Shani Gabi is a business student at USC. She is one of the many students who prefer in-person learning over online. Given her learning difference, she says that the past year has been particularly challenging for her academically with Zoom classes.

I struggle a lot with online learning because I already have ADHD and as I said before, so just being in an environment where I have to sit and just stare at a computer makes it way harder to focus.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Gabi said she found herself most productive while working in class or even in study rooms. But over the past year, she has attended her Zoom classes from her apartment near the USC campus where she has transformed part of her makeup vanity into a study desk. She says this environment is not conducive to her learning style, but living with roommates has made it difficult to claim a designated study spot.

The online learning experience has definitely been exacerbated by ADD and ADHD symptoms, I literally do everything around me. I’ll start putting my creams on just because I’m bored or doing my makeup because I’m bored or drawing in my notebook so it definitely has impacted my online learning.

Maria Ott is a professor of Clinical Education at USC. She says while online learning can be a distraction for some, it may actually prove efficient for others.

For students who have a learning disability who may not, let’s say, on an auditory processing level, may need to hear it more than once. They have the benefit of going back to the recording and listening again, listening, you know, more than once if they need to.

Ott says there are many pros and cons when it comes to online learning and the level of engagement it requires.

My experience is there is a high level of cognitive demand in the online environment because you have to be really prepared to engage. And that’s not to say that you don’t have to do that in a brick-and-mortar environment, but there’s a lot of interchanges. A lot of things happening simultaneously.

Ott says that she has observed that her students interact with each other better using Zoom, given the platform’s unique features. Specifically the chat feature and the breakout room feature on the platform, she says, have allowed her students to exchange ideas more seamlessly.

For other students, like Josh Mora, online learning has been much more effective and efficient. Mora is a business administration student at USC.

I feel 100% more focused while classes are online.

Mora says when classes were in person, he often had to scramble to write notes and would worry about missing information and falling behind in class. But with the features of online learning, he feels a lot less stressed.

Because everything’s recorded and online, I can just go back if there’s something that I missed. So I don’t really feel that pressure to kind of get everything down as the class is going on. I know that I will on my own time can review it and learn it.

He says the best parts about online learning are the comfortability and flexibility of being able to take classes anywhere, and not having to rush to get to classes on campus.

I did classes that while I was in California and L.A. or even at home, or even in Minnesota visiting someone. And it just allows me the flexibility of like kind of where I want to be. I don’t have to be stuck in L.A.

Ott says the pandemic may have actually changed education indefinitely, explaining that educators may actually continue to practice some of the online learning tactics they have adapted.

I think for students who might have thought that it was going to be negative, I think some of those students are based on their experiences and are rethinking that. And so there may be more blended experiences where a professor might have the traditional brick-and-mortar in-person classroom, but perhaps there will be times where they might say this week we’re going to meet online and there may be a real purpose for doing that. I think that we’ve learned a lot and that it won’t go back to being just the traditional classroom. I think both the professors and the students have. They’ve learned something about themselves, as you know, educators, the teacher, and then the student.

As we soon turn the corner in the pandemic and transition back to normal life, the question now becomes... what learning obstacles will students face after finally getting into the groove of online? Will those with disabilities transition back to normal immediately?

We’ll find out in the fall!