Online learning has moved from the periphery of education to the very center as the pandemic has upended traditional teaching formats. This once-in-a-lifetime event has forced us to re-examine the ways learning is possible. It may even transform once-deeply held beliefs of teaching that will endure long after the crisis has passed. Even though the shift to remote learning was abrupt, it was never something so obscure that academics, researchers and educators never considered its value or benefits. On the contrary, the education establishment, long before Covid, always sought to examine how e-learning and education could be combined successfully. From this examination have emerged arguments for and against online learning, which will be looked at in this article.
The Arguments for Online Learning
Distance learning can encompass many things from grade-school students to doctoral candidates. There are also nuances in subject matter and discipline to consider. Not to mention that online learning was a choice before the pandemic hit and forced everyone into online classrooms. But largely, anyone who is learning outside of the classroom through a virtual platform is distance learning. There are also several reasons why someone would opt to take online courses, such as:
- The lowered cost
- The freedom and flexibility
- The actual physical distance
- The availability of different course offerings
But the central question that surrounds online learning is whether it is as or more effective than traditional, in-person, classroom teaching or not. Here are the main arguments typically given for supporting the effectiveness of online teaching.
It’s More Convenient
Depending on the student, getting to class may be a hardship. Elementary and secondary school students may not have a lot of trouble getting to class as it is part of their everyday routine. But older, university-age students may be juggling several responsibilities (work, family) that could complicate their ability to attend physically.
Distance learning relieves those students of the added burden of commuting to class every day, while also giving them the opportunity to study and earn a degree to better their career and life prospects. Distance students can learn at their own pace, attend classes virtually or take instruction asynchronously by reviewing material assigned to them by their instructors.
It’s Much More Cost-Effective
Another major hurdle for most distance students is the cost of attending a university-level course. Cost does not factor into distance learning for younger students, unless they attend a private school. But the pandemic has even forced expensive private schools and Ivy League universities to adopt the distance model.
Distance learning is also cost-effective for the institutions that offer it. They can save on the resources that are typically spent when hosting in-person students like housing and food service costs as well as other amenities. The added benefit of distance learning during a time of crisis like this is that it keeps students, teachers and staff safe.
The Wealth of Distance Learning Tools
Many distance learning tools now being used existed before the pandemic. They have obviously seen an uptick in demand and users since it began. The challenge for students as well as teachers has been adapting to these new tools for teaching and learning. There is a definite learning curve that comes ingrained in these new platforms, but the tech-savviness of most young people has made the transition easier even if technical glitches and breakdowns still occur.
Teachers may have had a tougher time in changing their teaching practices to accommodate online learning than their students. A US survey found that less than 40% of teachers had received any training in online teaching before the pandemic struck.
Fortunately, there are several applications that are directly aimed at making online teaching more effective like PDF tools for teachers. Among them is Lumin PDF, which is a document sharing application for teachers and learners to share, review, and edit documents.
The Arguments Against Online Teaching
Distance learning, on the surface, may seem like the ideal solution during a global pandemic. But its roll-out has been widely uneven. Students in rich countries who have easy access to the basic necessities for online learning like reliable internet access and computers and laptops have benefited more from online learning than their counterparts in lower-income countries.
While the unequal access of online learning is not a flaw inherent to it, there needs to be more done to level the playing field. Students worldwide have had their education interrupted by the pandemic so it is doubly unfair when some students through no fault of their own cannot access the alternative to in-person teaching.
A Lack of Discipline and Focus
The structure and focus that comes with in-person teaching are things that have been lost during the pandemic. Without their teacher’s guidance or their classmate’s participation some students are not able to show the discipline that they normally would in class. This has been a major factor in parents pushing for school districts to re-open for fear that their child cannot handle both the stress of lockdown as well as the novelty and unfamiliarity of online learning.
Not as Effective As In-Person Teaching
The debate around whether online learning can be as effective as in-person teaching rests on several factors. Things like a student’s age, performance, and class can all affect their educational outcomes online. The coronavirus pandemic has given researchers ample time and cases to examine whether online learning can rival in-person teaching.
But even one year after the beginning of lockdown, there is no sweeping or conclusive argument that online learning is as good or effective as in-person teaching. Several studies have found that student’s retention, memorization and understanding of material learned online has fallen owing to many variables.
On the other hand, there are individual cases of students thriving in virtual classrooms. Students with disabilities or with difficulties learning have found that learning in isolation has helped them concentrate and become more active in their own education. Yet, these cases remain the exception and not the rule.
The ineffectiveness of online teaching can also be ascribed to the uneven distribution of such things like internet access. A lack of parental help or supervision, especially if a student’s parents are unable to work from home, are also factors that hamper their ability to learn online. As such, there are no easy answers as to whether online learning is more effective than in-person instruction.
Some students have fallen behind. Others have thrived. These differing outcomes can be ascribed to various elements that it is hard to say what would make remote learning more effective. But, without a doubt, if the resources and support that students from wealthier countries have were more evenly distributed, it would be a great help to those students who are currently struggling.