The Pros and Cons of Online Learning

A close up image of a stack of textbooksWritten by: Johann Cardenas, 3rd Year Bioinformatics 

Photo by: Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

This past year was the first time I and many other students had a full course load of entirely online courses. As a student who just finished second year and has a year of experience of both in-person and online school, I’ve realized that online learning has a lot of pros, as well as cons.

Pro #1: No Commuting

Despite how much I enjoyed my in-person classes in my first year, I have to admit that online school had plenty of pros. A big one for me was no commuting. I live off-campus and commuting between my home and my classes was a huge time sink. This year, I could wake up five minutes before my classes and still end up on time. The time I saved from not commuting freed up a surprising amount of my schedule, giving me a lot more time to study or recharge.

Pro #2: Recorded Lectures

Another pro of online learning was that most of my professors recorded their lectures. Normally, in-person classes rarely have recorded lectures—either you attend the lecture, or you miss that information forever. This year all of my classes had recorded lectures, which were super convenient for catching up if I got behind, reviewing for exams, and for transcripts which saved a lot of time when making notes. Recorded lectures are also great for closed captioning, pausing, and rewinding, all of which gave me time to digest all of the lecture material. Finally, recorded lectures allow you to speed through the drier parts of a lecture at 2 times speed, which made my workflow much more efficient.

Pro #3: Flexibility

Finally, a huge pro of online learning was the substantial increase in flexibility. Most of my courses had no regular Zoom lectures, and if so, they were usually not mandatory. The flexibility of learning when I want was hugely convenient. No longer did I have awkward schedules with super early mornings or late nights; I could always work at a time I was comfortable with. In addition, I was able to put my lectures on hold if I was especially busy with deadlines, while in the past I had to choose between working on an assignment or attending class. This year I also pursued more extracurriculars than in the past, and the increased flexibility of online school made conflicts in my schedule a rare occurrence.

Con #1: Online Fatigue

Even with the pros of online learning, there are some big cons as well. A frustrating one for me was fatigue from online learning. While in-person lectures are tiring, walking between classes and seeing Western’s beautiful campus was a nice refresher. Online learning, combined with my mostly online extracurriculars, meant I was spending hours upon hours in front of my computer each day. To mitigate fatigue, I tried to take regular breaks and step away from my screen, but still spending so much time in front of my computer in my room began making me feel a bit crazy. With more classes in-person this September, I can’t wait to visit campus some more.

Con #2: Online Exams

Another large con of online learning was online exams. In-person exams are stressful enough as it is, but having to worry about technical problems and proctoring software pushes it over the edge. I definitely had my fair share of panics when it came to online exams: programs crashing, glitches, lost progress, and more. Each time, exam support was able to assist me, but so much of my stress would have been alleviated with a pen and paper exam. It didn’t help that many professors made their exam formats more difficult this year to prevent academic dishonesty, such as making their exams linear. Believe it or not, in-person exams are one thing I’m actually for next year.

Con #3: Lack of Social Connection

In my opinion, the biggest con of online learning is the lack of social connection. When classes were in-person, I could say hi to my friends all over campus and talk to them every day. I would regularly sit next to friends during lectures, or study together in between classes. Even if I didn’t know anyone in my classes, it was so easy to just talk to whoever was sitting next to me, with some of those people becoming some of my closest friends. Online learning takes that away; all of those spontaneous interactions are gone, and you only have your existing friends, extracurriculars, and “get to know you” forums on OWL to make any sort of social connections at school. While I did meet a lot of new people this past year and made new friends, there were lots of moments I felt lonely this year as well. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing some of my old friends and making new ones when I return to campus next year.

Overall, I have some mixed feelings about online learning. On one hand, the lack of synchronous classes made the year a lot easier to manage for me. Zero commuting saved me so much time, and recorded lectures were so convenient that I have no idea how I’ll cope without them next year. However, even though it did feel easier to manage, I definitely enjoyed online schooling less overall. Online classes can be super fatiguing, and it’s hard to replicate how easy it is to connect to friends on campus. An open campus with in-person lectures is something I’m looking forward to, but hopefully, professors try incorporating some of the more accommodating aspects of online learning into their classes next year.

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