The pros and cons of online courses

ByMike V. Cooper

May 3, 2022

Editor’s note: In this view of the future, students discuss online courses. Next week we’ll ask: “A leaked draft of Judge Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs suggests that Roe v. Wade is about to be knocked down. Should the Supreme Court return abortion law to the states? Is Roe’s overturning a good constitutional decision? » Students must click here to submit opinions of less than 250 words by May 10. The best answers will be posted that evening.

Online courses have a bright future. It is not difficult to imagine a world where students can freely access an education tailored to their needs and flexible to their schedules.

But as they exist today, online college courses are an implicit admission that many schools treat education only as a series of hurdles to jump through. The structure of a typical online course reveals that the goal is not to learn but to prove that an attempt to learn has been made. Consider the boring Zoom lectures that tortured college students for over a year. In this less personal format, schools prioritize observable measures such as completing homework above facilitating personal inquiry. Stripping a course of its essentials – lectures, assignments, and exams – lays bare that those essentials aren’t particularly useful and were never the reason a college education had any value.

Online education will change the learning process, the lives of young people and the world. Universities will not be the innovators driving the field forward. They are far too entrenched in an expensive business model that sells evidence of education rather than learning. If we have a problem with online university courses, we must consider that the root cause is the most basic incentives that universities currently operate with.

—Nathan Stover, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, chemical engineering

Online learning leaves students alone, lying and missing

Online courses for a traditional college education are not a good trend. They decrease students’ social interaction with their peers and teachers. This reduction in socialization directly correlates with higher rates of depression and feelings of social isolation. People, especially during their college years, need to be around other people to help spread ideas and develop a strong sense of personal identity.

Online learning also decreases discipline and allows students to become lazy in their studies. In my experience, students view online classes differently than in-person classes: a student with three in-person and two online classes will act as if the two online classes are significantly less important. Also, since students care less about online classes and no one is watching their test in person, they are more likely to cheat. Regardless of the number of locked browsers used, more cheating occurs in online courses than in an in-person setting.

Finally, online courses limit the hands-on learning and training a student can receive. As a journalism major, I don’t actively practice my craft in an online course. It’s useless to me and offers no real-world experience.

—Jack Clements, University of Mississippi, broadcast journalism

A new era of learning

Many colleges and universities across the country have developed curricula around the ideas of adaptability and flexibility – pre-Covid there were few in traditional college education. Whether national or international, students who did not live near the university of their choice had to move there. This could be expensive and mean higher living expenses, especially if the school is located in a major metropolitan area. Many students have passed up the opportunity to pursue the program best suited to their studies in order to avoid these costs.

Covid has forced many colleges and universities to embrace flexibility and innovation. As a result, students could study at the school of their choice without leaving their homes. Although many traditional colleges have now reverted to blended courses, online courses have become less stigmatized and more widely offered, providing remote students with more opportunities than before the pandemic.

The beauty of advanced technology is that we are able to adapt to changes more quickly. Colleges are no exception to progression. The shift to online education has proven to be a good trend. The real question is why it took so long.

—Jane Karam, Drexel University, Finance

The importance of in-person learning

Online learning has thrown college students off their academic tracks. Rather than being able to interact directly with professors, converse easily with peers, stay engaged during class, and have hands-on classroom experiences, students have been confined to their desks on video calls. In practice, that means turning off their video cameras, checking during class, and working hard so they don’t get caught cheating on exams. A Brown University study found that there were definite negative impacts (3% to 6%) of online classes compared to in-person classes. Additionally, students fare less well in online courses, even at institutions as successful as West Point.

As a tutor and teaching assistant, I see firsthand how students have forgotten how to learn over the past two years as their education has been largely left behind. They have much more difficulty with the courses than the previous students. Higher education institutions need to recognize these negative effects of remote learning, despite the alluring convenience and resource savings. They are obvious to those they affect most.

—Thérèse Joffre, Hope College, chemistry

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