What are the advantages and disadvantages of online learning? That’s a question we want to answer in this article.
Online learning has been part of the education system for decades now, but it was adopted in droves when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a global shutdown in 2020.
Now, many institutions have adopted online programs, and the online course industry is booming.
In this post, we explore a handful of advantages and disadvantages that weigh the pros and cons of digital learning environments.
6 online learning advantages
1. Flexible schedule
Flexibility is one of the more prominent benefits of online learning, one that convinces many students to choose it over in-person learning when given the option.
This is especially true for online courses with premade lessons as opposed to those given live in real time.
With a flexible learning schedule, students can sleep in, choose whatever shifts they want without worrying about work getting in the way of their education, and do more of the things they care about, including hobbies and spending time with friends and family.
Plus, when students have a flexible learning schedule, they’re less likely to give up their education in favor of other pursuits that align with their work and living situations at the time.
2. No commuting
This advantage ties into the first.
When students don’t have to travel to school, they save a lot of time, both on the commute itself as well as on everything they have to do to get ready.
Plus, not having to commute to get an education removes barriers some students, pre-college and college-aged alike, face.
These are travel-related barriers, such as not having a car, not having money for the bus or ride-share services, and having to spend an hour or more on a bus or train to get to and from school everyday.
For many students, it’s far more convenient to simply get out of bed and pull out their laptops at home.
While online tuition costs nearly the same as in-person tuition for public schools, according to research obtained by U.S. News, online learning is still cheaper for a number of different reasons.
For starters, U.S. News’ research found that for private colleges, the average per credit price for an online program is $488 versus the $1,240 average credit price for an on-campus program.
Further research by U.S. News, this time on student meals, revealed the average cost of a student meal plan to be between $3,000 and $5,500 for an academic year with the range going as high as $9,000.
My eLearning World found the average cost of student spending on groceries to be $294.06 per month.
The academic year usually lasts about nine months, which works out to $2,646.54 spent on groceries. This is much cheaper than an on-campus meal plan.
Plus, students aren’t limited to whatever foods cafeterias have on hand, nor do they need to worry about cross contamination as far as allergies go.
Online classes also enable students to save on transportation as on-campus students spend an average of $1,360 on transportation each academic year, according to a report by CollegeBoard.
Finally, for subjects that don’t necessarily require degrees, some students prefer to learn through free tutorials on YouTube and online courses through platforms like Udemy and Skillshare.
These options are much cheaper than tuition.
4. More teaching tools
Whether it comes in the form of an online course, an online program for college or a new teaching style for K-12 education, online education has taught educators how to utilize more teaching tools.
Quiz platforms allow teachers to give students an engaging way to practice what they’ve learned outside of graded test environments.
Digital quiz tools even give teachers the ability to explain correct answers and why certain answers are wrong, giving students opportunities to actually learn something from quizzes.
This is something that doesn’t happen too often in physical learning environments.
Teachers have even adopted tools like Google Slides, PDFs and Canva, all of which allow them to create their own teaching materials.
5. Ability to explore other learning styles
Online learning also gives students the ability to explore other learning styles outside of spoken lectures.
For one, students can save Zoom recordings to their computers, which gives them the chance to take notes on points they may miss when they attend classes live.
Some online courses are even text based, which is great for students who learn better through reading.
Other courses come with extra videos, Google Slides and other materials that are great for visual learners.
Finally, online courses offer one of the most flexible learning environments for students.
Many are available to start whenever, and students aren’t given deadlines on when they need to get certain things done.
This flexibility allows students to learn at their own pace.
6. Great training for remote work
Zoom meetings, communicating through messaging apps and viewing online-accessible slideshow presentations with Google Slides aren’t only part of a new learning style for students—they’re also part of a new working environment for desk-based jobs called “remote work.”
This means online learning offers students training for the remote work environments they may find themselves in in the future.
