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Online Learning 101: The Pros and Cons of Online Courses

OSAU Team

Even before the  COVID-19 pandemic, there were already thousands of online courses offered by schools and featured on platforms like OSAU. A 2018 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showed that over 6.9 million students from all over the world were already enrolled in online courses at the time. As we cope with safety protocols, like quarantines set by governments, enrollments for online courses continue to grow.

Educational institutions continue to develop and use more innovative online learning tools that help students adapt to the new normal. Online edtech and collaboration platforms such as BYJU's, DingTalk, and BBC's Bitesize Daily have devised various virtual learning services like free live classes.

While there is a lot to say about why online learning is better in our current situation, handling the demands of virtual learning is a separate and important discussion.

In this quick guide, we cover the following topics:


Why Online Learning Is Better

Online Learning 101: The Pros and Cons of Online Courses Online learning platforms have been popular even before the COVID-19 outbreak, and for good reason.


Flexibility

One of the best things about online courses is the flexibility they offer. It is one of the primary reasons graduate students prefer online and blended learning curricula. Online courses are usually structured to allow students time to work on their careers while pursuing graduate studies. The schedules and the enrollment for online courses are also made available ahead of time, helping students lay out their long-term plans and prepare in advance.

Online MBA Programs, offered by IE Business School and University of Massachusetts Amherst: Isenberg, for example, uses a blended methodology that features both in-class and online classes. The Warwick Business School also lets students choose between a part-time and a full-time arrangement. The University of North Carolina: Kenan-Flagler has a customizable curriculum where students can choose to pursue one of five tracks: Entrepreneurship, Finance, Marketing, Strategy and Consulting, and Data Analytics & Decision Making.

Moreover, most online classes are modular. Supplementary reading materials are assigned and sent by instructors via email. Class discussions happen over video calls. Assigned papers are typed and uploaded to the cloud. After completing a course, you can easily save all learning materials for future reference. The Imperial College Business School uses a platform called The Hub where students can access their learning references, read news or announcements, and communicate with each other and with teachers.


Convenience

Online learning materials are available 24/7 as long as you have a reliable internet connection. This lets you study anywhere at your preferred time. There are online classes, for instance, that are administered at night, allowing working students to adjust their busy schedules and make room for higher education.

Since you're studying at home, you only need a device (preferably a laptop) and a reliable internet connection. Online learning platforms for remote classes usually require an email account, cloud storage, a video conferencing app, and a word processing software.

You can use Google Docs, a free online word processing platform where you can write essays and collaborate with classmates. Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive are cloud-based platforms you can use to upload your learning references. Bytedance developed a platform called Lark, a suite of tools students can use as they adapt to online learning.


Cost-Effectiveness

Taking courses online allows students to maximize their time and reduce their expenses. While enrollment fees vary and may even be equivalent to admission fees in traditional learning setups, you are still cutting costs. Studying from home means you won't have to be commuting, renting an apartment or dormitory near your school, buying physical resources such as books, or purchasing necessities on campus throughout the day.

You can even sign up for free online courses. Coursera has free courses, many that you can finish within a day. They offer online classes like COVID-19 Contact Tracing, Psychological First Aid, Food and Health, Understanding Research Methods, Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing, International Criminal Law, and a lot more in almost every field.

If you want to earn certifications for free, you can try courses like Fundamentals of Digital Marketing by Google Digital Garage or Content Marketing: What it is and How to do it by HubSpot.

You can look up these websites for more free online courses:

  • Udemy

  • Udacity

  • EdX

  • Masterclass

  • TED-Ed

  • Skillshare

  • Khan Academy


Online Learning Is Student-Centered

As the world goes through a digital shift, online courses offer more ways for students to learn. The most common online learning styles include individual/solitary, social/collaborative, auditory, and visual learning.

Because many online courses involve self-directed learning (SDL), they are best suited for solitary learners. But there are also online courses that are more collaborative. Synchronous and cooperative learning, best suited for social learners, involves live chats, web conferencing tools, forums or discussion boards, and cloud-based collaborative work. Informative podcasts, offered by educational platforms like TedEd or music streaming services like Spotify, are available for auditory learners. Meanwhile, visual learners can benefit from instructional videos, infographics, and slide shows.

Whether it's via webinars, reading courses, or audiobooks, you can get enough units/credits to pursue whichever program you want. Students in Singapore, for example, can use their Skillsfuture credits to enroll in language courses if they want to study abroad in the future. For students pursuing an IT-related academic or career path, they can also use these credits for Skillsfuture tech courses such as Microsoft Office Fundamentals, Algorithms and Data Structures, Data Analysis and Visualization, Data Science Research Methods, and Artificial Intelligence.


Why Online Learning Might Not Be for You

Online Learning 101: The Pros and Cons of Online Courses

While the benefits of online learning are clear, it’s not for everyone.


Limited Access to Technology

Many students can only rely on physical resources such as textbooks due to limited access to technology. We all have to admit: not everyone in the world can afford to buy a computer and pay for a stable internet connection. With health protocols restricting travel and access to public learning spaces like libraries, students' access to learning materials are even more limited during this pandemic.

Statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2017 showed that around 30% of students did not own a computer or a tablet at the time of the survey. Approximately only 50% use a reliable home internet connection. Additional data from OECD illustrate the differences in digital gaps present across different countries. Despite online courses being available 24/7, most learners from rural and lower-income neighborhoods are left out because of the digital divide.

