COVID’s Impact on Student Learning

When COVID-19 slammed into 2020, over 100 years had passed since the world last experienced a pandemic. Since the Spanish Flu of 1918, the way we learn and socialize has changed so much that we couldn’t expect to learn much from past pandemic protocols – we had to figure it out on our own.  

With no precedent for how to handle abrupt school closures of the magnitude we experienced in 2020, a sink-or-swim scramble ensued that left students, teachers, and administrators reeling. Only those with some experience in online learning had a head start.

Now the dust has settled somewhat. Although COVID-19 is still a presence, and virtual classrooms are still a norm, 2021 at least has 2020 to look back on and glean data to inform future strategies. The question is: what, exactly, has been COVID’s impact on student learning?

Learning Retention

Conventional wisdom, corroborated by research, has long held that information retention decreases when learning is interrupted. Studies show that even during the traditional two-month summer breaks, students can lose 20% to 50% of the learning gains they made during the school year. When schools shut down in 2020, experts projected that students would lose an average of 66% of reading learning gains and 44% percent of math learning gains, compared to a typical pre-pandemic schoolyear.

Preliminary 2021 data, however, shows that the losses have not been quite that dire, and that learning gains were only slightly lower during the 2020 school year than they were in 2019. Still, they were affected, and the long-term ramifications have yet to be seen.

Home Schooling

While parental support is vital to a child’s education, in most cases parents play a support role rather than a primary role in that realm. However, with schools closed and social distancing mandates in place, families were left with no alternative but to home school.  

The problem is that not all parents have an equal ability to oversee their children’s education. For instance, over half of the households in the U.S. are supported by dual incomes, making it difficult for one parent to take over the bulk of home school duties. Other important differentiating factors include diverse academic and technological resources and parental education and knowledge levels.

Because so much learning had to take place at home, COVID’s impact on student learning was uneven, which leads to the next point.      

Achievement Gap

One major impact the pandemic had on student learning was a further widening of the achievement gap. Students living in poverty were the most affected, as they were often less able to fully participate in online learning. Another demographic affected by the change was students who need academic accommodations, as few schools had systems in place to provide those services in a virtual environment.

Because of the uneven instruction students received while schools were closed, they returned to the classroom with more pronounced ability variances than usual. The challenge for teachers was to figure out how to help students collectively recover when they came back to school at such different levels.  


Since students’ lives are likely to continue being disrupted by COVID-19, schools must implement methods to mitigate its negative impacts, including solutions that foster personalized learning and student engagement in a virtual classroom setting. Thankfully, such solutions are already available in the form of ingenious technology such as the Jigsaw Interactive platform. Jigsaw has built an agile virtual learning environment that can adapt to anyone’s needs and help put back together the shifted pieces of public education.


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