Online Learning Part 3 – Benefits and Challenges of Online Learning
by Mark Sivy
Online learning is not intended or expected to be the magic solution to current education issues. Using strategic planning, an instruction systems technology (human performance technology), and instructional design for online learning approach can in some cases resolve or reduce present education problems or concerns, and it does address modern learner expectations to use digital technologies. On the other hand, online learning comes with its own issues.
Some benefits of online learning are that it can:
- Fit into personal schedules more easily than traditional learning.
- Be self-directed and self-paced, thus allowing learners the opportunity to speed up, slow down, and review content at an individual pace.
- Lead to greater self-confidence, thus empowering the learner to take more responsibility for their learning.
- Offer personalized learning, using a variety of delivery and presentation methods, thus accommodating multiple learning styles and personal preferences.
- Lead to the improvement of learner attitudes, self-esteem and self-efficacy which can result in better outcomes and learner retention.
- Allow for greater personal mobility, reduced travel time and expenses, and the ability to overcome geographic barriers.
- Compensate for personal restrictions, challenges, or limitations.
- Facilitate increased student interactivity, student collaboration, team work, and one-on-one contact with the instructor.
- Permit learners to experiment, explore, create, fail, retry, and learn without the fear of others being aware.
- Be used to create peer community and support which enhance learning.
- Allow for broader learning opportunities and course options at a lower cost to the learner.
- Lower the cost and ease the scheduling for instructor professional development, training, follow-up contact, and ongoing support.
- Enhance the learner’s awareness and skills in the use of technologies such as computers, applications, and the Internet.
- Deliver standard content and consistent messages, ensuring that learners have access to the same resources and opportunities.
- Provide cost savings to institutions in terms of reducing the need for buildings.
- Enable global awareness, community, networking and resources.
- Reduce environmental damage caused by energy consumption, waste emissions, and land use.
- Provide tools which allow for tracking, analyzing, reporting, and improving teaching and learning.
- Host simulations and role-play activities that would otherwise not be possible
Reflection Point – “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” ~Albert Einstein
Some challenges of online learning are that:
- Learners who procrastinate, are not self-motivated, require frequent prompting, or who have poor study habits may fail to meet requirements and deadlines.
- Non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, and eye contact will typically be missing.
- Barriers can exist initially for learners due to the need for new skills which are associated with using technologies and new ways of learning.
- Technological constraints exist in terms of communication, project completion and submission, inadequate devices, and restrictive file formats.
- It is more difficult to interact or communicate with individuals who tend to be unresponsive.
- Issues can arise for instructors due to the need for adapting or learning new online teaching strategies, processes, and routines.
- Students may miss face-to-face social contact and interaction, can feel isolated, or may need in-person teacher-student interaction.
- Instructors may not always be available on demand in a manner which is often expected when communicating electronically.
- Slow or unreliable Internet connections can present issues and frustration.
- Creating and maintaining the necessary institutional infrastructure, resources, and support can be costly and complex.
- Learners may be confused or disoriented due to the lack of routines surrounding a traditional class.
- Hands-on activities or lab work are sometimes difficult to host or simulate.
- Immediate feedback which exists in a traditional class often is not available
- There is a dependency on Internet connections and functioning hardware.
- It often requires a difficult change in attitudes and beliefs by learners, instructors, parents, and community.
- There is a reduction in opportunities to develop oral communication skills and other social dynamics.
Reflection Point – Technology is not capable of or intended to replace teachers, but “any teacher who can be replaced by a computer deserves to be.” ~ David Thornburg