Digital divide, homework gaps mar move to online learning, engagement, says Quizlet report

Across its top 50 markets, Quizlet saw a 200% to 400% increase in students and teachers signing up for the platform. The company also saw gaps in online education based on income levels
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Remote learning amid COVID-19 magnified the digital divide as access to laptops critical to engagement, according to a Quizlet study. 

Quizlet's State of Remote Learning 2020 report is based on data from more than 50 million monthly active users across 130 countries. Quizlet, which in April raised $30 million in series C venture funding, has more than two thirds of US high school students and more than half of all college-aged students on its platform. 

Like many learning platforms, Quizlet saw a boom in new users. Across its top 50 markets, Quizlet saw a 200% to 400% increase in students and teachers signing up for the platform. The company also saw gaps in online education based on income levels. Quizlet has an interesting perspective on high school and higher education engagement with remote learning. The company has a freemium model that gives it a broad set of customers.

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 "We create ways for students to interact and ask and answer a billion questions a week," said Matthew Glotzbach, CEO of Quizlet. "We then leverage data to build machine learning to personalize study with the goal of being an AI-powered learning assistant. We have a bird's eye view of what's happening."

Here is a look at US high school engagement in online earning by income bracket relative to pre-COVID-19 levels. 


Amanda Baker, head of analytics at Quizlet, said the report normalized pre-COVID-19 activity compared to pandemic learning. Each geography in the Quizlet data set had different times of shutting down. For instance, Brazil's move to remote learning was later than the US. Germany's was before. Quizlet also layered US Census income data over its engagement metrics. 

"There were socio-economic effects for high school," said Baker. "In lower income areas we saw usage fall as remote learning went on. Higher income areas saw an increase over time."

Much of those usage changes did revolve around devices. Income groups started equally with desktop usage pre-COVID-19, but diverged amid COVID-19, said Baker. Students that could use desktops and laptops to study had higher engagement levels compared to those relying on mobile devices. 


Quizlet's report concludes that the US was far less prepared to pivot to online learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. US students generally didn't return to normal study engagement levels. 

The findings highlight the big conundrum with remote learning. Some students handle online education well and others simply don't. Threading that engagement needle will be critical for educators. According to Quizlet:

  • Brazilian students were 207% more engaged in online studying once COVID-19 shutdowns hit. 
  • South Korean students were 198% more engaged. 
  • Polish students were 96% more engaged after COVID-19 compared to previously. 
  • American students were 27% less engaged. 

Quizlet's report zoomed in on US engagement with online learning. Some findings include:

  • Math performed best relative to pre-COVID-19 levels. 
  • Arts and humanities saw the biggest drop off with English study sets falling. 
  • AP exams were big motivators to keep study levels up after COVID-19 hit. Study levels in probability and statistics, calculus and art history all showed high performance engagement levels. 
  • Probability and statistics topped pre-COVID-19 levels as did applied math. 

Another takeaway is that students prioritized personal interest and topics that were of immediate importance over other subjects in remote learning. Healthcare was another topic that surged, according to Quizlet. Baker said that interest was due to usage spikes by medical students looking to procure positions in med schools and graduating early to help out during the pandemic.

Going forward, Quizlet's Baker said it will continue to monitor engagement and spot trends. This trendspotting is going to be increasingly important since districts are facing fluid situations, hybrid plans and local health conditions for the 2020-2021 school year. 

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