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Whether you’re taking a school class remotely or trying to learn a new skill just for fun – online classes can be a great option. They work well for people that can’t always commute, those who work better independently, or simply if you can’t or don’t want to be around a group of people all day. But, it’s not to say that online classes are designed for everyone either. In this blog, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of online classes, as well as help you decide if online learning is the best choice for you. 

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Read more: Top Challenges with Online Learning For Students (and Solutions)

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8 advantages of online classes

The explosion of online learning has been a fantastic shift for many people. Students who may have had to waste hours commuting to class can now attend right from their homes. And anyone struggling to take in content at the same speed as a class can now go at their own pace – in a way that works best for their learning requirements. The pros of online classes make learning a positive experience for countless students. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages here!

1. Accessible to anyone with an Internet connection 

More than 20 million new users signed up to a Coursera course in 2021, for a total of 92 million users on the platform! Since online courses are accessible to nearly anyone with an Internet connection, it’s helped to close the global education gap significantly. 

Online classes make learning accessible to those with disabilities and cognitive delays. For example, deaf students can simply turn on closed captioning (CC) to read the conversation and participate in class online. Many video conferencing platforms and learning management systems (LMS) support accessible hardware technology to further increase engagement in online classes. 

Students with cognitive or motor skill disabilities have the option to work at their own pace or take lessons when it is convenient for them. For example, if a student with dyslexia is having a difficult time reading assigned textbook chapters, they can choose to listen to it instead with an option like audio textbook versions. 

2. Flexible scheduling

A major benefit of online learning is the ability for students to attend classes from anywhere. This means students in rural areas no longer waste time driving long distances or riding the bus to get to school. Or, students who need to work to support themselves through school also have an easier time fitting both class and work schedules into their lives. 

This also applies to adult learners that may be juggling responsibilities such as children, work, home management, and more. With busy schedules, it might not be possible to make time for an in-person class. Beyond the time to commute, busy adults might need to be on standby for their children – something that is much harder to do when they’re in a physical classroom. 

The flexibility of online classes has a huge benefit for mental health. It’s been proven that job autonomy leads to mental well-being in employees. For full-time students, schooling is much like a job that takes at least 40 hours of the week. Having the autonomy to choose when and where they attend class can help mitigate common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Better mental health leads to happier students – which is definitely something teachers, parents, and students alike should all strive for!

3. More affordable than in-person classes

Online learning makes higher education like university much more accessible to the wider population. University degrees offered online are an average of $10  to 11,000 cheaper than in-person equivalents. This number does not take costs like on-campus food or housing into account – it only reflects tuition differences. So you can imagine how significant that difference would become with all expenses accounted for! 

Learning management systems like Thinkific and Udemy are great places to look for affordable (and sometimes free) classes. Industry experts, entrepreneurs, and coaches all offer their knowledge through self-created courses, meaning these courses are often more accessible in terms of pricing while also providing super relevant and realistic course lessons. Students can go directly to the source of knowledge, rather than having to pay expensive tuition fees to big institutions.

There is also a huge amount of free knowledge on websites like YouTube. Channels such as Crash Course and Khan Academy provide high quality content at no cost!

4. Ability to connect globally

It’s possible to connect with teachers and learners all around the world with online courses. Before online learning was widely accessible, you would have had to travel to Hawaii to learn about Hawaiian traditions and cultures, for example. Now, you can join Ka hale Hoaka online school and learn right from your home. 

Even if you’re learning something that isn’t necessarily culture or country-specific, learning with people from different backgrounds can lend fascinating perspectives and discussion to the topic. With so many courses implementing learning communities, it’s easier than ever to connect with fellow students and hear different points of view. 

Read more: 10 Different Types of Online Learning Communities

5. Facilitated peer and teacher interaction

At first, it might seem like students don’t get a lot of interaction in an online course as compared to in-person classes. This can definitely happen – but there are many online courses that prioritize student interaction with each other, and with the instructor. 

For some students, it is easier to communicate through virtual mediums such as forums, discussion boards, or direct messaging than it is to speak up in an in-person class. Through these channels, they still get the benefits of group discussion without having to sacrifice the flexibility of online learning. Dr. Michelle Gottlieb, a psychologist and owner of EMDR Professional Training, also engages with her students by frequently commenting in her course’s online communities and providing advice to students as needed. Many instructors even offer 1-1 coaching sessions for students that are looking for additional learning support

6. Encourages independence and self-pacing

Many online courses offer students the option to take the course at their own pace. This can take away worries that the student might not have time in their hectic life to fit multiple hours of coursework in each week consistently. Self-paced courses are extremely adaptable to busy schedules. However, it does take a fair amount of self-discipline to actually complete self-paced courses.

If students find they are lacking discipline and are unable to complete courses that are self-paced, there are online courses that put students into cohorts with set deadlines. This is a great option for students and teachers that benefit from a more traditional class structure. Instructors that follow this model will often use the drip method, a microlearning approach, to release content at a slower pace. 

Read more: 2023 e-Learning Trends Report

7. Improved tracking and facilitation

If you’re easily disorganized or have trouble remembering what you learned last week, online classes can help you in this area. Most online classroom systems will keep track of which topics and resources you’ve already read, and will point you to which ones you need to do next. It will also automatically file your assignments, keep track of your grades, and calculate your total GPA to date. In comparison, learning through a physical classroom would require you to manage a lot of papers, heavy textbooks, and physical equipment.

