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How Did Online Learning Affect STEM Classes?

By Siri Doddapaneni

STEM classes were a pivotal part of hands-on, integrated learning for the last decade. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, STEM classes had to adapt from being in the classroom to being online. While STEM is still an essential part of 21st-century education, online learning has affected it in several ways, good and bad, from elementary school to university.

A study was done by 7 professors on 560 students who were interested in science and research and found interesting implications on their academics during the pandemic. According to the study published in Insider Higher Education, “Eighty-five percent of students reported that the pandemic had an impact on their academic trajectories.” and found that online courses and challenges were the main sources of difficulty. The problems the students described had both short-term and long-term effects and could be a leading cause of future inequity in education.

The two main areas where there was an influential disconnect were in the foundational understanding of key concepts and peer collaboration, and specifically for science practices, asking and developing questions, making observations, planning and carrying out investigations, and analyzing data. Many students believed that, while they had good grades on the outside, they felt a loss of deep learning and understanding which they felt was more valuable to their education. Many STEM students also felt the impacts of limited collaboration when they weren’t allowed to communicate as much during online classes or forge relationships with mentors and laboratories.

While online STEM learning has its cons, it has its pros as well. While being online, students can take specialized and college-level courses from anywhere they are. These courses provide flexibility and allow students to learn at their own pace and, especially in rural schools, offer opportunities or material that is not part of the basic curriculum. Most of these expanded course offerings also come with minimal cost and expert instructors that provide outlets for students to learn from professionals in the field. A study by the American Association of Advancement for Science found that “online education platforms successfully scale STEM instruction with equivalent learning outcomes at a lower cost.”

STEM classes are and will continue to be an important part of education for elementary schoolers and undergraduates alike. Overcoming the challenge of online learning during the pandemic was not easy for most, but online STEM classes have their benefits and downsides. However, as students venture back into the classroom, they are now able to rebuild their understanding and motivation for STEM.

Works Cited

“STEM Students Struggled with Online Learning (Opinion).” Inside Higher Ed, 14 Mar. 2022

“The Pros and Cons of Online Classes for STEM Education.” Redbird Landing, 22 Sept.


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