What does it mean for students to experience "learning loss"? In brief, learning loss refers to the idea that students' learning decays over time if students do not regularly engage with the practice of learning. Prior to the pandemic, learning loss was commonly discussed in the context of summer break -- many of us have often wondered, "How much of my students' learning in the Spring semester carries over to the Fall?" Research suggests that students' academic progress slows(link is external) over the relatively relaxed summer months. However, we also have evidence to suggest that students are able to relearn concepts and skills quickly, especially when their prior knowledge and experiences are used as a foundation for learning new knowledge (Kole and Healy 2007(link is external), Morris et al. 1981(link is external)).
COVID-19 has disrupted student learning and higher education in unprecedented ways. National survey research(link is external) reports that students are feeling less prepared, finding it harder to concentrate for extended periods of time, and are spending more time completing course assignments than previous years. These findings are particularly relevant to students from historically underrepresented and excluded communities. UC Berkeley's series of Student Pulse Surveys from Fall 2020 through Fall 2021(link is external) point to similar trends, and acknowledge the specific hurdles transfer students continue to experience as a result of pandemic learning.
Taken together, learning loss is likely one of many symptoms related to the unpredictable and stressful nature of pandemic learning, including distracting learning environments, unfamiliarity with remote learning, and few support structures designed to meet all of these ongoing student needs at once (and for an extended period of time). While we, as educators, are not able to resolve all of these challenges, we can support our students to reclaim and activiate their prior knowledge. Provided below are four evidence-based approaches designed to help you bridge the learning gap by meeting students where they are in their learning.