Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Online Learning

Let’s face it: online learning was always going to be a hard sell. Launching all the way back in the 1960s before truly becoming viable in the 1990s it has faced some tough challenges. The Internet was still an entirely alien concept to a lot of people, the stigma surrounding home-schooled students was rife, and traditional academic leaders refused to embrace its validity.

In the latter’s case, at least, this still rings true. A study released in early 2016 by the Online Learning Consortium found that even though 71.4% of American academics believe online learning offers the same or superior value to face-to-face methods, and yet only 63.3% said they find it critical to their long-term teaching strategies.

Yet progress waits for no one. According to the World Economic Forum, the eLearning market was valued at $166.5 billion worldwide in 2015. This year, it’s set to hit $255 billion. An astounding 77.84% of young students have taken online courses, with 90% stating that it offers a superior experience to traditional classrooms.

But is it right for everybody? Today, we’ll be taking a look at some of the notable pros and cons of pursuing online education, to help clarify whether it is the right option for you.

THE PROS

CONVENIENCE

Whether you’re busy with your job, or interested in seeing what new perspectives international institutes can offer, convenience is often the number one reason to sign up for an online course.

It all comes down to pace. Traditional education, by design, is rigidly structured. If class is at 9AM, you have to be there at 9AM, even if you find it easier to process new information in the afternoon or at night. Being able to set your own hours, access an abundance of digital material, and reflect on what you’ve learnt before responding is how we can optimise our study.

This also feeds into responsibility. When the systems are set up right, online learning places the impetus on the student to take charge of their own learning. That would explain why only 13% of online students complete their course, yet for those who  are used to doing the hard yards, this can often be a benefit.

COMMUNICATION

This generally appears in the cons under ‘Lack of Communication’, but I refuse to accept that. In the right program, the discussion tools available to students keep discussion flowing much easier than face-to-face. You and your peers are unlikely to be distracted, you have access to all your resources with the click of the mouse, and online groups/bulletin boards offer the opportunity for equal participation between members.

TECHNOLOGY

Beyond the obvious, technology allows for more creative teaching processes and tools. One study found that gamification involving social elements raised student assessment scores by a stunning 40%. Students still learnt the same material as those in traditional classes, but they did so in a far more engaging way.

The technology also forces a departure from the exam system of measuring intelligence, which experts have argued is a redundant way of assessing knowledge. A greater focus on practical application of understanding is beneficial to all, providing a more specific way to identify gaps in a student’s knowledge.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology will also play a key role in the future of online learning. From the comfort of wherever you choose to be, the tech will bring a whole new practical element to education, inspiring images of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, in which VR has replaced the need for brick and mortar schools entirely.

THE CONS

ISOLATION

A sense of isolation can diminish motivation, especially if you can’t keep to a schedule. Noted as the biggest issue facing online learners, the limited networking opportunities can disadvantage those looking for work placements following completion of the course.

There’s also a sense of experience when being on campus that is lost in online learning. For older students, this might not matter, but for those who are younger, especially international students whose countries don’t foster a focus on higher education, this could be a real problem.

STUBBORN ACADEMICS

As mentioned earlier, nearly 2 in 3 instructors don’t see the value in adapting course content for online classes. That’s not going to change until the institutes – the majority of which are still focused on their physical campuses – demand it changes.

This can be avoided by researching an online course provider extensively. Read reviews from previous students, check enrollment numbers to ensure you’ll receive proper attention from your instructor(some classes offer enrollment to tens of thousands of students, knowing there will be large drop-off rates), and look for details on course content. Most providers offer them without requiring you to sign up.

TIME REQUIREMENTS

Though you will save time going to and from class etc., predominantly text-based courses demand a lot more of your attention. On average, each course demands between 10 – 20 hours per week so that you can read and analyse the material. It’s something many of those who sign up to online courses fail to realise before they find themselves overloaded.

So is online learning right for you? If you’re a hard worker who wants to educate themselves on their own schedule, and would find little benefit in networking with their peers offline, than the benefits are clear. Happy studies.

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