In this highly modernized digital age, we mean democratised learning when we talk of online learning, where learners have endless options available for whatever learning they might need.
This in-demand learning mode is not new. The very first “virtual classroom” was held in the 1960s at the University of Illinois when scientists created a classroom-based on linked computer terminals. Computer-assisted learning developed, and now, it is still progressing.
Online learning has always been there, but for a while now, due to lockdown, online education has been a good option for students who, for unavoidable reasons, can’t access on-the-ground education. There are numerous examples of basic online courses out there, but the technology and the pedagogy powering online learning have gotten considerably better over the last decade. There are currently a growing number of instances where online education is outperforming its traditional classroom counterpart.
However, most students have been questioning online education, whether it is good or bad. Many enthusiasts might say, “of course it is good,” possibly because it is digitized, but it’s better to consider asking this question in the context of the traditional classroom.
Have our experiences in the traditional classroom been good? Did all of us have great classes in traditional settings? Perhaps some did not have. This means both online and traditional classroom courses can provide good and bad experiences.
An abundance of studies has examined online education, exploring effectiveness through several criteria, including satisfaction, retention, and achievement. Like, an objective review published by the American Educational Research Association (How Does Distance Education Compare with Classroom Instruction? A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature) examined the literature between 1985 and 2002; in which authors analyzed 232 studies from K-12 to higher education examining achievement, attitude and retention outcomes. It also highlighted that some online education applications were better than classroom instruction, and some were worse.
Another notable analysis, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies published by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
Along with that, according to a survey conducted in U.K. and U.S., North America and Europe already have the largest e-learning markets in the world, it is still growing. 9 out of 10 learners want to take an online course in future. Only 13.6% of the U.K. and 9.2% of U.S. survey respondents expressed no desire to take an online course in the future.87% of e-learners cite the reputation of the organisation administering their online experience as very or moderately important to them. And, only 1% said reputation was not at all important to them. Just about 8 in 10 individuals researched e-learning programs before committing to a course, with nearly 70% spending at least one to two hours or more on their research.
Needless to mention, online education is replacing traditional colleges and universities at a mind-boggling pace; and sooner will transform education in ways beyond our imagination. But, the question is, do students trust online education despite the changes and challenges facing it?
The emergence of the internet grants students’ access to the same materials used in a traditional classroom without being physically present in a classroom. Hence, prevents educational institutions from the need for substantial infrastructure and lower costs of education. Besides this, individuals living anywhere around the globe can receive an education. All one would require is access to a personal computer with internet access or just a smartphone. Students have no limit to the type of education provided when choosing online education: from corporate training at large multinational companies to high school diplomas and a college degree. Everything can be done online.
This form of learning has evolved from distance learning mode (writing and voice recording) to online learning, allowing students to ask and answer questions online in real-time and save course materials for replaying parts of a lecture until they completely understand and learn. This is a real benefit over traditional education systems. Also, online education allows for a more customized teaching approach to suit the needs of each individual. Learners get tremendous flexibility in learning which helps them manage time efficiently.
Keeping all the points aside, the main reasons to consider online education are: students have grown accustomed to using laptops as the key learning tool. They are becoming more ubiquitous in classrooms across the world. Even young children and toddlers are more tech-savvy than children 20 years ago were. Besides these, the recent innovation of providing explanatory video medium is a unique way of visualizing information that can replace and revolutionise the traditional blackboard.
Undoubtedly, there are endless possibilities because of which students are increasingly turning to online courses, but at the same time, there are several challenges as well.
This sudden transition had made us realise that several requirements need to be fulfilled for a smoother learning experience. Like, many educational institutions had trouble coping with the situations; lack of infrastructures, less tech-savvy/untrained teachers or low budget can be the probable reasons. Many students did not have access to smart devices, which can be another reason behind students not liking online education. It has also made us consider that the internet is an essential service now. Students' trust in online education fights with myths like online learning is complex and incomplete; online learning lands up to no learning & online education degrees don’t hold any value, and more.
On the contrary, according to a 2018 study conducted by Learning House, Inc., 85% of students who in the past had enrolled in both face-to-face and online courses felt their online experience was either the same or better than the classroom course. It included 37% who felt it was a superior experience.
Another example shows that online degrees outperformed traditional degrees across the globe and students of all ages. In the U.K., the University of Essex’s online degrees placed in the top 18% of all U.K. institutions with a 91 score in the National Student Survey (NSS) run by Britain’s higher education regulator.
If we go in-depth, there are numerous pros and cons of online education, and we may end up in a dilemma whether we should choose online education. Despite all, the major concern is to build students trust in education. To do so; we may try these strategies suggested by researchers:
- Establish a connection with your students in your online course.
- To have your students involved and interested, you need to develop a positive social atmosphere. This can be done better by modelling solidarity, deference, and affiliation.
- Reinforce predictable patterns of communication and action. Students look for structured activity, repetition, and feedback; else, they may get the impression that the instructor cares less about the course or the students, making the development of trust unlikely.
Aforesaid, online education is no less effective than a traditional classroom. And today’s kids have grown up with these technologies, so attending a class solely from a computer might not sound shocking to them as it might to older generations. To them, online education is just an alternative way of learning, and in certain parts of the world, it is the only way. However, we may conclude that online learning can be effective, and it will continue to evolve to bring more benefits in the future and gain the trust of students and teachers soon.