Written by Amanda Longhenry
Online learning, also known as e-learning, has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially with the advancements in technology and the internet. However, its use tends to be polarized. There are many advantages to online learning such as flexibility, environmental benefits, its benefits for those that are mobile-impaired, and reduced financial costs. However, as with any educational approach, there are also drawbacks to consider. Distractions, difficulties learning, negative impacts on those with learning disabilities, and unhealthy impacts are some of the challenges that students may encounter in online learning. This article aims to examine the advantages and disadvantages of online learning, offering insights into its benefits while highlighting the potential challenges, empowering individuals to make well-informed decisions regarding their educational path.
COVID-19 greatly increased the usage of online learning which continues to be an option at many higher-level learning institutions. One of the most significant advantages of online learning is the flexibility it offers in terms of scheduling. Many students find it difficult to balance school, family, and personal life which speaks to why some have turned to online courses.
Additionally, online learning allows for greater accessibility by removing barriers such as location and time. Students can access online courses from anywhere in the world, at any time that is convenient for them. This means that students who may not have been able to attend traditional classes due to distance or scheduling conflicts can now access education.
A myriad of human activities are driving climate change. Specifically, transportation accounts for a significant contribution to excess greenhouse gasses which consequently leads to global warming. Because online learning eliminates the need of transportation, learning remotely reduces your carbon footprint.
In addition to transportation, e-learning reduces deforestation by removing the use of printed materials such as textbooks, handouts, and assignments. By delivering educational content digitally, online learning reduces the demand for paper and subsequently lowers the pressure on forests. This reduces the number of trees cut down for paper production, helping to preserve forest ecosystems.
Transportation may be fairly simple for able-bodied people, but those with physical disabilities may find it difficult. Additionally, traveling between classes, navigating buildings, and searching for ramps can be trying. Therefore, people with physical disabilities may benefit from the accessibility of online learning by eliminating the requirement of physically being in the classroom.
As previously mentioned, e-learning removes the need for transportation. In addition to reducing the harmful environmental impacts of transportation, decreasing transportation can save students money. Gas is a costly expense for everyday drivers, costing Canadians an estimated $200 per month, which is an additional $2,400 students can pocket every year.
Furthermore, those that are learning solely remotely can learn from the comfort of their own home thus not requiring a dorm on campus. Taking room and board costs from 10 major universities in Canada, Value Champion found that the average cost per year is just over $10,000, giving students a significant save of money.
One of the biggest pitfalls of distance learning is how distracting it can be. Students may be tempted to check social media, browse the internet, or engage in unrelated tasks while the class is ongoing, which can diminish focus and retention. Specifically, a study found that “students were twice as likely to state that they were distracted by multitasking in online [classes] than in face-to-face classes.” Besides other electronic distractions, there are plenty of other distractions such as such as family members, pets, household chores, or noisy neighbors.
The rise of e-learning provoked scientists and researchers to conduct studies on whether online learning is just as effective as learning in the classroom. Dubbed the “screen inferiority effect”, a study has found that students have “general[ly] lower quality of metacognitive processes on screen” than paper.
Eye strain and fatigue are another large contributing factor as to why students are unable to comprehend and absorb information. Reading on paper allows for a different visual experience that is generally considered less taxing on the eyes.
Remote learning may disproportionately affect students with learning disabilities. Many students with learning disabilities require individualized instruction and tailored learning strategies. Online learning may not always provide the same level of personalization as in-person instruction, making it harder for students to receive the targeted support they need to succeed.
Also, students with learning disabilities may find that they “are simply unable to focus in spaces that are not specified for schoolwork,” according to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Specifically, online learning often requires greater self-regulation and independent learning skills. Students with learning disabilities may struggle with staying focused without the structure and routine of a physical classroom environment. This can lead to decreased engagement and lower academic performance.
Prolonged screen time is known to have many unhealthy effects. Specifically, extended screen time has been associated with poor sleep quality which by itself can significantly harm one’s academic performance. In addition to poor sleep, perpetual screen exposure has been linked to mental health concerns such as depression.
Just as concerning, prolonged screen usage is known to cause numerous issues for one’s eyes. One may experience eye fatigue, dry and irritated eyes, loss of focus flexibility, nearsightedness, and retinal damage. Therefore, it can be argued that absorbing material through physical paper may benefit students academically and health-wise.
Online learning has both pros and cons that depend on the individual learner’s needs, preferences, goals, and expectations. Online learning can be a rewarding and effective way of acquiring new knowledge and skills, but it certainly has its drawbacks. Therefore, before choosing online learning, one should weigh the benefits and drawbacks carefully and make an informed decision. Luckily, with TUEX Education, tutors and students are not forced into one decision or another and have the ability to choose whatever meets your learning or teaching preferences.