Online classrooms also have the ability to launch virtual labs, which makes it easier to facilitate interactive learning sessions. Quizzes and feedback surveys can also be launched through the learning management system  by the teacher, and you can see your results almost instantly. Overall, it’s much faster to see information and results in virtual classrooms.

8. Adaptive to multiple learning styles

Everyone has a slightly different preference when it comes to how they interpret information. There are generally three types of learning styles:

  • Auditory learners – who prefer to learn by hearing. This includes listening to podcasts, lectures, and audiobooks. Any verbal explanation goes a long way for this learner!
  • Visual learners – who prefer to learn by seeing. Animations, movies, hand movements, drawing, and writing are useful tools for this type of learner.
  • Kinesthetic learners – who prefer to learn by doing, or using their hands. Any opportunity to touch, feel, build, and see something in 3D will help this learner interpret information well.

Most people have some combination of learning style, making them hybrid learners. With online classes, there are a lot of ways that students can choose to take in information. For example, a course may offer a video (appealing to visual learners) with a voiceover (for auditory learners) and instructions on how to do the science experiment with home materials (for kinesthetic learners). 

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6 disadvantages of online classes

While there are many advantages to online learning, it’s important to also consider the disadvantages. Some people may find that online learning isn’t for them, so let’s explore some of the reasons why. 

  1. Often requires a lot of screen time

Staring at digital screens all day long has a myriad of negative effects for both adults and children. These effects include eye strain, disrupted circadian rhythm, headaches, and neck and back pain.  Learners taking online classes need to take measures to avoid symptoms of too much screen time, especially if they are already working remotely, in addition to taking classes. Some ways to prevent the negative effects of screen time include:

  • Using blue-light glasses
  • Taking a break every 20 minutes to look at something different
  • Change up your working environment every few hours
  • Avoid turning up your screen too bright
  • Lower the contrast on your screen

2. Less opportunity to connect with peers

While online classes can actually be quite social in nature, the fact is that you’re still usually completing them on your own most of the time. This can be a major disadvantage – especially for students that already spend a lot of time by themselves at home. Students can combat this feeling of isolation by working on their online classes in coffee shops or libraries where there is a more lively environment. Additionally, they can sign up for classes that have thriving online communities to connect virtually with other students. 

It’s important to keep in mind that many people enroll in university, college, or even community classes as a way to meet friends. Proximity to the same people is a leading indicator that you will befriend those people – just because you see them a lot! If you’re taking classes online, you’ll miss that natural proximity and connection with your peers. It will take more effort to form real-life friendships with online peers (but it is still possible). One way to get a similar level of social interaction in online courses is by opting for a class that has a lot of group project work.

3. Harder to access technical equipment

At a minimum, students need a device with an internet connection to take online classes. Realistically, students will need a device they can also type assignments on such as a laptop or tablet with a keyboard. It’s costly to purchase these devices upfront, especially if you have multiple children in online classes who each need their own devices to complete school work. 

More often than not, in-person classes have a responsibility to provide equipment so students can participate. This keeps class accessible for lower-income students. To circumvent this issue with online learning environments, some school districts provide laptops or tablets so that students can participate even if they can’t afford to purchase devices themselves. Unfortunately, this is in no way a global solution as many school districts don’t have the funds to provide devices. This problem is even more true for students with learning disabilities who require specialized accessibility hardware.

4. Creates extra work for teachers

Teachers become teachers because they love to teach – not necessarily because they have an affinity for technology. This became extremely clear when teachers were first tasked with moving entire courses and curriculums into online formats. For many teachers, this meant lots of extra work recording lectures, moving tests and assignments online, and organizing video call live lessons and homework submission portals. However, once the courses are built, there is only a small time requirement to maintain the content with up-to-date material. 

Teachers might also run into issues with students not participating as much online and not having as much opportunity to collaborate. While there are online solutions to both of these issues, it is a learning curve for teachers to adapt to online teaching. It may take extra time to collect feedback from students in these early learning stages, but this time commitment should decrease over time.

5. Requires more self-control and harder to focus

Online learning can certainly make focusing for long periods of time a challenge. Students are no longer in an environment dedicated to learning and are surrounded by distractions like phones, delivery people, or chores like doing some laundry or walking the dog. The lack of structure means students need to be good at their own time management. This is an added challenge on top of learning that students don’t need to think about during in-person classes. 

Students may also find they run into challenges or don’t understand the material when learning online. Hopefully, the instructor has set up a way to contact them to answer questions, but if not, this will become frustrating for students and will likely cause them to lose motivation for learning. 

6. Lack of hands-on learning

Certain information lends itself better to online learning than others. For example, learning math or biology online will be relatively easier online since it involves a lot of visual or auditory explanations. However, learning things like medical examination, dental work, or even pottery or another trade might be tough because of the hands-on components. For kinesthetic learners, it might be more practical to learn in-person or purchase the training equipment you would need to practice your new skill hands-on at home.

Are online classes for you?

After reading through the advantages and disadvantages of online classes you probably have a good idea if online learning is for you. If you’re disciplined, self-motivated, want to learn something that doesn’t need hands-on practice, or if you need flexibility, online learning is right for you! However, if you need lots of structure, want to learn a hands-on concept, and want to meet people face-to-face, you would probably benefit more from in-person classes.

Launch your online learning product for free

Use Thinkific to create, market, and sell online courses, communities, and memberships — all from a single platform.

This article was originally published in 2022, it has since been updated in March 2023 to include the newest info.