The availability of online education at the global level has helped students, having busy lives and limited flexibility, to obtain quality education. As opposed to traditional classroom teaching, web-based instructions made it possible to offer classes worldwide through a single internet connection.
Although it boasts several advantages over traditional education, online instruction still has its drawbacks; including limited communal synergies. Still, online education seems to be the path many students are taking to secure a degree.
Computer-assisted instruction is changing the pedagogical landscape as an increasing number of students are seeking online education. Colleges and universities are now touting the efficiencies of web-based education and are rapidly implementing online classes to meet student-needs worldwide. It has been observed that the number of online courses given by universities has dramatically increased over the last decade and especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Online education is not a new phenomenon. The first correspondence and distance learning educational programs were initiated in the mid-1800s by the University of London. This model of educational-learning was dependent on postal service; and therefore, wasn’t seen in America until the later nineteenth century. It was in 1873 when, what is considered the first official correspondence-based educational program, was established in Boston, Massachusetts, by the “Society to Encourage Home Studies.” Since then, the non-traditional study has grown into a more viable online instructional modality. Technological advancements have also helped to improve the speed and accessibility of distance learning courses; now students could attend classes from the comfort of their homes.
Online and traditional education share many qualities. Students are still required to attend class, learn the material, submit assignments, and complete group projects. While teachers have to design curriculums, maximize instructional quality, answer class questions, motivate students to learn, and grade assignments.
Despite the similarities, there are many differences between the two modalities. Traditionally, classroom instruction is known to be teacher-centred and requires passive learning by the student, while online instruction is often student-centred and requires active learning.
In teacher-centred or passive learning, the instructor controls classroom dynamics. The teacher lectures and comments, while students listen, take notes, and ask questions. In student-centred or active learning, the students, usually, determine classroom dynamics as they independently analyze the information, construct questions, and ask the instructor for clarification. In this scenario, the teacher, not the student, is listening, formulating, and responding.
Some studies favor traditional classroom instruction, stating “online learners will quit more easily” and “online learning can lack feedback for both students and instructors.” Because of these shortcomings, students’ retention, satisfaction, and performance can be compromised.
Like traditional teaching, distance learning also has its supporters who claim online education produces students who perform as well or better than their traditional classroom counterparts.
The advantages and disadvantages of both instructional modalities need to be fully thrashed out to determine which medium generates better student performance. Both modalities have been proven to be relatively effective, but, as mentioned earlier, the question to be asked is if one is truly better than the other.
With technological advancement, learners want quality programs to be accessed from anywhere and at any time. Because of these demands, online education has become a viable, alluring option to business professionals, stay-at-home parents, and other similar populations. In addition to flexibility and access, multiple face-value benefits, including program choice and time efficiency, have increased the attractiveness of distance learning.
The potential students want to be able to receive a quality education without having to sacrifice work-time, family-time, and travel expenses. Instead of having to be at a specific location at a specific time, online education students have the freedom to communicate with instructors, address classmates, study materials, and complete assignments from any internet-accessible point. This type of flexibility grants students much-needed mobility and, in turn, helps make the educational process more enticing. The student may prefer to take an online course or a complete online-based degree program as online courses offer more flexible study hours; for example, a student, who has a job, could attend the virtual class watching instructional film and streaming videos of lectures after working hours.
Moreover, more study time can lead to better class performance—more chapters read, better quality papers, and more group project time. Studies on the relationship between study time and performance are limited; however, it is often assumed the online student will use any surplus time to improve grades.
Online education also offers a variety of program choices. With traditional classroom study, students are forced to take courses only at universities within feasible driving distance or move. Web-based instruction, on the other hand, grants students electronic access to multiple universities and course offerings. Therefore, students who were limited to few colleges within their area can, now, access several colleges worldwide from a single convenient location.
With online teaching, students who, usually, don’t participate in class may, now, voice their opinions and concerns. As they are not in a classroom setting, quieter students may feel more comfortable contributing to classroom dialogue without being recognized or judged. This, in turn, may increase average class scores. Both face to face and online teaching has pros and cons which can be reduced by applying principles of high‐impact teaching practice to effectively deliver large‐scale online education.
The quality, quantity, difficulty, and length of teaching content should match with the academic readiness and online learning behaviors of students. Due to students’ lack of concentration in online learning, it is essential to adjust the teaching speed to ensure effective delivery of teaching information. Faculty and teaching assistants need to provide students with timely feedback and support including online video tutoring and email guidance after classes.
High level of learners’ participation is essential by adopting some measures to improve the degree and depth of students’ class participation. Keeping in view of the extraordinary scale of online education, it is necessary to make contingency plans in advance for addressing possible problems such as the traffic overload issue of the online education platform. Furthermore, since the online teaching “migration” is implemented quickly during the outbreak of COVID‐19, students’ anxiety needs to be relieved in various ways to ensure that they can effectively engage in online learning.
For those who do have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in many ways. Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online, compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.
There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries. For example, whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do. This is an undeniable fact that online education has changed the way of teaching globally. It enables educators to reach out to their students more efficiently through chat groups, video meetings, voting and also document sharing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Students also find it easy to communicate with their teachers. It is hoped that traditional offline learning and e-learning can be used to overcome illiteracy by promoting inclusive access to education at grassroots.
(The writer is a senior educationist and freelance contributor)