Survey on online and distance learning – Results

Image: LUM3N / Unsplash.com

The survey findings reveal that almost all respondents’ schools have switched to some form of distance teaching since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, and over 60% believe that school practices will not be the same when they reopen, with more online/distance teaching and learning than before. For two thirds of respondents, the closure of schools has led to their first experience with online teaching, which has been both positive and challenging.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive school closures across Europe, many countries have taken measures to limit the disruption to education, necessitating a move to online and distance learning, encompassing not only secondary but also primary schools.

Although distance learning offers obvious advantages for both teachers and students, such as continuity, flexibility and mutual support, many teachers have had to adjust to online teaching owing to the necessarily short notice. On top of that, it is difficult for teachers to ensure that all pupils, especially the disadvantaged and young ones, will stay engaged and take part in classes online.

This survey to explore opinions on online and distance teaching from across Europe was open on School Education Gateway from 9 April to 10 May and attracted a record number of respondents – 4859 – of whom 86% were teachers or school heads.

It complements the national surveys that have been run and which we also include a snapshot of.

Thank you for your interest and do please send your suggestions for future surveys.


Results (N=4859)

1. Thinking of your school, or a school you know, which statement best describes teachers’ experience with online teaching?

For 67% of respondents, this was their first experience with online teaching. 25% had some experience, and only 6% had extensive experience with online teaching. For 3% of respondents, their school has not switched to online/distance learning.

2. As a teacher, or on behalf of a teacher you know, what has pleasantly surprised you about online/distance learning?

The most pleasant surprise, mentioned by 38% of respondents, was innovation (that is, freedom to experiment with teaching practice). This is followed by flexibility (33%), a wide range of digital tools (31%), accessibility of platforms, materials and resources (27%) and increased autonomy and motivation among learners (23%).

A smaller 14% chose engagement and enjoyment of pupils, while only 11% of respondents were pleasantly surprised by an improved relationship with pupils, and 10% by the ease of online/distance learning.

3. In your opinion, what have been the main challenges for teachers in switching to online/distance learning? Choose up to five options.

Respondents were asked to choose five challenges from a list of 17. Fewer than 1% reported no challenges.

The most frequently mentioned challenge was access to technology (computers, software, stable Internet connection, etc.), whether by pupils (mentioned by 49% of respondents) or teachers (34%). Increased workload and stress working from home was reported by 43% (with 18% finding time management and organisation a challenge).

The biggest challenge related to supporting pupils was keeping all of them motivated and engaged (43% of respondents chose this), involving pupils from socially disadvantaged homes (36%), involving disaffected pupils (19%) and supporting those with special needs or disabilities (18%).

Digital competence was reported as a challenge both for pupils (24%) and for teachers (24%). The most frequently mentioned learning content and assessment challenge was converting activities and content into online/distance learning (28%), closely followed by preparing content for online and distance learning (27%) and assessing pupils’ progress (25%).

Communication issues with pupils were mentioned by 19% of respondents, and communication issues with parents or caregivers by 13%. Only 7% felt that little direction or support given by the school was a challenge.

4. What would most help teachers to support online learning during the school closure?

Of eight possibilities, more free resources from education technology companies was the most frequently chosen (by 45% of respondents). Other useful types of teaching and learning content were websites with lists of useful resources (29%) and educational TV programmes by national media organisations (10%).

The second most frequently mentioned support was clear guidance from the Ministry of Education (41%).

Various types of professional development were often mentioned, in particular quick courses on online teaching (37%), webinars and TeachMeets for teachers to share ideas and challenges (22%), video clips/lesson plans of good practices (31%) and easy contact with experts, such as a more experienced online-learning teacher or an ICT expert (24%).

5. In your opinion, due to the current circumstances created by the COVID-19 virus, when schools fully reopen, will online/distance teaching remain part of school practice?

School will be a little different, with more online learning than before, according to 44% of respondents. A further 17% felt that school will be quite different: online teaching will become integral to school practices. On the other hand, 39% felt that very little will change, 32% agreed that school will return to its original practice with minor changes, and 7% supposed that the school will return to its original practice.

Conclusions of the European survey

What positively surprised respondents most is innovation, being free to experiment with teaching, flexibility and the wide range of digital tools. There is less positive surprise reported regarding increased student engagement or improved relationships, although they have been noted.

Almost every respondent reported challenges, the most frequent being access to technology, for both pupils and teachers, and increased workload and stress working from home. Several challenges related to supporting pupils were identified, together with their digital competence – and that of teachers.

Respondents feel that support in terms of more educational resources would help them meet the challenges, as well as clear guidance from the Ministry of Education, together with professional development, such as short courses on online teaching and opportunities for teachers to share resources, ideas and challenges.

These findings offer some early indications to policymakers and school leaders that the experience of distance/online teaching and learning, although challenging, may have lasting positive effects, opening up interesting possibilities for innovation and new ways of working, especially if supported by appropriate and timely professional development.

Some caution is needed in interpreting the results, given that the sample of respondents is based on voluntary online participation and relatively small compared to the number of teachers and other stakeholders in Europe. Although more than 40 countries are represented in this survey, most respondents reportedly come from France (36% of the total), Bulgaria (19%) and Portugal (14%).

Results from recent national surveys

According to a study in Austria with 3,500 teachers covering all school types, 60% of teachers feel distance learning has had a strong impact, and the respondents believe this is the case for 64% of students as well. Three quarters of teachers report that home schooling made them more aware of their students’ private situation. 86% claim to take individual situations into account. Special education teachers reportedly individualised teaching the most, but they could maintain less personal contact with their students than teachers in regular or integration classes.

The Czech School Inspectorate conducted a comprehensive survey on distance learning via telephone conversations with the principals of almost 5,000 primary and secondary schools (1-14 April 2020). Most pupils were understood to be engaged in some way, although 15-20% reportedly struggled initially due to lack of ICT equipment / insufficient Internet connection, low motivation, or lack of support from parents. Intensive use of digital technology in distance education, interest in its use and expectations of further use in the future are clearly positive findings. Two thirds of schools expect that most teachers will take up more digital technology in class after returning to school.

Interviews by the German institute Allensbach underlined the importance to teachers of personal contact with pupils. However, only one third have been able to establish and maintain such contact. Half of the teachers report reaching most of their pupils, 9% only some pupils and 3% none of their pupils. Teachers report both more stress (34%) and less stress (36%) compared with regular teaching. Additional stress is caused by the different organisation of tasks, providing feedback to pupils and evaluating homework. Technical issues troubled close to half (40%) of the teachers who experienced additional pressure. Keeping in contact with parents is a particularly complicated issue for primary school teachers.

Research reports have also been published in Latvia and Ireland (both in English).

Annex