A little history
Distance learning existed for longer than we realise. For instance, I bet you didn’t know that the first form of distance learning came into existence as early as 1728. At that time, the Boston Gazette – a newspaper that existed between 1719 and 1798 in Boston – created short correspondence courses that were mailed to their students through the post.
After that came the implementation of telecourses in the 1950s, which offered educational materials through television broadcasts. These became popular during the 1970-80s and soon after these, CD-ROM e-learning began to show signs of life. With this method, anyone with a CD-ROM drive was able to read books and participate in audio-visual lessons through their computers.
Finally, in 1989, the concept of online study became a reality, offering internet-based synchronous and asynchronous learning. Today, it has evolved into mobile teaching, which allows students to learn through their mobile devices, PDAs and audio players.
So, how is online study better than in-class learning?
Well, many people have had a crack at answering that question. Specifically, over 19,400 articles have been written about the pros and cons of online study, and the seemingly resounding answer to that question is… it depends! Through the enormously differing opinions and feedback about this topic, it’s clear for anyone to see that both methods of learning (online and in-person) have their pros and cons, and it truly depends on the student in question. Everyone has their own ways of learning, some find it easier to learn by watching videos, others prefer in-person teaching. It’s all relative.
Whatever the case, this article will clearly list both the pros and cons of online study and compare them to try and get to a relatively objective and conclusive answer.
The Good, The Bad and the Underrated
As mentioned earlier, there are many varying opinions about the benefits and pitfalls of online learning, so let’s list them, shall we? First, we’ll take a look at the potential negatives of online learning:
The Dark Side of Online Study
- PROCRASTINATION. Online classes make it a lot easier for students who do not have the right amount of self-discipline to procrastinate too much. This leads to their workload piling up and leaving them feeling overwhelmed when they finally decide to start working.
- TIME CONSUMING. Studies show that online studying is more time consuming than in-class learning. This is because in-class, students can zone-out for short periods of time. This is completely normal. In online study, however, students can pause, rewind and re-watch any parts of the video that they may have missed. This leads to repetition, and therefore a longer period of time spent learning.
- SELF-ORGANISATION. Students that previously relied on a timed schedule to structure their school learning are now forced to create their own work schedule. This can be difficult for students with bad time-management skills or generally busy lifestyles.
It’s All In Your Head
- SELF-MOTIVATION. Students who take part in online study must be able to motivate themselves to meet their deadlines at their own discretion. Unlike in-class teaching, lecturers will not chase (metaphorically speaking) their students to see work being done.
- ISOLATION. Being in an online learning environment can make one feel isolated from the world, as days lack inter-personal connection with fellow peers. Also, a lack of face-fo-face interaction with the lecturers can make students feel disconnected from their support system, which can lead to stress and anxiety.
- MAINLY THEORETICAL. Studies show that lecturers that participate in online learning tend to focus more on conveying theoretical knowledge to their students, since they are unable to interact physically with them. This can lead to the students that have more of a proclivity towards hands-on learning falling behind. It’s important to note, however, that technology is evolving to accommodate online learning more and more as the requirement for new methods of online teaching grows. So, it won’t be long before the more practical and physical courses will be taught online more efficiently and effectively too.
But wait! Before you close this article and start rocking yourself to sleep in the corner of a room, regretting your decisions, read on! There are always two (and sometimes more) sides to every story. So, fear not! There are more benefits than drawbacks when it comes to online study, but these will have to be organised in a few separate categories; from the most important to less important benefits of online study. So, let’s look at those next:
The Light Within Online Study
The Top Reasons:
- FREEDOOOOMM. One of the largest benefits of online study is the freedom students have to attend lectures in their own time. This allows students with busy schedules or generally hectic lifestyles to allocate their time as they please. Whether it’s watching a video recording or audio playback of the lecture, online students have all the materials at their fingertips, to use whenever they choose to.
