Online learning: strengths and weaknesses

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Traditional teaching and learning process (class room teaching) in the world has been developed for the last so many years with sincere efforts by educational and government planners with a very vast infrastructure in terms of students, teachers and institutions. In the times, when true learning has lost its meaning and usefulness and same is the case with real (face to face) or institutional learning, online learning has been gaining acceptance in society with time due to the advancement in technology and its easy availability to masses.

Teaching and learning have to change drastically as per the needs and compulsions of present day and for that to happen, we must conceive of the activity of teaching, as an occupation and preoccupation, in entirely new and unexpected ways. Online teaching is gaining its acceptability due to its many advocated advantageous characteristics like adjusting to pace of learning, repeatability of contents, availability of same contents from different resources, focused on learning contents, anywhere & anytime availability,  convenient learning schedule and many more. With all these advantages, online teaching and learning process was gaining acceptability in masses with time but situation created by COVID-19 pandemic for the last 3-4 months all over the world, educationists, educational institutions and students seems more enthusiastic about online learning and with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, craze and necessity for online learning has increased many folds. During this time, various companies have come forward in the market to provide costly educational apps to every level of student by boosting for their best technology, contents and delivery methodology in online learning. Internet is full of educational videos not only from eminent educationists but also from every enthusiast who wants to contribute his best towards the online learning of students at one hand and get to fulfill the administrative obligations on the other hand.  In recent times, people of teaching community are busier with their creative ideas in making and uploading such educational videos, though the utility of such educational videos is not a matter of discussion here.  Further, online education is the fastest-growing segment of education and its growth is over represented in the for-profit sector. Instead of discussing the advantages of real (class room) teaching and learning process in comparison to virtual or online teaching and learning process, here the discussion will be focused only on the successes & failures of online teaching and learning process.

Strengths of online learning

There are many reasons why online programs have become a popular form of learning today. The online environment offers unprecedented opportunities for people who would otherwise have limited access to education, as well as a new paradigm for educators in which dynamic courses of the highest quality can be developed. Here is a list of some of the major benefits of online programs:

Anywhere: The main advantage of asynchronous online learning is that it allows students to participate in high quality learning situations when distance and schedule make on-ground learning difficult-to-impossible. Students can participate in classes from anywhere in the world provided they have a computer and Internet connection. In addition, the online format allows physically challenged students (and teachers) more freedom to participate in class.

Anytime: The virtual classroom is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can access their courses at any time of day or night. Further, they have continuous access to lectures, course materials, and class discussions. This is particularly convenient for those who may need to reread a lecture or take more time to reflect on some material before moving on.

Synergy: The online format allows a dynamic interaction between the instructor and students and among the students themselves. Resources and ideas are shared, and continuous synergy will be generated through the learning process. Each individual can contribute to the course discussions and comments on the work of others.

High quality dialog: Within an online discussion structure, the learner may reflect on comments from others before responding or moving on to the next item. This structure allows students time to articulate responses with much more depth and forethought than in a traditional face-to-face discussion situation.

Student centered: Within an online discussion, the individual student can respond to the course material and to comments from other students. These situations result in smaller conversations taking place simultaneously within the group. In this way, students control their own learning experience and tailor the class discussions to meet their own specific needs.

Level playing field: In the online environment, learners have a certain measure of anonymity. Discriminating factors such as age, dress, physical appearance, disabilities, race and gender are largely absent. Instead, the focus of attention is clearly on the content of the discussion and the individual’s ability to respond and contribute thoughtfully and intelligently to the material at hand.

Access to resources: It is easy to include distinguished guest experts or students from other institutions in an online class. Further, today’s students have access to resources and materials that may be physically located anywhere in the world. An instructor can compile a resource section online with links to scholarly articles, institutions, and other materials relevant to the course topic for students to access for research, extension, or in depth analysis of course content material.

Creative teaching: Online teaching and learning should not be based on lectures and rote memorization of material but must support the use of interactive learning environments as contributing to self-direction and critical thinking.  In the online environment, the facilitator and student collaborate to create a dynamic learning experience.

Weaknesses of online learning

While online programs have significant strengths and offer unprecedented accessibility to quality education, there are weaknesses inherent in the use of this medium that can pose potential threats to the success of any online program and the problems are mentioned here:

Equity and accessibility to technology: Before any online program can hope to succeed, it must have students who are able to access the online learning environment. Lack of access to technology (computer, internet etc.) on the basis of economical or logistic reasons will exclude otherwise eligible students from the course in general and in rural parts of the country in particular.

Computer literacy: Both students and facilitators must possess a minimum level of computer knowledge in order to function successfully in an online environment.

Limitations of technology: Availability of user friendly and reliable technology is critical to a successful online program.

