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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning?

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning?

Since the pandemic, many of us tumble out of bed and stumble onto Zoom. We work, shop, and even learn online. Many schools and employers have transitioned some or all of their learning options to an online platform. This trend is unlikely to change and many predict this trend will become the predominant mode for learning in the future.  How do you know if online learning is a good option for you? Let’s explore: what are the advantages and disadvantages of online learning? 

Online learning has many advantages including flexibility, self-paced, and convenience. On the flip side, online learning has some disadvantages associated with it including limited face-to-face interaction, technology dependent, and requires well-developed soft skills, like time management and communication. Most importantly, the advantages and disadvantages of online learning vary based on the age of the student and the goals for learning (for credit, professional development, or enrichment). Before you consider enrolling your student or yourself in an online class or program, you should consider the following age and goal-specific advantages and disadvantages of online learning. 

Elementary School Online Learning

Elementary School Online Learning

During the pandemic, many schools transitioned to online learning. Some students excelled and others floundered for a variety of reasons. If you are considering enrolling your elementary school student in an online program, the first consideration should be your internet capability. In most cases, your elementary student will need to be online for the entire six (6)  hour school day and many elementary online learning programs use a lot of software, apps, videos, and graphics.

While some schools provide a device for students to use, many do not, so be sure to ask. A disadvantage to elementary school online learning is the need to have an adult present to help facilitate the learning. Another disadvantage can be the significant screen time involved in online learning for young children. However, for families who love to learn together or students who prefer to learn at their own pace, elementary school online learning can be a huge advantage.

Middle School Online Learning

Middle school can be a challenging time for students. Some students may experience bullying or have trouble fitting into the traditional school environment. Middle school online learning could be an advantage for these students. In middle school, most students can be responsible for logging on and completing their online school assignments.

Online learning can help students learn time management skills. However, to be successful, your middle school student should feel comfortable using technology. A disadvantage can be the lack of peer interaction in middle school online learning which could result in feelings of isolation, or even depression.

If you are considering enrolling your student in middle school online learning, be sure to include extracurricular activities so your student can interact with like-minded peers.  Nevertheless, even if you don’t choose online learning, you should be prepared for your middle school student to attend class online in case of snow days or other school cancellations. Be sure you understand the technology and internet requirements for your student’s school for successful middle school online learning.

High School Online Learning

High school is a great time for students to explore possible college or career options. A huge advantage for high school online learning is that students can take courses that may not be offered at their local high school. Typical high school online learning options include Advanced Placement (AP); foreign language; coding; career and technical education; financial literacy, and life skills.

Additionally, some states, like Florida, require all high school students to complete an online course as a graduation requirement (Florida Statute 1003.4282). So, it is important to understand your state’s graduation requirements and sign up early if an online course is required for graduation. Keep in mind your student’s schedule when signing up for online courses.

Many students sign up for more than one extra course online and overextend themselves which can negatively impact their GPA. Some students choose 100% high school online learning due to work or family obligations; others choose it to accommodate active sports or performing arts schedules. In most cases, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for high school online learning and can help your student prepare for future online learning either at college or in the workplace.

Higher Ed Online Learning

Higher Ed Online Learning

Most colleges and universities offer online learning; some even offer 100% online options. This can be a great advantage for students who have work or have other responsibilities. Taking online courses means no commute, which saves you time and money. However, the disadvantages can outweigh the advantages.

First, you will need a stable internet connection and a device to access the course. Keep in mind, a cell phone, even that latest iPhone, won’t suffice; you will need a computer or laptop. Another consideration is where you will do your schoolwork. It is recommended that you have a dedicated workspace with good lighting. You will also need some uninterrupted time to participate in synchronous lectures or to complete your assignments, which could include timed assessments.

Another consideration for Higher Ed online learning is accreditation. According to Drexel University, regional accreditation is the most widely recognized accreditation. Check your college or universities accreditation before enrolling. Additionally, be sure your entire program is offered online. You do not want to start a program and find out later there are other in-person requirements to earn the degree.

If you are considering Higher Ed online learning, consider taking one course, to begin with, to be sure it is a good fit for you and your learning style.

Professional Development Online Learning

Since the beginning of time, or so it seems, professionals have spent countless hours in freezing hotel conference rooms for training and professional development (PD). Oftentimes, the topics were limited and most people in attendance were not there by choice. Professional development online learning has revolutionized adult learning. Now, there are a plethora of courses to take from the comfort of your own home and this is a huge win.

However, there are some disadvantages. First, although the in-person courses may have been meh, the networking that took place in the room made up for it. Second, for some training, the material can be very dry, and there is some solace, and a reason to stay awake when you are in a room full of people. Although taking PD online may seem easier, most classes are time-locked, meaning, if the course is a three (3)  hour course, you will need to be online for the three (3) hours to earn credit.

Also, most online training or PD courses have an assessment at the end with a required score to earn the credit. You may want to consider taking some training or PD online. However, don’t forget about the friendships forged or connections made during some of your in-person training and be sure to sign up for some in-person events too!

Key Characteristics for Online Learning Success

  • Reliable Internet Connection
  • Access to a Computer
  • Tech Savvy
  • Effective Time Management Skills
  • Self Motivated
  • Good Communication Skills
  • Well-lit Workspace
  • Organized
  • Growth Mindset
  • Grit

Technology for Online Learning Success

Technology for Online Learning Success

Online learning takes on many forms. Some classes are synchronous, meaning you will be in a virtual classroom at the same time as other students. This could happen via Zoom or another online conference platform where you will need a camera and a microphone.

You may also want to consider headphones or earbuds to hear clearly. Some classes will be asynchronous, meaning, you complete the work independently. There may also be videos for you to watch. In either case, you will need a stable internet connection and a computer or laptop.

For some courses, you may be able to use a tablet or a Chromebook. However, most platforms discourage the use of a phone for online learning. Be sure to check out the technology requirements before beginning the course.

Love Learning – Try Online Learning

Have you ever wanted to learn a foreign language, study art history, or learn how to make beer? You might want to give online learning a try. There are a variety of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) available from major universities. In most cases, these courses are FREE.

However, you will be given the option of a paid version if you want to earn credit for taking the course. If you loved the movie “Moneyball” consider taking the Coursera course about baseball analytics.

If you are a budding connoisseur of wines, EdX has a course from the University of Adelaide where you will learn all about wine appearance, aroma, flavor, and taste. Colleges and universities are not the only ones offering online learning options. Home improvement stores and arts and crafts stores now offer both synchronous and asynchronous classes for all ages. In most cases, the only cost involved is for the materials.

According to Socrates “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Consider signing up for an online course and light your flame!

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Written by Debi Cheek Ed.D.

Debi Cheek, Ed.D., has worked in education for twenty years. She has worked as a classroom teacher, librarian, college instructor, and supplemental education franchise owner. She has terminal degrees in Curriculum & Instruction and Library Science.

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