Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and cities going under lockdown, one of the biggest changes in our everyday life was the way education systems works. As the result of global quarantine, educational organizations such as universities, schools, and institutes that used to be filled with crowds of people, had to close down. Without having any clear vision of how long quarantine could take and when we would see an end to this pandemic, governments were left with no choice but to implement online education classes for those pursuing an education.
From the start of the pandemic, lots of different online platforms have been used, such as Udemy, Teachable, WizIQ, or Big Blue Button. Some of them had already existed even before the spread of coronavirus while others came into existence to fulfill the needs of conducting online classes during the pandemic. Each of these platforms came with its pros and cons and were chosen over the other in different situations. A lot of these platforms are free, like Big Blue Button; however, for a small fee, they also present several premium versions that contain more features, more stability, and better servers with fewer connection problems.
Now that the vaccine is being distributed all around the world and the end of the pandemic is on the horizon, universities and schools are probably going to open soon and people would be able to resume their studies in the proper buildings. However, is it recommended to do so? Should everyone go back to studying in universities and schools? Or should they continue using online platforms for education? Let’s consider a couple of factors that help answer these questions:
Education is expensive, both for students and governments. Harvard University, for example, has already announced that the total cost of attending Harvard College without financial aid is $49,653 for tuition in 2020-2021, whereas the cost for tuition, room, board, and fees combined is $72,391. Another example is Great Britain’s Oxford University, which costs £9,250 per year for UK/EU undergraduates, although it is worth mentioning that this price is provided by the taxes citizens pay, and the original cost of education in Oxford must be somewhere around £25,740 – £36,065 that non-EU undergraduates pay.
On the other hand, education is expensive for the government as well. Every year, they dedicate a significant budget to public schools and universities. Scholarships that are provided for undergraduate, master’s, or Ph.D. programs are also very costly. In Canada, for example, the total amount of scholarship over 4 years of an undergraduate program is $60,000. In the United States also, merit scholarships range from $6,000 to $25,000 per academic year.
As you can see, the traditional method of education costs a lot. One reason for such a high cost is posed by the limited capacity of classrooms in a college setting. This then leads to higher salary costs, since a professor would have to teach the same courses to multiple classes at different times to accommodate for a large number of students. Consequently, the university ends up paying the expenses of teaching the same course to several different classes.
However, on online platforms, there is almost no such limitation for the number of attendees. Courses that only depend on pre-recorded videos and tests can be held online so that thousands of students would enroll in a single class at once. With a premium subscription in a platform like ZOOM, for instance, one can host meetings of up to 300 participants. Therefore, online education tends to be much more affordable in comparison to traditional methods of education.
Online platforms can also remove other expenses like the cost of class materials such as notebooks and equipment, or public transportations that students and professors use every day. And in many cases, if the online class is implemented properly, the lower costs of online education would not decrease the quality of teaching, it only ensures that a wider range of students can access universities and the courses that used to be reserved for those with higher budgets.
How much time do students, professors, academic personnel, faculty members, and others who work in educational organizations spend on their daily commute? A lot of people live far from educational organizations where they work or study every day, it takes them a considerable amount of time to reach their destination. And sometimes, there are also a few spare hours between a student’s classes, which in many cases is wasted at the end.
However, with online classes, no one has to spend hours of their day in taxis, buses, metro stations, or on the university campus, where seating space for quiet study time might be rare, leading many students to spare valuable hours of their day without the space to use their time effectively. You can just grab a cup of coffee and easily join the class from your room only a few minutes before each class session begins. Even for the time intervals between which there is an interval of a couple of hours, you can make more effective use of your time in a likely quiet space without the distractions of a university campus.
Everyone in the educational system has their own class schedules, and in many cases, the timing of courses might not be suitable for some students. This problem is even more substantial in Master’s and Ph.D. programs where a lot of students are employed people and have a full daily job. This is why a lot of professionals find it difficult to continue with their education or upskilling; because they simply cannot fit studies around their work schedules.
Nowadays, many online education programs offer convenience and flexibility when it comes to the timing and pace of various degree programs. In online programs, people can simply watch videos and tutorials in their free time between tasks or at home. This will allow them to pursue their learning activities at a time that best suits their schedule, and the only strict timings are confined to deadlines set for various projects, essays, and exams.
Overall, the lack of pressure from class timings, personal schedules, and commutes, as well as the ability to attend class from the comfort of their homes leaves students with more energy and a positive attitude towards attending classes online.
