Outside of traditional colleges and universities, online classes are quite common. There are huge schools built around them, allowing non-traditional students to easily access programs to advance their careers. Online courses are also widespread at lower levels, supporting homeschoolers, child prodigies seeking enrichment, and online programs are offered at international universities to students the world over. Clearly, online classes are widely established, but the question is, are they effective?

Online Classes Aren’t New – But Are They Effective?
Christin Hume

Like any form of education, online programs’ effectiveness varies between programs and is heavily dependent on the individual teachers and students. And, as many have learned this year, with the right attitude and proper planning, online courses can be an excellent alternative to the classroom. Here’s what we’ve discovered through online education’s expansion.

It’s Potentially Personalized

Even before the pandemic, many students chose online education because it allows for greater personalization. Students can attend classes on their own timelines, replay lectures if they don’t understand something, and work in an environment that allows them to focus and feel comfortable. In fact, many of these factors make online education ideal for many students with disabilities, both physical or intellectual; they can make the adjustments they need to in order to be successful in ways that the physical classroom may prohibit.

You Can’t Copy And Paste The Classroom

If the ability to modify the traditional classroom is one of the advantages of online education, but it’s also one of its limitations. After all, experienced teachers have developed approaches that work well for engaging students, and many students appreciate knowing what to expect from their learning environment. And, the challenge of online learning is that those expectations go out the window because you can’t replicate the classroom online, and best practices dictate that we shouldn’t try to.

Instead of attempting to use the same pedagogical styles, assignments, and study skills as we would in a traditional classroom, students and teachers in online classes need to be flexible. On the instructors’ end, the ability to innovate will determine how engaged students are and how well you convey information. And, for students studying at home, finding new ways to communicate with teachers and classmates and explore their learning environment will make a big difference in how focused and excited they are about logging on.

Self-Pacing Is Smart

While students shouldn’t be rushing through their lessons, one of the key benefits of online education for students – especially older students with other commitments – is that online classes support students who want to set their own pace, not just their own schedule. For highly self-motivated or advanced students, this might mean skipping over things they already understand or covering multiple course units in a single week. Plus, in a culture that’s all about hustle, it’s just a smart use of one’s time to not linger over material longer than you have to. There’s too much else that needs to be done.

Disparities Persist

Perhaps the most significant problem with online education, and the one that’s become the most obvious over the last year, is that access to internet-based courses is limited by access to the internet. This is a particularly serious problem because students with limited access to the internet are more likely to live in high-poverty school districts with limited funding and as such are more likely to already be behind. These students also may not have the necessary devices at home to keep up with their classes.

With more even distribution of resources and better pre-planning on the part of school districts, universities, and instructors, online educational services could be a powerful way of delivering quality services to students no matter where they’re located or what other obligations they have – but we’re not there yet. Still, despite its shortcomings, it’s clear that these programs have the potential to be great. If we can keep that in mind, we can work towards the changes that will allow these programs and their students to fulfill their potential.