6 disadvantages of online learning
1. Not always accessible
Online learning environments require two key components: internet access and a computer, preferably one with a webcam and microphone.
Unfortunately, some students only have one or the other. Some have neither.
This was a major complication many school systems faced when they began to conduct classes online during shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
You also need to have a very basic understanding of how computers and online applications work, which most students and teachers do, but it’s still a barrier some face.
Some students may find the online learning system to be isolating in terms of interactions with their peers and one-on-one interactions with teachers.
While some students may be more comfortable reaching out for help online, others may find it easier to ask for help in person.
After all, face-to-face interaction isn’t as prominent with online learning, even with webcam technology.
When it comes to younger children, “cabin fever,” the distressed state of mind some individuals experience when isolated in confined areas for too long, and underdeveloped social skills are very real risks associated with online learning.
Physical learning environments give younger students a positive way to get out into the world away from home.
It also provides ways for students to learn to work together with peers through face-to-face interactions, something they’ll need to do everyday in their professional lives.
3. Some courses not available
This is a reality of e-learning: some courses cannot be taught effectively in online learning environments.
This applies to hands-on subjects, such as med school, mechanical engineering, science-based subjects and even gym class.
It also applies to subjects that utilize materials and equipment students may not have access to at home, such as woodworking, art classes, shop class and more.
While there are still plenty of topics to teach in regards to these subjects, and teachers can demonstrate through video using their own tools and materials, it doesn’t change the fact that these subjects are a lot harder to become familiar with in digital learning environments.
4. Time management can be tricky
Younger students likely have parents or guardians that help them stay on task and manage their time efficiently, but college students and those learning from online courses have to wing it on their own.
This is one of the many challenges students in online learning environments face, and it actually comes from the #1 advantage we named earlier: flexibility.
Having a flexible schedule means you’re able to make more time for the things you care about outside of education.
But when it comes to scheduling, some students struggle to work in online classes seamlessly.
Some take online courses taught through on-demand videos, so they can watch them whenever.
In other words, they don’t have defined schedules that dictate when they need to attend classes and turn in assignments.
This means students need to learn how to manage their time efficiently on their own to ensure they complete a meaningful amount of studies every week, alongside everything else they want to do with their time.
5. Learning environments can be distracting
Learning institutions are effective because they serve one primary purpose, and that’s to teach.
Online learning environments (our homes) are another story.
We use our homes to maintain our lives outside of work and school environments, and many of us occupy them with other residents, including family, friends and significant others.
Home can be a distracting learning environment as a result, especially if you’re learning from on-demand videos instead of Zoom lectures.
You can get distracted by other residents in your home (especially kids and pets), TV, video games, your phone, and even house chores.
Attending classes in person removes these distractions.
6. Harder to network
This one ties into the first disadvantage we mentioned, isolation.
Online learning is done in isolation, usually privately in your own home.
This makes it harder to do what many college kids do to advance in their careers—network.
Networking involves building professional relationships with peers, mentors and co-workers who work in the same industry as you, or at least plan to.
The idea is that when a member of your network discovers an opportunity, they’ll think of you when they want to extend that opportunity to others.
It’s not a required aspect of schooling, but it’s one many cite as a primary cause for landing a job fresh out of college.
Because networking is typically done through social events, volunteering, extracurricular activities and even fraternities, it’s a lot harder to do in digital learning environments.
No matter how many advantages and disadvantages of online learning we list, it’s clear that physical learning isn’t going anywhere, nor is online learning, even as pandemic restrictions ease.
Having a flexible learning schedule, not having to commute and having cheaper options for education have convinced many that online learning needs to be recognized as a legitimate form of education.
Even so, digital learning environments can be isolating, and you may find it difficult to manage your own schedule or ignore distractions.
Make sure whatever programs you choose offer ways to get in touch with instructors as well as your peers.
Also, choose days and times of every week that are dedicated to schooling, just as you would with traditional classes. This can make it easier for you to stay on task.
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