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The Pros and Cons of Distance-Based Learning

April 15, 2020
  • K-12 Education

At KI, we’re conducting a six-week interview series about distance-based learning. Each week we will check in with students or educators to understand how they’re navigating and feeling about their new virtual education environments. We hope to gain insights from those who are actually going through it. During this time, we’ll share our thoughts about similarities, differences and what can be learned as we all embrace a new style of learning and instruction.

We kicked off our interviews with a 3rd grader and a 5th grader. The questions asked will be used for all participants - middle school, high school, college & university as well as teaching participants.

In week two, we visited with two middle school students, a 6th and 7th grader. Their interviews, when patterned minimally to the elementary school students, begin to show an explicit response that we believe we might all be feeling, not just students -- that distance-based learning may not be a first choice when it comes to full instruction.

That said, we know that it takes time for new changes to take hold, become a habit, and eventually be established as a new routine.

“On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic - 66 days to be exact,” according to James Clear. With that in mind, let’s see what our Middle Schoolers had to say.

Interview #3: 6th Grader, Public Middle School

KI: What did you have for breakfast?

6th Grader: I had a blueberry waffle with an apple and 2 chicken sausages. The waffle was gluten free. I also had iced coffee with almond milk.

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

6th Grader: I like that they made our schedule easier and split it into red days and black days, so we only do half of our subjects each day. This way we don’t have as much to study each day.

KI: Why do you like not having as much to study each day?

6th Grader: It gives me more time to take care of myself and not spend the entire day focused on my studies. I like the breaks. I think it’s important to take care of myself personally because you need to love yourself a lot these days.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

6th Grader: Right now, I think they are doing it very well, so I don’t actually think they should do anything different. I would just really like to go back to school because I think being in school is easier.

KI: Why would you like to go back to school?

6th Grader: It’s easier at home for me to get off track, and I really want to see my friends again, in person.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you had fun with?

6th Grader: For choir, my teacher allowed for us to submit anything that had to do with singing, so I made a video of me and my little 3-year-old sister singing together. We sang “All is Found” from Frozen 2.

KI: Why did you enjoy that you could submit anything?

6th Grader: It was fun because there wasn’t a specific thing that I had to do. It wasn’t very specific like other assignments, and I enjoy singing, and singing with my little sister, so it was just a lot of fun.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you did not enjoy?

6th Grader: My math assignments are longer than they were in class, and we have to do 6-page worksheets that get annoying if you don’t understand the topic.

KI: Why is it annoying if you don’t understand a topic?

6th Grader: It’s easier in class to get help from the teacher in the moment, and help from a classmate.

KI: When things return to normal”, would you want to continue some amount of distance-based learning?

6th Grader: No.

KI: Why ‘no’?

6th Grader: When I’m at school, there is better balance. It’s just the right amount of homework when we are in school. So like right now, it just feels like a lot of homework. The teachers have been doing an incredible job of being flexible to talk with and are doing online conferences if students need help. I want to thank them for this, and I can’t wait to be back in school, because then it is even easier to talk to my teachers. 

Interview #4: 7th Grader, Public Middle School

KI: What did you have for breakfast?

7th Grader: I had two bowls of Frosted Flakes cereal.

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

7th Grader: I can go at my own pace when I’m doing my subjects.

KI: Why do you like that?

7th Grader: Because some subjects I’m better at and some I’m not. So, I can go faster and slower.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

7th Grader: I wish we had a little bit more time to prepare so that we could do more hangouts with our teachers and talk to them more, like through our screens and our computers.

KI: Why do you wish you had more time to prepare?

7th Grader: (Because) I think what happened was a little bit too sudden for our school to prepare, like meeting with our teachers online and talking with them more.

KI: Can you tell us about a project or assignment you had fun with?

7th Grader: In science class we were working on this volcano project where we had to research volcanoes, and I found it very fun.

KI: Why did you find this fun?

7th Grader: I thought the shape of volcanoes was cool and sometimes they had lakes inside the cone. The top of the volcano is unusual and cool-looking.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment that you didn’t enjoy?

7th Grader: I don’t enjoy the way we do our Spanish projects. I feel like it’s hard to get into, and I feel like it’s very difficult to get the answers the way you want them.

KI: Why is it more difficult?

7th Grader: Because I don’t have my teachers in person. My Spanish teacher is very good at helping us with things we’re struggling with. Due to the space between us, it’s harder to get the stuff done.

KI: When things return to “normal,” would you want to continue some amount of distance- based learning?

7th Grader: Oh yea, I’d like to continue certain amounts of it.

KI: Why?

7th Grader: Because certain parts of it you can like go faster on. Like you don’t need the teacher to guide you through it. I feel like distance-based is like a single student can get to where he wants to be or go at the pace he wants to be instead of the teacher’s pace.


We encourage you to keep empathizing with your own children while they dip further into this journey. And, we want to hear from you. Share your own thoughts with us on social media using #distancebasedUX.

Next week we’ll connect with two high school students to see how they are feeling about distance-based learning. Stay tuned!

by Jonathan Matta  Education Market Leader

Jonathan Matta is KI's National Education Leader, supporting organizations in their pursuit of solving complex challenges by applying the power of design. Matta previously served as the Vice President of Design at RXBAR, where he led a design team that applied a variety of design strategies, chiefly Design Thinking, to a multitude of organizational challenges. Jonathan holds an altMBA from Seth Godin's program, along with completed courses from Stanford University's "" and IDEO-U. He received his undergraduate degree from DePaul University.


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