Learning Pods Present Alternative to In-Person Schooling, But Are They Safe?

learning pods illo

Bailey Mariner / Verywell 

Key Takeaways

  • Many families have turned to learning pods in their search for safe alternatives to in-person schooling during the pandemic.
  • The strategy of meeting learning in small groups gives kids a small taste of traditional school while making it easier to follow COVID-19 public health protocols.

Learning pods appear to be a clever and convenient approach to schooling for busy parents whose kids are facing yet another year of hybrid or distance learning. But are they truly safe? 

For full-time working parents, the COVID-19 pandemic has induced panic over more than just catching the virus; they’re wondering how they’ll continue to juggle many more months of competing priorities. What’s more, many parents agree that distance learning simply isn’t providing their kids with the educational experience they need to thrive.

Seemingly a win-win situation for everyone involved is the idea of forming a learning pod, a small group of students who come together outside of a formal school setting for shared learning. But as appealing as learning pods may sound, parents should educate themselves on all the possible ways that this learning scenario could impact their children.

Lyndsey Garbi, MD, chief pediatrician at Blueberry Pediatrics, emphasizes the challenge of navigating safety precautions while choosing what's best for your child. "There are no easy decisions to be made when deciding whether to send your child into school or keep them home using an alternative learning solution such as a pod.

"Socialization is extremely important for the social and emotional growth of children and though this period we are all dealing with COVID is hopefully short-lived, its impact on children's growth may be substantial," says Garbi. "You need to find the balance between calculated risks for very important rewards."

How Do Learning Pods Work? 

The learning pod, or “pandemic pod,” industry is truly in its infancy. And that means a learning pod can look like just about anything its members desire. Some are comprised of kids in the same grade working on distance learning assignments in tandem and providing each other with moral support. Others may be more formal, led by a paid tutor or nanny.

Learning pods might even be as informal as a group of kids getting together mainly for socialization, an important aspect of childhood that has been largely lacking since the pandemic began. The only real consistency is that these pods have the same kids in them every time, thus making contact tracing easier while, in theory, diminishing the threat of viral spread.

“The intent of these pods is to ensure that students get some of the benefits of socialization, collaboration, and personal attention from an educator that have been missing in many remote learning situations since COVID,” says Brian Galvin, chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors

“Kids learning through 30-person Zoom classes are missing out on the small-group conversations that happen with deskmates, during lunch breaks, and in all the other small interaction periods that happen throughout the day in a traditional school. In a learning pod of six to ten students, kids have lots of opportunities to interact with other kids, filling a void that has been missing for so many,” says Galvin.

Regardless of their makeup, learning pods simply serve to provide kids with something more during this period of disruption in their education. And in many cases, they provide parents with the flexibility they so desperately need. 

Brian Galvin, Varsity Tutors

The intent of these pods is to ensure that students get some of the benefits of socialization, collaboration, and personal attention from an educator that have been missing in many remote learning situations since COVID.

— Brian Galvin, Varsity Tutors

Alice, a mom of three in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is one such parent. She works full-time from home at a demanding job and savors the small amount of extra time a learning pod affords her. “It’s been a life-saver, really. The kids are so excited to go every day, and even the three hours feels like such a huge relief when I’m not having to constantly help with their school and trying to get all of my work done as well.”

Are Learning Pods Safe? 

Due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, most school districts have decided that distance learning, or at best, an abbreviated or hybrid schedule, is the safest way for students to return to school for the 2020-2021 school year. 

While it may be easy to understand why crowded classrooms full of kids (notorious germ spreaders even in the best of circumstances) isn’t exactly safe during a pandemic, it’s a bit easier for parents to wrap their heads around the notion of a learning pod.

“A smaller group of students makes it easier to follow safety protocols like holding meetings outside and spacing six feet apart. Temperature checks are helpful, as is joining a pod of families you trust,” says Arash Fayz, co-founder and executive director of LA Tutors 123, a test preparation, academic consultation, and private tutoring company based in Los Angeles. 

Lyndsey Garbi, MD

Whereas pod learning may be more comfortable in terms of controlling your family's exposures, there are also benefits to having your child in a classroom that a pod may not provide.

— Lyndsey Garbi, MD

That being said, the effort many schools are making in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while allowing kids to safely return to the classroom should not be overlooked. Dr. Garbi recommends getting as much information as possible prior to making a decision.

"Whereas pod learning may be more comfortable in terms of controlling your family's exposures, there are also benefits to having your child in a classroom that a pod may not provide," says Garbi. "Obtaining knowledge on how far away the seats are, partitions between the desks, mask wearing enforcement, lunch setup, outdoor play, and precautions teachers are taking, are things about which you need to ask and learn."

What This Means for You

As long as basic safety and health precautions are taken, a learning pod can be a great way for kids to get socialization benefits along with in-person instruction during the pandemic. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Loades ME, Chatburn E, Higson-Sweeney N, et al. Rapid systematic review: The impact of social isolation and loneliness on the mental health of children and adolescents in the context of COVID-19J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020;59(11):1218-1239.e3. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2020.05.009

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By Christin Perry
Christin Perry is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has been published in The Bump, The Knot, Scary Mommy, LittleThings, Parents, Qeepsake, and more. She has experience writing email marketing campaigns, website copy, and SEO-optimized content. Christin is also a mom of three.