The astounding increase in the popularity of online learning platforms over the last few years has left no-one indifferent. Questions began to be raised in relation to the efficiency of these new methods of information spread in comparison to orthodox pedagogical methods and traditional schooling. However, this subject has now been thrusted into the limelight as millions of students worldwide are forced to leave the classrooms and take the leap into previously unknown methods of remote schooling. As students and teachers adapt to this new learning environment, it is inevitable for the thought to arise: will online learning ever replace educational institutions as we know them?
Even the most adamant of opponents are unable to refute the multiple advantages provided by online courses. The flexibility in pace and schedule can be easily recognised as perhaps the most notable advantage of this practice. With students being able to pause, rewind or rewatch pre-recorded lessons at their own leisure, this facet of the online learning experience can allow deeper and more meaningful interaction with the course content as the listener can take as long as they need to fully understand the topic. In this sense, online learning takes advantage of one of a widespread piece of common knowledge: no-one knows you better than yourself. The bespoke aspect of online learning allows each individual to focus on their specific weaknesses which could be overlooked in physical classrooms.
Moreover, a study undertaken by MIT in 2014 found that during online classes “the amount learned is somewhat greater than in the traditional lecture-based course” despite the distractions that may surround the individual in the home. The opportunity to use interactions with tutors as mainly focused on questions has been reputed to be responsible for these results, however, several other studies have suggested that the best performance is obtained when mixing traditional and online classes.
Despite the great deal of advantages, there are some unavoidable hurdles that students face when enrolling in an online learning course. Constant temptations in the home and the knowledge of being unsupervised can make even the most motivated and responsible students deviate their attention from the class to check social media, take yet another unnecessary trip to the kitchen or simply stare out the window while the class continues. This behaviour was seen to increase steadily as the course progressed, the psychological response in students was altered after realising these behaviours went unchecked due to the absence of an authority figure and students reported to feel “a slight thrill” when engaging in other behaviour during online lessons.
From this, we can infer that independent learning requires an extra level of self-discipline and motivation, despite “all students displaying the same level of improvement”. Leaving the task of learning to students may only be advisable to the most dedicated of participants in the course. Those already prone to distractions may see their learning environment at home akin to a field of land-mines replete with enticing things to lure them away from their screens.
The importance of social interaction and the experience of attending a physical school is probably the greatest disadvantage of online courses. While the content covered in the curriculum may be the same and subjects may perform at the same level in assessments, it is impossible to replace the atmosphere of a classroom with Zoom. However hard we may try, interacting with other students and the teacher in a virtual class to the same level is impossible.
Small aspects of quotidian life at school cannot be emulated through a screen. Jokes with other members of the class, off-topic discussions or even contributions which lead to the enrichment of the learning experience are highly unlikely during a virtual class. The fact that you sometimes have to dedicate an unreasonable amount of time troubleshooting issues that can arise from online learning doesn’t help. Spending time trying to remember how to unmute your microphone or fixing endless internet connection issues are just two examples. Humorous comments are just not the same after arriving too late due to computer lag, leaving everyone in an uncomfortable silence.
In conclusion, online learning is the only possible solution to allow students to continue their schooling in an unprecedented situation, however, it is highly unlikely that Google Classroom will ever fully replace the traditional brick and mortar building of a school. The process of remote teaching and learning can be (and will be) refined and perfected in order to yield maximum results and optimal retention of information from the students. Although future students will probably not have to scramble to edit PDFs on their computers or talk for an extended period of time before realising their microphone is off, technological improvements cannot replace the value of human interaction to establish meaningful relationships and a sense of identity.
Angélica O, Year 12