Online learning: teaching revolution or learning nightmare?

Online learning: teaching revolution or learning nightmare?

With online learning becoming more integral to education at all levels, I explore whether online learning is truly the future of teaching or does it carry its own set of complications.

2020 was the year of online learning as the COVID 19 pandemic meant that gathering at schools and universities became dangerous. Consequently, the school run, and daily commute was replaced by a much shorter one – the destination your computer screen. A year later, and these changes persist despite many aspects of life such as schooling returning to a new normal. This suggests that these modifications to education are becoming permanent. But that begs the question: is that good thing? 

One of the great benefits of online learning is the fact that students were free to learn from the comfort of their own home. They could learn in an environment of their own choosing without the added pressure of commuting and punctuality or the stress of having their classmates physically surrounding them. The former is something I quite liked as I was often late to class thanks to a less than ideal commute. However, despite this clear upside to online learning, there is a downside to learning at home. When online learning takes place in a person’s home, the boundary between home and school life is eroded in a way homework never really did. The place once used for relaxing with the occasional piece of work, evolved into an extension of the classroom meaning that students could become overwhelmed as the stresses of the classroom entered their previously humble abode. Furthermore, learning from home does not consider those students who cannot or find it difficult to work in those conditions thanks to noisy siblings or neighbours. For those students, these changes could be rather detrimental to their academic progress.

Additionally, online/digital learning allows for the development of many new technical skills. With all the new software used over the past year to facilitate teaching, students have had to quickly learn how to use them. As a result, these students are more digitally proficient, an asset in the professional working world where computers and tech are becoming much more integrated. Though, while these skills are improving, other skills are suffering. The lack of in-person communication can have a real impact on a person’s interpersonal skills. Sure, group work and peer to peer communication is possible while online learning, it just is not the same as the face-to-face interaction that comes from being in a classroom. 

There is also the issue of attention. We all know how easy it is to get distracted online, be that games, social media, or online shopping. If you are online for class, these temptations are even more tempting and almost impossible to ignore. True, students do get distracted in class in a school environment, however, in those settings, a teacher can do something about it. Sending a student out a zoom class does not exactly have the same effect. This highlights how attention and discipline in an online class can falter, no matter how interesting the lesson or well-behaved the student.

Reading all of that, you would think that I am not a fan of online learning, but that is not the case. Online learning is a good thing for those who cannot commute, those who learn best in an environment of their choosing and those who feel more comfortable participating from behind the safety of a screen. However, those who need a more hands-on education, those whose internet connection is spotty at best and those who finds themselves suffering from headaches and eye strain from those extra hours in front of a desk, for them online learning is not the perfect solution. For them, I make the case that online learning must support traditional learning and not be a replacement.

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