‘Online learning’ is a phrase that has taken on new meaning over the past couple of years. When traditional learning shifted to online learning at the start of the pandemic, the pros and cons of online learning gained much discussion and debate.
As a seasoned educator, I specialize in using technology in the classroom to keep students engaged, but also realize that online learning comes with some distinct challenges. While the ability to utilize technology, like screen sharing software, for maximizing instruction has greatly enhanced the process, it’s not without some disadvantages.
After a few years of online education becoming more prevalent in our culture, we now have plenty of data and experiences to understand the good things and the bad things about learning in an online environment.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of online learning so we can better create strategies to improve the eLearning experience for all.
Online Learning Pros and Cons at a Glance
- Flexibility: Learn anywhere, anytime.
- Pace: Review content and learn at your own speed.
- Quality Dialogue: Enhanced discussions and peer reviews.
- Resources: Access to a plethora of online materials.
- Innovation: Encourages creative teaching methods.
- Tech Access: Not all students have equal access to devices or the internet.
- Discipline: Requires self-motivation and time management.
- Social Growth: Limited face-to-face interactions.
- Distractions: Home environments can be less conducive to focus.
- Immediate Help: Delays in feedback or assistance.
Advantages of Online Learning
Online learning offers many advantages, and its potential to change the landscape of education in the future is undoubtedly incredibly exciting to many of us.
To better understand the strengths associated with learning using online mediums, let’s take a closer look at what I consider 10 advantages of online learning.
The benefits of online learning are varied and can certainly equate to a successful experience.
1. Anywhere, anytime.
Today’s families are busier than ever before.
College students are trying to balance working, studying, and attending classes.
Asynchronous learning or online learning makes it possible for students to attend classes and participate in high-quality learning situations on a schedule that meets their needs. This advantage is also applicable to high school students who may be trying to balance a heavy workload too.
The statement ‘anywhere, anytime’ applies to younger students too.
Technology has made it possible for participants to access online classes via Learning Management Systems (LMS) from anywhere they have an internet connection.
Going to class can happen at home, on the bus, on vacation, in the office, or just about anywhere else you can imagine with the ease of access of online programs.
2. Work at your own pace.
In a traditional class, a student hears an educator teach the lesson one time.
In many ways, online classes make it easier for students to review content, gain a greater understanding of tough areas, and access resources multiple times as needed.
Continuous access to lectures, online course materials, and other reference materials can make online learning very beneficial.
3. High-quality dialogue.
The ability to discuss and reflect on learning takes on a different perspective and design via online learning.
Replying to discussion boards, commenting on classmates’ work, and other dialogue-driven tasks can improve the synergy in a classroom.
Imagine the synergy that comes from having a student review their classmates´ projects and reviews them using an evaluation rubric. Following peer reviews such as this one the type of conversation that can occur is a benefit of online learning.
This is only one example of how much the discussion process can be improved with online classes.
4. Greater focus on learning.
The distractions that occur on a day-to-day basis in person can be greatly reduced when using online learning correctly.
For example, students are no longer concerned with other students’ clothing, physical appearances, etc. My years working in a middle school setting have shown me that many of these focuses can divert attention away from learning and cause instructional time to be lost dealing with conflicts.
When students are free to focus on lectures, assignments, and other learning tasks, everyone will feel that their knowledge is improving.
5. Access to more resources.
Online learning provides access to resources that may be overlooked or not utilized in a physical classroom setting.
Educators can work to compile a resource section online with links to a variety of useful materials. Having in-depth resources available can allow students to explore content in a new and meaningful way.
6. Creative teaching.
Online learning encourages educators to try something new.
Rather than teaching that unit about Colonial America in the same way they have done it for the past ten years, an online learning approach encourages a more interactive learning environment.
Educators can find the best LMS that works for them to deliver online classes.
Furthermore, they can find a wide variety of resources that can transform units of study. Teachers may even be reenergized to restructure their curriculum with an online platform.
7. More communication options.
Online learning provides a way for students to communicate with their teachers using multiple methods.
To be specific, students can reach out to their instructors via text, audio, video, and LMS commenting options.
Some students may not be comfortable asking questions in class, so these online options will generate participation from the shyest students.
The flip side of that is also that more outspoken students may not monopolize class discussions, since more reserved students will feel ´able to speak up´ using online methods.
8. Working from home can reduce anxiety.
Attending classes in public can prompt a lot of anxiety.
When students can complete learning in the comfort of their homes (or some other location), they may feel more comfortable and less anxious about what other people may say and/or how they may react to them.
