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Are Online Courses The Future of Education?

The Covid-19 pandemic drastically changed the way we live our lives. One of the most profound impacts has been on the education system and the way we teach our youth. Schools all across the globe were forced to restructure their way of teaching and move from traditional face-to-face learning to digital classes.  This revolutionary shift to online learning has been both loved and hated for many reasons. But even after the pandemic subsides, it is certain that online learning will become the new norm. This is a very broad debate and I am only scratching the surface of it, but in this article I will try to determine if online courses really are the future of education. 1. Online learning is more accessible and flexible. Or is it? 2. The freedom of learning online 3. Online learning is age sensitive 4. It can be cheaper to study online 5. Traditional classroom learning in important 6. So are online courses really all that good?

Online learning is more accessible and flexible. Or is it?

If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that the internet is everything. The power of the internet allowed us to stay connected to family and friends and to continue doing our jobs and studying all from the comfort of our homes. Online education is undoubtedly more accessible and flexible than traditional learning methods. People can take classes from anywhere, which makes student bodies a lot more international and diverse than before. The flexibility of being able to study whenever and wherever you want is a huge advantage, especially for university students or adults who need to fit their studies around busy working lives. However, online learning is only more flexible and accessible to people if they already have access to electronic devices and a good internet connection. The shift to online learning in schools has highlighted the huge divide between the wealthy and the poor. It is easy to study online if you have your own computer and fast speed wifi but for many people living in poverty it becomes more inaccessible and the gap between the rich and poor becomes very clear.  In the UK it is estimated that 9% of children do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. So that’s between 1.1 million and 1.8 million children who can’t learn online in the same way as their classmates. More than 880,000 children live in households with only a mobile internet connection which is unreliable for long term online study. This creates a gap in ability of students as well as an increased social divide. Online courses are very flexible which is great for people wanting to learn alongside their work and they are accessible to a wider range of people around the world. But in order for them to be fully inclusive we need to increase access to electronic devices and to wifi for disadvantaged students.  

The freedom of learning online

Similarly to the increased accessibility and flexibility, online courses create a freedom of learning. Education was previously restricted by geography, where you lived determined what schools or courses you had access to. But now, with more institutions turning to online platforms as their way of teaching, students from anywhere can join classes that they couldn’t join before. For example whilst living in England you could be learning Italian or you could be doing a university course at an American university.  This dissolving of restrictions means that people now have the freedom to study whatever subject they want from a wider range of institutions. Online learning is especially great for foreign language courses as you don’t need to be in another country in order to have top quality language lessons. Specialist online education companies like Learn&Co offer a range of courses that are accessible to anyone, anywhere and that are adapted specifically to online teaching.  However, sometimes the freedom of online studying can make learning a lot harder for students than traditional forms of education. There is obviously a lot less personal interaction when working through an online medium, and for students who need extra support and guidance from teachers this can make it tough to learn like normal. Students with dyslexia or ADHD may struggle to stay focused or to complete tasks to their best ability.  This is generally more of an issue for younger school students who needed physical interaction as part of their learning experience. Online teaching can be very content based and heavy, which is great for more mature students, but it can be difficult to include interactive teaching methods like games-based learning or kinesthetic-based learning which are important for younger learners.  

Online learning is age sensitive

During one of the covid-19 lockdowns I witnessed a 4 year old try to participate in an online music lesson. Watching the teacher try to speak and get control of 12 kids who were all simultaneously rattling tambourines and hitting drum sticks on the table was very entertaining. The WiFi delay meant that all the songs were sung out of sync and the attention span  of the children was impressively short. After the music lesson I concluded that online lessons should definitely not be available for very young children as they seem almost counter-productive when more time is spent trying to maintain focus than actually learning. That being said, I think a class of adults would behave very differently. With the average attention span of a 4 year old being 5 to 10 minutes and the average attention span of teenagers and adults being 5 to 6 hours it is pretty clear that online learning is more suitable for older students than younger ones. Online courses are perfect for university students or adults who are skilled with using technology and can work with a screen rather than a classroom. Overall I think that online learning works for some stages of learning but not all. It should be adapted to optimise the learning ability of students.  

It can be cheaper to study online

It is not guaranteed, but online courses are generally cheaper than face-to- face ones. This is simply because there are less running costs for the classes. There are no overheads for the classroom, heating, lighting, equipment and printed resources etc. Educational companies can cut down on staffing and office costs so they can make their courses cheaper and more accessible to students. However if we went completely digital then it could result in job losses. People who are essential to the running face-to-face institutions, like cleaners, caterers and reprographic assistants may lose their jobs due to the lack of need for them. So online courses may be cheaper but that comes at the cost of lower job opportunities for many important staff members.

Traditional classroom learning in important

Despite there being incredible benefits to online courses, face-to-face learning is imperative for child development. Children need interaction with other students and teachers because socialising is a key factor in their growth. It helps with forming friendships, communication skills and awareness of others, alongside many other things. It can be more difficult to achieve these cognitive and behavioural developments with only online learning mediums. Children also need school environments so they can separate their home life from school life. Schools can be a safe place for students to deal with problems in their personal lives, but these may not be brought to light or noticed by teachers from online learning. Schools are crucial for supporting children with mental health and abuse concerns. In the US 13% of adolescents receive mental health care from their schools and a large part of this comes from being physically in contact with teachers and staff in a school environment. Research also found that during the closure of schools reports of domestic abuse from children drastically decreased, which is unlikely to be because abusers changed their ways, but instead that children no longer had the safe facilities to report it and get help.   

So are online courses really all that good?

Whilst writing this article, for every pro to online learning I found a con. With the way that the world is moving, it is undeniable that online learning will become a staple feature in our education systems. The benefits are great and will help the world become progressively more connected with easier access to a range of courses and the flexibility of learning whenever and wherever you want. But with the transition to online study it is important to give students the support they need. Getting a private language tutor is a great option to help children develop with targeted learning experiences. Learn&Co offers tailored tutoring in modern languages for students to give them the support that their online school classes may not offer. Online learning can provide a freedom not offered by traditional learning methods and can be cheaper, but it is age sensitive and is only effective for certain age groups. Teenagers and adults benefit much more from online studying than younger children do as children need face-to-face environments for their social and cognitive development, whereas older students can optimise their online learning and work more independently. Traditional classroom learning spaces will always be important within our societies but online courses are a great new, innovative way of learning that will open up many more opportunities for both children and adults alike.