of public education going forward, how might this affect things like a school's sense of community and identity? How might it affect things like sports and the arts?
  • In the debate between online and in-person learning, what are the implications for students' social skills? What about for students' life skills and family lives?
  • How might online learning help (or not help) students prepare for college and the workplace?

Possible follow-ups:

  • Why Some Kids Are Thriving During Remote Learning: Read this article from Edutopia with your class, and then ask them to consider and brainstorm other ways that schools might be more flexible in meeting the needs of all students.
  • What We Know About How Remote Work Changes Us: Have students read this article from CNBC, and consider the ways that remote learning may be similar to or different from remote work.
  • Re-Imagining the Office and Work Life After COVID-19: Share this article from McKinsey & Company and ask students to consider what school and work life may be like in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Investigation activity: During the pandemic, most schools turned to a variety of tech tools and educational software. But when it comes to learning, some of these tools and learning apps are undoubtedly better than others. Ask students to reflect and investigate: What types of digital learning tools worked, and which ones didn't? Have your students come up with their own criteria for what makes a digital learning tool effective. Then ask them to use these criteria to rate the tools they've used. Why were some better than others? Are there any tools that they'd like to continue using, even after in-person learning resumes?

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Max T.

Max Tardio is a soon-to-be college freshman and intern at Common Sense Media. He is attending Parsons school of design in New York City where he will study photojournalism.