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The COVID-19 pandemic caused online learning to become the “new normal” for many of us. But is that a good thing? 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)

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. The pros of online classes make learning a positive experience for countless students. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages. 

1. Accessibility 

Online classes present opportunities for students with disabilities that are hard to implement with in-person learning. For example, deaf students can simply turn on captioning to participate in class online. Students with audio processing issues also have the option to use captions or replay sections of lectures to understand the subject matter.

Students with cognitive or motor skill disabilities have the option to work at their own pace or take lessons when is convenient for them. Imagine a student with dyslexia having a difficult time reading assigned textbook chapters; with online learning options like e-textbooks, they can choose to listen to it instead. Even outside of traditional institutions online classes generally provide options to speed up or slow down audio, as well as turn on captions, or learn information in a variety of different formats.  

2. Flexibility

The flexibility of online learning benefits students in a variety of ways. 

Attendance on your own terms

A major benefit of online learning is the ability for students to attend classes from anywhere. This means no more wasting time driving long distances or riding the bus to get to school. Students who need to work to support themselves through school also have an easier time fitting both school 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. But with online learning, students can explore anything that might be interesting to them: from equestrian photography, to martial arts, to entrepreneurship

More autonomy = better 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 (18.4% of college students) anxiety (23.6%), and stress (34.5%). Better mental health leads to happier to students – definitely something to strive for! 

3. Affordability

Online learning makes higher education like university much more accessible to the majority of the population. Online university degrees are an average of $10 -11,000 cheaper than in-person university degrees. This number does not take costs like on-campus food or housing into account – it only reflects tuition differences. 

Online learning also opens up courses offered on course marketplaces like Udemy or online courses created by entrepreneurs like the ones hosted on Thinkific. Learners can go directly to the source of knowledge, rather than having to pay learning establishment fees. 

There is also a huge amount of free knowledge on websites like YouTube. Channels such as Crash Course and Khan Academy provide high quality learning content completely free. 

4. Global connection

It’s possible to connect with teachers and learners all around the world with online courses. Before online learning, you would have had to travel to Hawaii to learn about Hawaiian traditions and cultures. 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. Peer and teacher interaction

On a related note, it might seem like with online learning students would not get the same amount of interaction as participating in in-person classes. This can definitely be the case – but there are many online courses that prioritize student interaction with each other, and with the instructor. For some students, it is easier to interact by participating in forums and discussion boards, or messaging their peers and instructor than it is to speak up in an in-person class. Students still get the benefits of discussion without having to sacrifice the flexibility of online learning. 

Many instructors even offer 1-1 coaching sessions for students that are looking for that level of instruction. Isis Breanna (known as the Digital Sales Guru) offers her students extra time with her with both 1-1 coaching and membership options. This way students have multiple options at different price points for more instructor support. 

6. Discipline 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 2 or 3 hours of coursework in each week. 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. I know I myself have been guilty in the past of signing up for a course and only completing it halfway. 

Students that want to practice self-discipline can purchase courses and set a weekly schedule to follow. If they need the course to attain a certain certificate or to meet certain job or education requirements this can be extremely motivating. Self-pacing provides options to students that might have other priorities come up. 

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 to release content at a slower pace. 

Read more: 2022 Online Learning Trends Report

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 – let’s explore some of the reasons why. 

1. Screen time

Staring at digital screens 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. Completing online courses means adding to that screen time. 

Learners taking online classes need to take measures to avoid symptoms of too much screen time, especially if they are already working online in addition to taking classes. This can include things like blue light classes (though the effectiveness of these glasses is debated), taking breaks to stretch and rest your eyes, and limiting screen time before bed. Online classes might not be a good option for those that are already feeling the negative effects of too much screen time. 

2. Isolation

While online classes can actually be quite social in nature, the fact is that you’re still usually completing them physically on your own. 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 are other people. 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 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 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!). 

3. 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, especially if you have multiple children in online classes who each need their own devices to complete school work. 

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 classes, some school districts provide laptops or tablets so 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.

4. Extra work for teachers

Teachers became teachers because they love to teach – not necessarily because they have an affinity for technology. This became extremely clear during the COVID-19 pandemic when teachers were tasked with moving entire courses and curriculums online. 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. 

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.

5. Focus

Online learning can certainly make focusing on class a challenge. Students are no longer in an environment dedicated to learning and are surrounded by distractions like phones, Xboxes, or tasks like 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 is frustrating for students and will likely cause them to lose focus on 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 easy, however learning things like medical examination, dental work, or even pottery or carpentry might be tough because of the hands-on components. 

A third-year medical student we spoke to described learning abdominal examinations online: 

“We watched the instructor perform an abdominal examination on his wife, while we practiced on a stuffed animal. It was not easy to perform the abdominal examination in clinic when COVID ended at all.”

A dental student we spoke to described similar issues with online learning:

“A lot of concepts we learned online had to be retaught in-person, and I saw a lot of mistakes happen when we went back to in-person learning after COVID.”

Clearly, online learning does not work very well for concepts that require hands-on practice, whereas in-person learning works for all concepts. 

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, and 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 in person you would probably benefit more from in-person classes.


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