The students: While an online method of education can be a highly effective alternative medium of education for dedicated, education enthusiast, mature, self-disciplined student, it is an inappropriate learning environment for more dependent learners. Whereas, self control over learning and flexibility of study schedules can be a simple way out for non-serious students to skip learning. In order to successfully participate in an online program, student must be well organized, self-motivated, and possess a high degree of time management skills in order to keep up with the pace of the course. For these reasons, online education is not appropriate for younger students (i.e. elementary or secondary school age), and other students who are dependent learners and have difficulty assuming responsibilities required by the online paradigm.

Lack of essential online qualities: An instructor must be able to communicate well in writing and in the language in which the course is offered. If facilitators are not properly trained in online delivery and methodologies, the success of the online program will be compromised. An online instructor must be able to compensate for lack of physical presence by creating a supportive environment in the Virtual Classroom where all students feel comfortable participating and especially where students know that their instructor is accessible.

The administration and faculty: Administrators and/or faculty members who are uncomfortable with change and working with technology or feel that online programs cannot offer quality education often inhibit the process of implementation.

Levels of synergy: Online learning has its most promising potential in the high synergy represented by active dialog among the participants but in case of large classes, the synergy level for each student will be different because dialog is limited as well as interaction among participants and the facilitator.

What should not be taught online: In the excitement and enthusiasm for online programs, academicians are fast enough to prepare videos for each and every topic and upload the same on the internet just as routines without going into the detail description of the contents. Moreover, it is also important to recognize that some subjects should not be taught online because the electronic medium in its current state of development does not permit the best method on instruction. Examples are hands-on subjects such as public speaking, surgery, dental hygiene, and sports where physical movement and practice contribute to the achievement of the learning objectives. These subjects are probably best taught in a face-to-face traditional learning environment.

The curriculum: The curriculum of any online program must be carefully considered and developed in order to be successful. Most of the times, in an haste to develop online education programs, the importance of the curriculum and the need for qualified professionals to develop it is overlooked. Online curriculum must reflect the use of dialog among students (in the form of written communication), and group interaction and participation. Education of the highest quality can and will occur in an online program provided that the curriculum has been developed or converted to meet the needs of the online medium.

Points for online learning success

Online teaching and learning process is not a so simple activity of preparing videos and uploading them on internet leaving it all to students to read them.  Online teaching and learning program should report improved student outcomes such as scores on year-end tests, graduation rates, and attendance rates despite serving a broad spectrum of students-from failing and struggling students to mainstream and advanced students seeking a personalized educational experience. Students should not feel much of a difference between regular classes and online learning. Online teaching and learning process seamlessly helping students and teachers to improve their knowledge with quality educational content by offering education to all without any partiality. It also gives extra opportunity to learn the subjects across disciplines. The success of online teaching and learning process will be governed by factors like:

Best-in-class instructors: Empowering students with knowledge and skills.

Weekly assignments: Ensuring progress of students in timely manner.

Systematic approach: Enabling students towards desired learning goals.

Online curriculum as primary source of instruction: Online courses should be appropriately rigorous and provide a highly engaging learning experience for students and can work on these courses at their own pace.

In-person and virtual instructional support: Most students would like to interact with their teachers frequently each day, whether the interaction was in-person or virtual. Students should get equal if not more personal attention from their teachers in these programs than in a traditional school setting.

Better relationships with students: Establishing deep and meaningful teacher-student relationships is an essential component to success and to be a priority. When teachers had a better understanding of both a student’s academic capability and his or her personal and family situations, they will better able to tailor their teaching and counseling activities to fit that student’s individual needs.

Failures of online learning

  • Overloaded of educational contents
  • Reports of depression in week students
  • Non-availability of technology and reliable network
  • Facilitator’s incompetence and unwillingness
  • Breeds limitations and shuts down critical thinking
  • Online education has failed to reduce costs and improve outcomes for students
  • Faculty, academic leaders, the public and employers continue to perceive online degrees less favorably than traditional degrees
  • Regular and substantive student-instructor interactivity is a key determinant of quality in online education, leading to improved student satisfaction, learning and outcomes
  • Poor planning and project management
  • Courses unaligned with learner needs
  • Using course completion status to measure success
  • Lack of adequate quality checks

Future of online learning

Online learning is here to stay with the society due to many reasons like availability of technology, incompetency in face-to-face teaching, possible low cost, instantaneous availability anytime and anywhere, and easy accessibility to different online learning resources and many more. Online learning is a learning system based on formalized teaching but with the help of electronic resources. The major component of online learning is the use of computers and Internet forms. Here are some online learning trends that will become stronger as we move forward: adaptive learning, micro learning, video learning, game-based learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and learner assistance, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and social learning.

 

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