- STUDY AT HOME. Another enormous benefit of taking your learning online is the ability to attend classes from the comfort of your own home. This is an enormousy beneficial aspect of online learning for several reasons. First of all, home is comfort, and studies show that online classes tend to have significantly higher attendance rates. Whether that be down to the removal of the commute to and from class, or the time spent preparing a packed lunch, it’s undebatable that online classes simply make life easier. If that isn’t reason enough, here are some other reasons to study online at home:
- SELF CARE. Studying from home gives students more time to focus on self-care. Whether that be taking a short break to do a quick workout or taking a short nap; online study allows students to pause and continue their learning at their own pace.
- MORE PRODUCTIVE. Studies show that 42% of office workers believe they are more productive when working from home.
- SAFER. For those who have night classes, or who are generally concerned about getting sick (looking at you, viruses), the ability to study from home adds that extra little touch of relief.
As if that’s not enough…
- CHEAPER. Studying online can be significantly cheaper than in-person teaching. This is another significant contributing factor to the debate of online study being better than in-person learning. Learning from home saves any money that would otherwise be spent on transportation or eating out. Also, any parents who would have had to pay for babysitters or other child-care facilities can save that money for other, more important things.
The Hidden Gem Reasons:
- KEEP YOUR JOB. The freedom that comes with studying online allows people to continue with their proffesional commitments while studying online. As opposed to on-campus learning, where students are forced to cut out a large chunk of their days -and potentially have to give up their jobs – to attend university.
- SAME DEGREE. It makes no difference whether or not the course a student follows is done online or in-person, the certificate they recieve at the end of the course is exactly the same as the Degree issued to students studying on-campus!
- EMPLOYERS LIKE IT. Studies show that potential employers prefer degrees obtained online because it shows that the student, or potential employee, has become well-versed in using the necessary technology, and is therefore computer literate.
The Other Reasons:
- BETTER FEEDBACK. The feedback received from the teaching staff will often be a lot more detailed. This allows the students to make more appropriate corrections or receive more specific feedback about a piece of work they have submitted.
- FREE STUFF. Many institutions will freely provide the necessary learning recources to their students, to ensure that all students have equal learning opportinities. The institutions can provide technology like laptops, tablet computers, e-readers, online Q&A journals and recorded online lectures to the students that may need them.
- VERSATILE. Online learning allows students to learn in a way that suits them the most. Whether that be watching an online video of the lecture, or listening to an audio recording of it, students have the ability to choose their own method of study.
As the list shows, the downfalls of online learning listed here are entirely psychological, with students having poor time management, or feeling isolated from their classmates and teachers. On the other hand, the benefits range from the psychological to the material. This distinction is perhaps the reason why there is such a large debate surrounding this subject.
Those that believe that psychological well-being is not to be tampered with may claim that online study has an overall negative impact on students. Whereas those that believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives, whether that be from a financial aspect, or simply the ease of being able to work from home, could claim that online study is tremendously beneficial for students.
To bring everything together, this article aimed to map out the pros and cons of online study and compare them to determine which perspective held the most validity. And the conclusion is that both do! It depends entirely on the person reading it. Some people are more comfortable working alone, online, from the comfort of their own homes. Others find it easier to concentrate in the hustle and bustle of a lively university campus. Without a doubt it also depends on the course being taken; no surgical resident would learn how to perform complicated surgeries by watching online videos. However, for the more theoretical courses, online study can be a massively helpful and useful tool to take advantage of.
So, to conclude, it seems this question will remain as eternal as the famous “if you were to replace a boat piece-by-piece, is it still the same boat”? Unfortunately, the answer is the resoundingly inconclusive “it depends”. Every person has their own preferences and should decide what best suits their needs. Either way, hopefully this article will help to clarify some uncertainties or teach you something entirely new about the pros and cons of online study.
And if you ARE considering taking an online course, look no further! At Unicaf, we offer a wide variety of online courses that cater to all areas of study!