Education now is a completely different beast than it has ever been. The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide have shoved the online learning model to the forefront of education while leaving educators completely unprepared. Curriculum and teaching methods have had to be redesigned, scraped, re-taught, and changed altogether to accommodate this new style of learning amidst the pandemic. However, there is a bright side to this! With all of the cons to online learning, there are just as many pros from this rapid pivot. Teachers all over the world have quickly learned about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching online. There are many things that have been learned and will be a future benefit, while there are always a few things that we could put into the trash.
Online Education Pros & Cons
There is no doubt that the norm for the learning environment has greatly vastly changed. However, I would also venture to say that there are more pros of online learning than cons. Online learning, just like in-person learning, brings about its challenges to overcome and hoops to jump through. Though doors have been opened now, that cannot be shut, and many have learned that this method of instruction provides many more freedoms that were not readily available pre-Covid.
It is Great for the “Doers”
Students who are intrinsically motivated do best with online learning courses. These students, if placed in a traditional classroom environment, would likely be the ones attending class on time, completing assignments that are quality, and understand the value in learning the material presented. In one of my classrooms, these are the students that need the least amount of assistance and would do anything it takes to accomplish their personal goals.
Many students who are self-motivated and have instinctual time management skills will do well with whatever mode of learning they are involved in. In this case, online learning and online classes provide more freedom in learning and doing outside of the classroom. Weaknesses in time management may lend to a student having a difficult time with online learning.
Education is Available Anytime, Anywhere!
Many students involved in traveling sports and other clubs miss an immense amount of class time if they are enrolled in a traditional school model. This type of program can allow a family the freedom through various types of instruction (i.e., video) to explore the United States. The online learning programs offer access to quality education with the freedom to continue doing what they love without family sacrifices. Online students involved in these extracurricular activities have the same access to their academic institutions and materials at midnight on the east coast as they do at noon on the west coast.
It is no surprise, but there is a great deal of educational inequity in the United States and around the world. The best schools are typically attended by those who are of a higher social class, aka; they have more money. This same concept applies to those who have the best technology(i.e., computers, iPad, tablets, etc.). Schools that have more money have more technology and better resources.
Students of lower socioeconomic status will likely go to schools that do not have the most updated materials and lower teacher retention rates. Further, many public schools in lower-income neighborhoods have high crime rates, making coming to school a place of survival rather than a place of learning.
Online education benefits students in places with lower achievement rates to have access to quality online education, quality educators, and the opportunity for college-level classes that will equitably prepare them for higher-level institutions.
Time management when it comes to online and traditional programs is extremely important. However, education online tends to have more leniency with allowing students the time they need to complete different assignments in various ways. Further, this type of program allows the student to pace themselves on their schedule rather than teachers. Online courses allow students many freedoms with pacing and word choice that typically isn’t available in a typical and traditional class setting.
Among the cons of online learning is that there is simply a challenge in getting creative with the learning environment when all of your students are indifferent home environment. Many charter schools teach courses online entirely, but they can meet every so often because they serve students in a particular state. But with everyday learning, those group projects, discussions, and interactions take on a different appearance.
In the classroom, teachers can read students and rely on their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their lessons.
Inequity in Technology
Even in the public school setting, many kids do not have access to technology once they leave the school building. This means they cannot work on their online coursework or continue learning when they get home. Access to the internet is still very much a problem with kids in the United States. There are issues concerning impoverished families not being able to afford internet services, lack of computers, and with Covid, a lack of places that provide WiFi that can be sat in.
Many kids lack the ability to access those digital resources in rural areas, which can make a choice for virtual learning not a viable option.
Lack of Social Interaction
There are two different levels of social interaction that are missing with an online learning environment. One, there is the interaction between student and student; two, there is the interaction between student and teacher. In my opinion, this particular and integral part of education and the lack of actual social interaction is one of the major cons of taking online classes.
While the virtual environment provides interaction of sorts, there is something to the in-person and physical aspects of learning. I can speak for my students in how far a high five or a pat on the back goes for those kids who need positive affirmation in the form of physical touch. Many scientific articles have shown that humans need 8-10 positive and meaningful touches per day to promote mental health. It is no surprise that with Covid, this type of contact has been limited, and many kids are now suffering from depressive disorders.
The Online Environment is Just Different
At this point in my career, Covid has certainly thrown a curveball to what I thought I knew about online teaching. While there are many pros and cons of online learning, I miss my students and the energetic atmosphere that comes with having them all in a classroom at the same time. Students play off each other’s body language and responses. Some of the best learning that I have ever seen in a classroom was facility by students. Much of that is lost in a structured and times online environment.
A virtual program will certainly offer a quality instructor, a schedule, the teaching of the same kinds of skills…but you just cannot beat the experience of being in person. In my classes, teaching Shakespeare in person and acting out the sword fight of Romeo & Juliet could not be matched in an online setting. The student-to-student community is incredibly valuable and cannot be matched through live-video instruction.
Online Courses After High School
One of the main questions I get asked by parents is whether or not these online programs will prepare their child for a university, community college, or specified trait program and an in-person program. The bottom line is this, good educators who can make learning fun and creative while still employing high achievement expectations will ensure that students are prepared for higher-level institutional course work and careers.
All students, especially now, need to understand the ins and outs of using a computer, engaging with an online instructor, and knowing how to video themselves for assignments. These things are now basic knowledge for most schools. Plus, accessing material online and being able to do proper research is now a must. The pros of having your education through a computer will likely ensure that a child has those basic skills.
In short, even online programs are regulated to some degree to ensure that every family has an opportunity for their children to be prepared for high learning and achieve the satisfaction of having a college degree.
Final Thoughts on Online Learning
The pros and cons of online learning courses are vast and varied. However, this method of instruction is not going anywhere any time soon. Covid-19 has opened the flood gates of online instruction and has inevitably changed education forever. One of the foremost positives that have come from this entire situation is that educators are better equipped to a certain degree to provide online learning to millions of kids. Where before, it was only available to a limited amount.