8 ways distance learning makes it harder to focus

For kids and teens who struggle with focus, distance learning can be especially difficult. Here are eight ways learning at home can make it harder to focus.

1. Lack of structure

Learning from home often means making up your own routine. For some, the flexibility is liberating. But kids and teens who struggle with focus tend to do better when they know exactly what to expect, and exactly what’s expected of them.

2. External distractions

A doorbell ringing, someone making lunch, people or pets moving around. There are sights, smells, and sounds at home that make it hard to focus on schoolwork.

3. Internal distractions

Many kids are feeling sad or anxious because of the pandemic. They may miss seeing friends or attending events. Some are coping with the trauma of family members losing jobs or getting sick. And social media exposes them to what other people are going through. All these emotions and worries can be as distracting as a loud TV.

4. Less support for time management

At home, there are no set start and end times for when to get work done. And there are no teachers standing there to keep them on track. Without the natural supports that exist in a classroom, kids and teens can easily drift off and lose track of time.

5. No in-person help for refocusing

At school, the teacher can refocus students with a hand on the shoulder or a quiet reminder. Classmates asking or answering a question can bring attention back to the lesson or activity.

6. Not enough sleep

Changes in routine can upset sleep schedules. And coping with uncertainty and anxiety can make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep. When people don’t get enough sleep, it directly impacts how well they can focus.

7. Long, written communication

Many teachers are using email to reach students and share information. But a long email can be hard to focus on, just like a long oral lesson in the classroom can be. The same is true of written class materials.

8. No change in scenery or built-in breaks

Staying in one place all day can make it hard to stay focused. Students get built-in breaks in regular school. Recess, gym, music or art class, and even changing from room to room all help students recharge.

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About the author

About the author

Gretchen Vierstra, MA is the managing editor at Understood and co-host of the “In It” podcast. She’s a former educator with experience teaching and designing programs in schools, organizations, and online learning spaces.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.