Since anxiety is a huge obstacle for many students this benefit to online classes cannot be overlooked.
9. Hands-on learning can be taken to the next level.
There are so many hands-on learning options available when teachers don’t have to guide dozens of students to do them together with only one adult present.
Taking a walk to take pictures of a science topic, completing a how-to project while videoing it in the quiet space called home, and so on all represent hands-on learning that is much easier to do in an online learning environment.
10. One size does not fit all.
It is easier for teachers to modify the learning process to aid students with special needs and/or challenge gifted learners via online learning. These differentiated learning tasks can be completed without other students asking ‘why is he doing that?’ or ‘why does she get to do that instead of this?´
Disadvantages of Online Learning
Online learning requires some creativity, regrouping, and planning to maximize the process; nonetheless, disadvantages do exist.
Let’s explore some of these disadvantages of online programs and what can be done to overcome the barriers associated with each one.
1. Equal access to technology.
Students must have access to a reliable device and the Internet if they are going to succeed in an online learning environment. This can be a significant issue in rural and lower socioeconomic areas.
Working out a way to address technology-related issues is a must if an online learning platform is going to be successful.
2. Computer literacy.
Having students use an online learning platform requires computer literacy. This applies to students and parents alike.
Hosting a virtual conference session to familiarize everyone with the process is an integral part of success with an online learning environment. Taking this proactive approach can decrease this specific disadvantage to online learning.
3. Requires discipline.
The freedom that comes with online learning in an asynchronous learning environment can be a double-edged sword.
This means that having the flexibility to do classwork during free time requires making time to complete learning tasks.
As the old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.
Students must be ready for the challenge of making time to complete assignments, view lectures, etc. As a parent, it is vital to keep students actively engaged.
Also, rather than taking their word for it that everything is done, visually checking that work is completed is a major step to overcoming this potential drawback to online classes.
4. Supervision required.
In some cases, families’ lives can be greatly impacted by online learning.
When working with younger children, an adult will be needed at all times when online classes are taking place.
This disadvantage to online learning can be challenging to overcome, so strategic planning will be necessary.
5. How much screen light is too much?
Today students use devices for schoolwork, entertainment, and communication.
The reality that too much blue light can lead to sleep disturbances requires taking a proactive approach. In other words, don’t wait until it is almost bedtime to complete school work.
Furthermore, limiting screen time for other purposes will help balance out the extra time spent on a device because of online learning. For more information, you can check out this guide on how much screen time is too much.
6. Supporting social-emotional growth.
Online learning does not provide social-emotional learning in the same manner as in-person learning. Making connections with students via online learning platforms requires a special educator who is dedicated to getting to know his or her students.
Using appropriate strategies will aid students in feeling the connection that in-person learning brings. This connection is vital, especially for younger students.
7. How interactive can online learning be?
Some people say that the hands-on/interactive nature of in-person learning is lost during asynchronous instruction; nonetheless, I feel that it is not entirely true.
The use of technology to form groups, have students completing interactive activities in their homes that require them to explore content in new ways, and remaining active during Zoom sessions (or some other comparable platform) makes it possible to overcome what initially be seen as a disadvantage of online learning.
8. Distracted learning.
Let’s face it, learning in our own homes can be distracting. It is easier to think about all the fun things one might be doing while at home and those can take priority over paying attention in online classes.
It’s one of the biggest challenges of virtual learning for students.
For these reasons, it is necessary to think about a routine and how to reward oneself when a task has been completed. Making a routine will ensure that there is still time to do the fun things that can be entertaining and used for downtime.
9. Getting immediate help can be difficult.
When learning using an online platform, getting immediate help may be difficult. The immediate feedback gained in the classroom will require a wait for the teacher to respond via one of the established communication methods.
Utilizing the communication methods made available can aid in overcoming the frustration that may be associated with ‘but I need help now!’
10. Overcoming isolation.
Learning in an online learning environment can equate to isolation. Finding ways to stay in touch with friends is important when participating in online programs. Working to establish regular playdates, study sessions, or other social activities can help address this disadvantage of online learning.
Taking Online Learning to the Next Level
Through exploring the pros and cons of online learning, one can see that there are various topics of interest. Exploring these issues and being prepared to maximize the benefits of online learning will enable students and teachers to continue the process of preparing students for their futures as adults.
Rather than thinking about the obstacles associated with online learning, educators should see that the benefits are quite significant.
Finding a way to work around the disadvantages and help students succeed in an online learning environment will aid students in maximizing their potential.
What are some other pros and cons of online learning? Share your thoughts by commenting below.