Personal cars and public transportation, which are used daily for different means, including education, are harmful to our environments, nature, planet Earth, and the Ozone layer. The transportation sector burns most of the world’s petroleum and creates air pollution, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and their particulates; therefore, it is a significant contributor to global warming. And as a matter of fact, based on researches, educational organizations are responsible for a big part of the use of transportations. Furthermore, another study shows that online learning courses resulted in a 90 percent emission reduction.
In this manner, it is not hard to see just how beneficial online learning can be for the environment. No transportation is required for taking part in online classes and everyone can join a class with a few clicks using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Online classes can even prevent notebooks and papers from being overly consumed as students can easily use different types of electronic applications on their computers or laptops to take notes, which can also significantly help reduce our carbon footprint.
Based on the above factors, one can see that online learning is very nature-friendly and can ultimately help us avoid many damages to our environment from occurring, which will, in turn, reduce the threats posed by global warming.
What’s The Catch?
Well, nothing comes without a price and any new technology or method has its own flaws, and e-learning is no exception. The first and most important flaw that exists with online learning is the deficiencies it poses to students’ ability to learn effectively. Many courses require students to be present in a physical environment with their professors and have actual communications to fully understand the course.
The concepts taught in these courses need to be learned in the process of hours of analysis, debates, and discussions. Sure, students can talk on online platforms using a microphone too but it has never been as effective as normal classroom discussions due to both the nature of telecommunications and the flaws and obstacles of virtual teaching platforms.
Furthermore, physical presence in an educational environment allows instructors to read the room and see who is paying attention and remains involved in class, as opposed to students who are struggling to understand the lesson or are distracted doing something entirely irrelevant. Studies in 2019 have shown that the chance of multitasking is much higher among students who are learning online compared to those who are present in a physical classroom.
Based on researches, those who use laptops or phones to join their class are significantly more likely to start texting, surfing the web, or even watching videos during class time. Since there are very few ways in which instructors can measure a student’s level of focus and attentiveness, it is tempting for students to allow themselves to be distracted by their devices in the comfort of their home. Consequently, their cognitive engagement decreases, which in turn reduces the amount and quality of learned material.
And sometimes, it is just impossible to teach a course online. Kids, for instance, can easily get bored in an online class where a teacher is just talking to them from a computer. They need a lively environment where they can have interactions with their friends and occasionally have fun with each other. But at home, on a computer or laptop screen, they can easily lose interest and get distracted by something else. And since it is a smart device that we are talking about, kids are very likely to shift their focus to more interesting places such as apps and games!
Kids aside, even for adults it is sometimes necessary to be present in a classroom as many courses have practical lessons that are impossible to teach on a virtual platform. Online platforms are not a proper replacement for lessons that need hands-on experience in a laboratory or a workshop. For these courses, people need to learn the lesson throughout the process of experiencing it rather than watching videos and listening to their instructor talking about it. Actual experiments are necessary to fully comprehend these lessons.
Apart from the provided factors, internet connection is still a big obstacle for many regions. Even in developed countries, a lot of people still do not have access to internet services with sufficient quality for online classes; and in the end, constant disconnections or even servers going down can make the experience of online learning torture.
Last but definitely not least is the issue of a lack of social interactions. Human beings are social creatures who need to communicate with one another; no matter what age, gender, race, or characteristics they have. Even traits of extraversion and introversion have nothing to do with this fact as both groups need human interactions. The only real difference here is the amount of time each one of these categories would want to spend on socializing.
If we make education, work, and everything else virtual just because it makes sense money-wise and time-wise, we would keep these social species away from the cooperation and communication that they are so dependent on. People need to socialize with each other, crack a joke in the classrooms from time to time, and spend their free times hanging out with each other in a café or park after their classes in order to learn and work productively.
A New Addition, Not a Replacement
Maybe in a far-fetched world where virtual reality has reached a very advanced level with a stable experience, which would let people join a virtual universe wherein they can see each other, take seats in a virtual classroom, and have actual meaningful conversations and easily communications with each other, online learning could replace traditional education systems. But the current online platforms with their flaws and inefficiencies can only be an addition to the education system and not a replacement of traditional teaching and educational methods.
And that is great; it is everything that online education can do and should do. Online learning makes a perfect addition to the traditional education systems that have been without any significant change for ages. For example, lecture-based courses can make an excellent case for throwing an online class on ZOOM even in a world where people can join a physical classroom without any restrictions.
Based on the provided facts and statistics, we believe that online education is beneficial in a lot of aspects and should and will stay here even in the post-COVID-19 era. It might not replace traditional classrooms completely, but online learning makes a perfect addition to our current systems, and people who are either educators or instructors, will continue using these online platforms. As a consequence of these changes, we will have an evolved education system that is more efficient, affordable, flexible, and also saves time as much as possible for everyone.