Since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, in-person learning has been largely replaced by online education. This radical change in the global learning system has affected learners of every age, from elementary school children to college students. In addition, with college education's future already being an issue in the time that preceded the outbreak, the abrupt shift from the classroom to computers triggered an enormous disruption to the already fragile system of education.

While online learning was available prior to the outbreak, it wasn't as prevalent in higher education as it is now. Around the globe, teachers and students used to learning in person have been required to switch. Classes have turned into Zoom events, on-campus activities were canceled, and social distance made it impossible for students to have an experience that was traditional for college. Some graduation ceremonies were even conducted from a distance.

Does that mean online education is going to be around forever? What does the next chapter of e-learning hold to offer?

As the world changes and adjusts to an ongoing health issue, the higher education system is a subject that can be examined. The remote learning experience is essentially an experiment. Learning online is working; however, studying the aspects of online education that are the most effective provides better guidelines for the future.

Significant Issues with the Transition to Online Education

The transition to online education occurred at a stressful time for many students. Students who were in the middle of their programs were warned not to go back to the campus following spring break. High school graduates eagerly awaiting the start of their college experience could not begin classes in person. For both groups, staying home and working on the internet wasn't like learning in a classroom.

The switch to a new method of learning coincided with the spread of a pandemic across the world and the anxiety it sparked. Many students felt stressed and depressed. Students who also worked probably lost their jobs. This meant they developed unhealthy habits and had to adjust to online learning.

Isolation, in conjunction with efforts that aim to completely alter the way pupils learn and interact with colleagues and teachers, raised the risk of suicide among students and led to the development of other mental health issues.

Just like students, educators needed to determine how to navigate the internet. Some classes, like ballet and theater, require instruction in person as well as collaboration. Classes that are based on science and labs can be difficult to teach remotely. Instead of being able to lead from the classroom in which they could engage with their students face-to-face, instructors were confronted with the task of teaching from home.

In addition, educators and students have to adapt to the new setting: teaching and learning online turned out to be vastly different. It was becoming more challenging to manage class times or ask questions via online platforms, and discover ways to work together in group work.

The cost of tuition was another concern for students adjusting to online education. Some schools maintained tuition the same for online classes and in-person choices. Some schools opted for an on-campus model that combined at-home education and searched for ways to charge according to the needs of their students. Students protested against tuition increases and argued that schools offered less education and charged higher fees.

Despite many obstacles, students and educators are steadily making remote learning a part of their lives. However, there remain questions because there isn't enough data yet to prove the effectiveness of this method in the long term for a degree that lasts four years and beyond.

The Four-Year On-Campus Experience versus Online Learning

Traditional on-campus experiences offer students more than just academic opportunities. They can enjoy socialization, networking, and the chance to grow into self-sufficient adults. Knowing the benefits and drawbacks of learning online is essential to determine if a future option for online education is promising.

With more negatives than benefits, learning online might not be the best option for every student, as evident by the significant drop in the number of students attending schools worldwide. But, it can serve as a temporary alternative in cases where other options for education aren't viable.

Benefits of Online Learning

A move to online educational programs has many advantages, such as:

  • Variability: With remote learning, students can customize the activities they can do in other aspects of their daily lives. This is particularly true if they take courses in which they are required to submit their work by specific deadlines but do not offer video-conferencing classes.
  • Cost: students who otherwise would have to pay an enormous amount of cash (or need substantial loan amounts) to attend college away from home can cut costs associated with living on campus.
  • Possibilities: Students are able to go to school remotely, even if they're not situated in a region where they can attend classes individually. For instance, a student from Arizona could attend the colleges of New Hampshire, Florida, or Missouri without the need to relocate to a different state. Some colleges charge tuition out-of-state for students who are online, however, they often set tuition rates that are different from in-state or outside-of-state costs.

Disadvantages of Online Learning

While there are plenty of excellent reasons to study online, learning online in the near future could be a challenge for students. There are opportunities to assist struggling students deal with issues like:

  • Inability to interact: Students might feel that they're not close to their teachers or fellow students, which makes it difficult to establish bonds and connect with the other students.
  • The difficulty of collaboration:  Although it's possible to make group chats, as well as other forms of communication, it's more difficult to create high-quality group projects when students cannot be in the same physical place.
  • Inequality: Many students are not able to access the appropriate equipment and facilities. This could hinder their ability to go to classes and increase inequalities.
  • FOMO (fear of missing out): particularly for students who want to go to college for the first time, the pressure of not getting this experience on campus could affect their students' mental health and motivation to continue their education.