Data from a 2018 NCES study showed that not all students were using information and communications technology (ICT) in their studies. In a 2020 NAEP report, it showed that, while 70% of students are proficient in using computers, only around 40% were well-versed in working with online learning software. Overall, there is a need for educational institutions to address and close digital gaps for both teachers and students to make online education more effective.


Stress from Online Collaboration & Distractions

In a paper published in the Emerald Research Register, researchers suggest that online collaboration in e-learning setups can cause stress. They talk about cyber-stress, techno-stress, and pressures related to working within a group online. As a result, not all students have an optimal learning experience online despite the benefits of remote learning.

Meanwhile, a 2020 survey conducted by GlassDoor showed the most common distractions people face when working or studying from home: the TV, gaming consoles, a cramped-up room, a cluttered environment, and a noisy household or neighborhood. All these factors make focusing on your studies more difficult and might even lead you to procrastinate

When you feel pressured in a group setting and distracted, you accomplish fewer tasks and end up getting even more stressed. As a result, not all students have an optimal learning experience online despite the benefits of remote learning.


Fewer Social Interactions

Even though remote learning involves using tools for social interactions online, students still miss out on a lot of meaningful contact with their teachers and peers. For incoming college students, this is especially important. 

Transitioning from high school to university life used to mean making new connections and expanding social circles.  Due to the lockdowns during this pandemic, not many college freshmen are meeting new classmates in person. Most students are focused on trying to cope with all the changes they’re facing; they aren’t able to fully experience student life in a university or at a college.

Missing out on milestone experiences, like organizing your first college event or meeting new friends on campus, takes away learning opportunities not included in academic programs.


How Students Can Get More Out of Online Learning

Online Learning 101: The Pros and Cons of Online Courses

Online learning has the potential to improve a student’s overall learning experience. But the framework for it has to be implemented well.


Support Students as well as Educators

Policymakers must continuously empower students and educators throughout this period of massive changes in the way courses are taught. Colleges, universities, and training institutions can:

  • Offer free online teaching training to teachers as well as access to devices for remote learning to students in need.

  • Provide free learning materials and Wi-Fi routers to learners living in rural neighborhoods or far-flung areas with weak to no internet connection.

  • Design more user-friendly online learning platforms that are efficient and are easy to use, even for beginners.

These changes can improve the learning experience on a large-scale, help out every learner cope with the new normal, and make education more accessible for everyone.

For students having a hard time with more formal class arrangements, taking a break from classes in Google Meet calls or Zoom meetings can also help. You can invite classmates to a more informal group where you can study together and support each other. You can use apps like Discord, Viber, and Whatsapp to create group chats, make group calls, upload files for collaborative work, and more.


Creating Separate Workspaces at Home

Experts in pediatric physiotherapy recommend good ergonomics at school because it can significantly affect the students’ learning experiences, motor development, and physical health. Since online learning is done remotely, you’re going to be sitting at your desk in your room for long periods of time so you need an ergonomically designed space for studying at home too.

If you have enough space in your room, here are tips to choosing and using your own dedicated workspace:

  • Make sure you have a separate study table, away from your gaming console and other distractions, so you focus better and be more productive.

  • Avoid using studying while in bed. Your posture can get compromised if you regularly study in awkward positions while lying down. Your mind and body are conditioned to rest and relax when you're in bed so find a comfortable chair and table instead. 

  • Adjust the height of your chair. Make sure your elbows are bent to a 90-degree angle when you're typing or writing. You can also use a chair pillow if it makes you more comfortable. If you are uncomfortable with your feet not touching the floor, use an ottoman.

  • Place your computer's monitor at about an arm's length away from you. Adjust its height until it reaches eye level.


Declutter and Clean Up

Decluttering and cleaning up not only clears the room of distractions, it also clears the mind.

Researchers supporting decluttering methods, like the Konmari method, found that cleaning up can be a way to limit procrastination, focus the mind, and help gain control over one's feelings during stressful times.

So, if you're having a hard time focusing on your studies, simple decluttering can help out. Make sure your table is clean and spacious enough. Clean your room and make sure it's well-ventilated and well-lit. Studies on light intensity recommend cool room lighting to improve your focus.

Then, follow a decluttering method of your choice. For example, the KonMari method's six basic rules of tidying:

  • Commit yourself to tidying up.

  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

  • Finish discarding first.

  • Tidy by category, not by location.

  • Follow the right order.

  • Ask yourself if the belongings around you still spark joy.

Also part of decluttering is organizing your tasks. Make a list of what you want to finish within the day and put timestamps on each task. Setting a deadline for yourself can help you stick to your schedule better. Checking off each completed task can help you gain a stronger sense of accomplishment and order in your work, encouraging you to be more productive. You can use digital productivity apps such as Microsoft To-Do, Google Keep, Toggl, and Trello to help you organize your timetables and to-do-lists.


Stay Motivated

The open secret to reaching your academic goals is staying motivated. Coping with the new normal during this global pandemic requires even more motivation to excel in your studies. But finding inspiration is tricky.

In Scott Geller's Ted Talk The Psychology of Self-Motivation, he explains how we can motivate, inspire, and empower ourselves to go beyond what we do. Geller encourages us to ask ourselves three questions: Can we do it? Will it work? Is it worth it? Answering 'yes' to each one builds your confidence in your ability to complete your tasks one at a time on your way to reaching your academic goals.

Be it reviewing for a 10-point quiz, paying attention to a 60-minute webinar, or writing your thesis, always find a way to enjoy it. There's no better motivation for learning than finding the value in what you’re studying and feeling good about it.

Join OSAU's student community today and share your thoughts about matters that affect your student life! 


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Works as Management Team at Our School and Us