Distance Learning Research Report Snapshot

Rachel Ahrens
Mariana Aguilar
Melissa Serio

Modern education looks different today than it did last year. Educators are navigating a new instructional environment, while IT admins are making crucial decisions to ensure their students have equitable access to digital tools and resources. According to GoGuardian’s Research & Insights team, the online environment has also shifted, shedding light on the impact and breadth of the online learning ecosystem that has undergone a systematic shift. Below are a few of the insights gleaned from the in-depth analysis of online traffic and usage through GoGuardian from March through April 2020.

Teacher-Student Connection and Communication Uptick

Standard face-to-face classroom interactions are missing, however, teachers are finding new ways to connect and engage with their students in a virtual educational space. In fact, GoGuardian’s Research & Insights team found that teachers on GoGuardian Teacher™ sent over seven times more chats in April than in March, when comparing chat usage from mid-March through mid-April.

This uptick in communication through Chat suggests the importance of connection when a system is disrupted. Despite there being other ways to use GoGuardian Teacher, Chat enables the human connection element that’s often missing in virtual space.

Educational Websites Take Claim

Even as schools moved away from the traditional classroom, the research found that students continued to frequent educational websites. In parsing out the data on these sites, it was found that 84 percent of the Top Most Popular* websites overall were educational in nature. The top ten most popular education websites visited by students on school devices were YouTube, Clever, Zoom, Khan Academy, Instructure, Flipgrid, ClassLink, IXL, Quizlet, and Edpuzzle. Based on this finding, students are continuing to engage in learning from a distance, even without the structure of an in-person school environment.

The types of websites in the Top 25 Most Popular Educational Websites remained relatively stable when comparing the previous school year, beginning October 2018 to April 2019. This remained nearly constant into the beginning of the next school year, October 2019; however, there were notable shifts in the types of websites in the Top 25 Most Popular Educational Websites at the end of the most recent academic year, April 2020.

Additional analysis comparing the Top 25 Most Popular Educational Websites in October 2019 and April 2020 found that there was over a 27 percent increase in the number of websites that provide instructional content, or allowed teachers to generate instructional content. Within that same comparison and time frame, the analysis found a 66 percent increase in the number of websites that are primarily a tool to deliver or create video content and a 75 percent decrease in the number of websites that are primarily reference tools (such as Dictionary.com).

Asynchronous Learning Dominates

Of the Top 25 Most Popular* Educational websites visited by K-12 students during that same time period, over 90 percent enable asynchronous learning. Asynchronous learning allows students to complete course requirements, such as accessing content or completing assignments at any time rather than only during specified times set aside (Jaffee, 1997). When it comes to the learning content on these sites, over 50 percent of them share instructional content or enable teachers to create content for their students. This type of learning looks to be an adaptable approach as schools and their communities adjusted to provide some sort of educational materials and normalcy to the educational journey for their students. A brief overview of the research into these websites found that:

The Top 25 Education Sites Visited from March 16-April 17 include:

  1. YouTube.com
  2. Clever.com
  3. Zoom.us
  4. Khanacademy.org
  5. Instructure.com
  6. Flipgrid.com
  7. Classlink.com
  8. Ixl.com
  9. Quizlet.com
  10. Edpuzzle.com
  11. Prodigygame.com
  12. Schoology.com
  13. Quizizz.com
  14. Getepic.com
  15. Brainpop.com
  16. Wikipedia.org
  17. Coolmathgames.com
  18. Powerschool.com
  19. Pearsonrealize.com
  20. Abcya.com
  21. Seesaw.me
  22. Scholastic.com
  23. Kamihq.com
  24. Mheducation.com
  25. Kahoot.it

Top Three Shifts in Online Usage

In addition to examining visits to each site, GoGuardian compared the percentage of time spent by the student population on the Top 204 websites before and after the onset of school closures. To understand some of these trends, GoGuardian conducted a qualitative and quantitative exploratory analysis observing the week prior to school closures, March 9-15, and more recently, May 4-10.

In examining trends in the overall percentage of time spent by the student population on their school devices during the selected time periods, the analysis found the following:

  • Nearly 10 percent of the overall time spent online using school devices in May was on video conferencing.
  • Comparing March to May, the percentage of time that the student population spent on YouTube doubled.
  • Students spent more time on YouTube alone than on all of the Top 10 Most Educational Domains combined in May.

Based on these insights, it is apparent that video conferencing has become an important way for students and teachers to engage in a distance learning context. Because many students may use school devices for both educational and personal browsing, it is difficult to discern whether the increase in time spent on YouTube is a result of intellectual exploration; however, it is apparent that YouTube is their go-to source for content and information amidst this crisis.

How Districts Have Responded

An exploratory, qualitative analysis conducted on the Distance Learning Instructional Plans of over 30 school districts—as posted on their school websites as of May 13, 2020—paralleled the quantitative findings showing that asynchronous learning has been deployed most often.

Of those districts researched, over 87 percent are offering asynchronous distance learning, which primarily consists of teachers posting assignments or providing links to learning activities that students can complete at their own pace. Teachers are available through office hours, email, or phone to offer support to those students with assignments. These office hours are often noticed through Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams.

Synchronous learning is seen as optional for some schools based on preference. These types of learning experiences can involve educators providing instruction during a specified period of time during which students have the option to participate simultaneously.

Schools offering “Optional Learning Resources” post free online learning tools and learning extension activities that are built on existing student knowledge. In these online settings, students are not required to turn in assignments.

It is worth noting that these analyzed schools may be in the process of creating a more robust remote learning plan.

Take-Home School-Issued 1:1 Device Breakdown

Prior to the school closures, 30 percent of the schools that were analyzed had already issued 1:1 take-home devices for their school year. For example, a school giving all students in Grades 9-12 a take-home device would be accounted for in this analysis. As a result of school closures, an additional 22 percent of sample schools attempted to issue take-home devices to all students, where previously, the devices were limited to campus use only. Post-closure, 16 percent of schools issued devices only to families that requested it for their student who is in school. For example, if there were not enough devices for 100 percent of students, schools asked students and families to use their own device; but if a student needed a device, they had the opportunity to receive one. In general, it is not clear if the devices will remain at home over the summer.

A pie graph of take-home school-issued 1:1 device breakdown

What Does This Mean for Schools?

Overall, the current situation has placed new demands on students and teachers. Identifying how distance learning has changed educational practices and learning habits is one of the first steps to understanding how these changes are affecting school communities. From finding new ways to engage students in the virtual space, to extracting value in existing tools, to ensuring continuity of learning, the landscape of education is shifting. As schools and districts prepare for summer and look ahead to the 2020/21 school year, it is likely we will continue to observe unexpected changes in online instructional practices and student behavior.

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  1. Jaffee, D. (1997). Asynchronous Learning: Technology and Pedagogical Strategy in a Distance Learning Course. Teaching Sociology, 25(4), 262-277. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/1319295

*Most Popular Websites are calculated by the percent of unique students that visited this website at least once out of all unique students browsing in the specified timeframe.


As the world of digital learning accelerates, GoGuardian believes it is critical that we study and understand the impact of the digital learning experience on student outcomes. Our research and insights are focused on understanding how the digital learning experience can be improved to maximize achievement in the classroom while unleashing curiosity.

At GoGuardian, we believe the internet is a learning tool and that education solutions are only as valuable as the impact they provide. So as Researchers, it is our job to conduct experiments and gather insights on the impact of the digital learning experience on students and schools.