Problems with Remote Learning

It's not a new concept - it's been available for people since before the epidemic forced it on almost every teacher and student. Yet the online learning platforms aren't yet solving major problems. Recognizing the importance and the severity of these issues can be the very first stage toward making the most of online learning. These concerns include:

  • Comprehension: Some students find it more difficult to understand the subject matter when they're not learning in the classroom. It's harder to ask questions and collaborate with colleagues and teachers to get help and support, even when the classes are online.
  • IT equipment: A lot of students don't have access to a high-quality computer or a speedy internet connection. For those without these devices, being able to attend classes and finish coursework in time can pose major problems.
  • Collaboration: Working with others is generally easier when you are in person; however, working with chat or Zoom isn't the same. This can make it more difficult for students to gain from each other and for groups to come up with good-quality projects.
  • Socialization: A major part of the journey to college is to interact with your peers. The remote learning environment doesn't provide the same kind of interactions that students who attend campus have and could make it difficult for students to taste the experience of a real college.

All of these issues could be a source of trouble on their own. However, for students who have to deal with several of these problems, they aren't easy. For the majority of students and teachers, adapting is a major central point.

Flexibility and the Future of Online Learning

The entire academic structure has been transformed. Students and teachers must adapt to online learning to function. Institutions themselves have needed to implement radical modifications. In some universities and colleges, students have been instructed not to go back to their campuses. Some students have returned to their dorms, however, their classes are still online. The initial days of the epidemic saw most trials and errors as schools struggled to find a compromise between safety and education. Today, the majority of states do not have mask requirements, and there are fewer restrictions on how many people can be in enclosed areas.

Some schools aren't comfortable returning to "normal" at this point. However, a lot of schools are anticipating an upcoming normalization process, and the decisions their management makes will impact the next steps for online education. In addition, no matter the time when online options are accessible, it is likely that there will be educators and students who choose not to return.

The biggest aspect of adapting is making sure that teachers and students can maintain learning channels. However, online classes and classroom-based courses aren't as effective as the learning and teaching experience on a face-to-face classroom basis. Finding ways to improve will be crucial as more data begins to be released about how students and teachers perform. The impact of online learning on their physical and mental health, the speed at which they are able to master the subject as well as other aspects of the educational experience will require further investigation.

Strategies to Make Online Learning Successful

Unfortunately, educators and schools cannot ensure that all students will benefit from online learning. There will be students who struggle in the e-learning environment. However, the aim is to ensure that all students are getting the most out of online learning. In order for remote education to be successful, students must be doing well in their studies, even if they do not get the same education they would have had if they were on campus.

Enhancements can be made to amplify the educational experience online. These improvements could include getting additional feedback from students who struggle as well as content students. The aim is to discover what students prefer and dislike in online courses. In this way, higher education institutions can determine what aspects of their on-campus experiences students long for the most and possibly develop strategies to provide them with something like it. Once that is done, teachers and schools can begin to move toward changes that improve the educational experience on an overall scale.

Giving students opportunities for interaction is another strategy to assist students in succeeding. For instance, it could become possible to have students feel happy about their college experiences even if they are spent in front of an internet-connected PC at home. Although it's not going to substitute for physical interactions on campus, virtual as well as other similar activities can contribute to making students feel welcome and appreciated.

Education professionals can also add to students' well-being and success by being more accessible. If remote learners have difficulty understanding concepts, for instance, they aren't able to go to talk with their teacher at the end of class or even during hours when they're not on campus. The idea of having teachers hold virtual office hours and having an open-door policy for email correspondence (and even text messages or calls made during specific hours) could make a huge difference in making sure that students get the best and most rewarding experience with online learning.

Online Learning as the Future of Education

It's possible that online learning could be the new standard for education. Online colleges and universities existed prior to the outbreak. Nowadays, there are more courses and options available online. The outbreak has demonstrated the possibility of working from home, which has made it viable for workers to operate while restrictions have been eased. Today's educational opportunities follow the same pattern.

The latest data indicates that the majority of students and teachers have adapted easily to learning online and that online learning is definitely superior to not learning in the first place. However, certain education requirements need to be met in person. Medical students, for instance, need the use of hands-on work in their learning experience. This is also true in other fields where physical contact or training is typically needed.

As more data is released on the extent to which students and teachers have adapted to an online learning environment, it will be easier to determine the likelihood of returning to classroom learning. Although many schools may return to traditional classrooms, a large portion of teachers and students will probably decide to be remote for at least part of their teaching or learning. Learning online will continue to be an important aspect in the near future for education.

About the Author

Daniel gives life to writing by using the power of words. He is our unstoppable blogger who spends most of his time creating informative articles for the StudyCrumb blog. As a writer, Daniel has developed a lot since writing his first article. A true expert in journalism and we've invited him to assist students. 

Daniel Howard
Daniel breathes life into writing with the power of the word. He is a tireless blogger who spends most of his time crafting insightful articles for StudyCrumb’s blog.

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The Future of Online Education