Change is never easy, but it is constant. Online learning has been a new change in classrooms over the past years, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, online classes are much different than hands-on classrooms where classmates sit face to face. However, although it differs greatly from in-person learning, online classes are not all bad. In fact, there are plenty of benefits to online learning, both for students and teachers. As both a college student during the pandemic and a recent educator, here is what I have noticed in my own experiences with online learning:
For students who suffer from disabilities, chronic conditions, or illnesses, online classes are an absolute gamechanger. In other words, online classes make it significantly easier to attend and participate in class. In fact, some classes are even recorded. This allows for further accessibility, as it allows any student who missed the chance to catch up on the missed experience pretty directly. Not only that, but students can still participate in discussion posts, watch assigned videos, etc. It is all dependent on policies and of course, student’s ability (physical health comes first!).
Even for just an average student who catches a cold—online classes offer an opportunity to both take care of their health and classes at once. More importantly, it helps to prevent the spread of colds and viruses. For instance, I remember so many fellow students from undergrad who would have to attend class with the flu, due to strict attendance policies. With online learning, the spread of such viruses is almost halted immediately; students can stay home, drink tea, and still log on for class if need be.
In addition, online classes are accessible in another fashion as well. They offer the chance to take classes that are not readily available within one’s area. For example, if there is a workshop across the country, it is still accessible if it is hosted online. In this way, online classes allow everyone to learn, no matter the distance.
On a similar note, online classes can allow students to stay focused. Another advantage of online learning is that it cuts out many obstacles to learning. As long as there is good WiFi, there can be class from almost anywhere. It is easier to focus on the subject matter, and not get distracted with other issues, like getting stuck in traffic.
During my undergraduate experience, I remember there was a student in my classes who always came to class a bit late due to work. However, they were still able to join the lecture via phone. They would listen on the way home, and switch to a computer right when they arrived. Simply put, transportation and punctuality issues are lessened. If students come in late, it is highly unlikely that they will cause a disturbance or distract other students. Classes can get started usually right on time, and it is less likely that they will run over significantly.
Now, this can be a tad dependent on the class. For the most part thought, online classes are self-paced with deadlines. So long as a student fulfills their assessments by the deadline, they succeed. Arguably, this is a huge benefit of online classes. Why? While online classes are not always recorded, they still offer freedom in terms of deadlines for assignments and readings.
For students that are eager to learn, disciplined, and determined, online classes offer education that they can follow at their own pace. For other students, online classes hold a wonderful opportunity to further work on their discipline and consistency.
For students that have anxiety, class presentations or even asking a mere question can be a daunting task. However, with online classes, it is much easier. There are various modes of communication, including emoticons, private messaging, and more. Confused about a lesson? Ask the teacher privately during class. Liked what another fellow student said? Use an emoticon heart or thumbs up to quietly share your agreeance. There is an ease with communication.
As an educator, online classes are helpful for me in managing my students. Since I can observe all of them equally from the same distance, I can notice all of their expressions swiftly. When students take a practice exam, I notice when their eyebrows furrow and tap their pencil. In other words, it is much easier to recognize when a student is having trouble and reading their facial expressions. I can tell when a student is engaged. Likewise, I can tell if they are bored out of their mind. In comparison, classrooms can pose a bit more of a challenge for students who sit in the back. It is harder to recognize those same patterns, especially from the front of the classroom.
When I was in college, being in a lecture hall with over a hundred people meant that there was a particularly low chance of getting to know the professor. It was one giant classroom, filled to the brim with students. This is not the case with online learning. The ability to see fellow peers in their surroundings, up close and personal, allows the chance to get closer. Factor in the ability to have breakout groups or have names constantly available, and online classes can offer high benefits to this end.
At the same time, the barrier of being online can actually make it easier for individuals to share or present. If something vulnerable is shared, the class ends with the computer. I don’t have to awkwardly pack up and walk away. While there is more opportunity for bonding, the sheer space can allow for students to voice their thoughts without worrying about how classmates may perceive them. During my time as a student, I surprisingly found other students shared more during smaller online classes versus spaces in-person. It felt safer.
Personally, I believe that is partially due to the nature of seeing each other in their home setting and being able to be present with each other. The time period no doubt aided that, but even outside of that, it was easier to hold a space, especially since I most likely wouldn’t encounter the other students again in person. With in-person classes, there’s before and after class, and the possibility of seeing other students around. But one of the advantages of online learning is that it is much more private. Both students and teachers are sharing from the complete safety of their home.
Overall, while online learning can have considerable challenges, they also offer great benefits as well. Depending on a student’s learning style, online learning can prove to be far more beneficial than in-person classes. Even still, the utter accessibility and availability of communication are wonderful advantages of online education.
As life continually transitions back into in-person activities, online learning should be fully considered and viewed for eager students who want to learn more about esoteric subjects and grow with the accessibility.
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