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Top 5 Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Classes for Higher Education [Updated 2021]

immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated April 20 2021
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Classes for Higher Education
immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated April 20 2021

Learning is a lifelong key to success, especially for career-oriented individuals who hope to advance on both a personal and a professional level.  Unfortunately, many of us find it difficult to add new challenges to our demanding and inflexible schedules. Online learning is the solution.  People can learn about virtually any subject online, anywhere, anytime. Of course, nothing is perfect. In this article, we delve into the top 5 advantages of online classes as well as the top 5 disadvantages of online learning, to help you decide if it is an option for you.

Advantages of Online Classes

1.    Online Classes Are Convenient

The first obvious advantage of online classes is the sheer convenience factor.  Perhaps some of you are burdened by a lengthy commute after a long day.  The thought of traveling to yet another location before heading home is an impossibility.  Now, with virtual learning, you have the option of taking classes in the privacy of your own home while wearing your comfy slippers. You can search for whatever video you might have missed and catch up on class later!  You could even make efficient use of your time commuting and attend an online course on the bus or train ride home. All you need is an internet connection and a computer or a smartphone.

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2.    Online Classes Are Flexible

Not only have you saved hours by not having to travel to a physical location to take a class, but with online courses, you have greater flexibility in choosing the best time to study.  You may not be able to find a face-to-face instructor to teach you Spanish online at 3 am, but your options are infinitely greater online. Online courses ultimately enable you to achieve your professional and educational goals in a manner that fits your schedule.

 

3.    Online Classes Are More Affordable

The major advantages of online classes center around the tremendous amount of savings for the learning institution, which no longer has to rely on reserving a physical location to teach courses. This ultimately translates into more cost-effective classes for the student.  Having to show up at a physical classroom location increases your expenditures as a student quickly.  In addition to saving on the basics like books and supplies when you take classes online, you also save money on lunch and travel costs.

 

4.    Online Classes Foster More Interaction

Some might assume that traditional learning in a physical setting is the most natural and best way to interact.  But that’s not necessarily true. In an online class, no student sits in the back row.  Everyone sits basically front and center! Those that are too shy to ask a question in front of their entire class now have the option of initiating a live, private chat with their instructor.  A student uncomfortable with broadcasting to the entire class may even opt to mute their microphone or disable their camera while continuing to participate in the lesson. A student with the ability to hide may seem like a disadvantage of online courses.  But now, teachers have the option of administering online quizzes to ensure every student is engaged. They can edit and enrich videos to create a better learning experience online.  In a physical classroom, the teacher may write notes on a blackboard, in hopes that students are jotting the information down themselves.  With online learning, an instructor can write down notes on a digital whiteboard or even assign a student to write real-time notes that students can easily download after the class.

 

5.    Online Classes Unlock More Learning Opportunities

Have you ever wanted to learn French, but simply never were available?  Perhaps the small block of time you actually managed to carve out around a full-time job and family to learn how to code didn’t coincide with class hours at your local community center.  Was a school in your area even offering your dream class? Now with virtual learning, the sky’s the limit for new training opportunities.  With online education, students have the option of learning from instructors in any time zone all over the world, at potentially any time of day.  A world of opportunity can now be accessed from your laptop or smartphone.

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Disadvantages of Online Learning

1.    Online Learning May Create a Sense of Isolation

Everyone learns in their own manner.  Some students possess the ability to work independently, while others find comfort in their community on campus with easy access to professors or their fellow students.  The good news is online virtual classroom platforms have been working to bridge those gaps, recreating the feeling of community in the virtual space by producing a series of tools that encourage learners to actively participate in live sessions.  Online education must support the social aspect of learning to match the effectiveness of traditional classes.

2.    Online Learning Requires Self-Discipline

Piggybacking off the sentiment above, being part of a community and physically attending classes increases accountability.  If a student does not feel they are getting the proper guidance, they may not have enough self-discipline to fully engage in the lessons themselves. Moving to virtual, real-time classes instead of just online courses gives a greater sense of accountability.  Tools like live quizzes help assess understanding in real-time, while breakout rooms encourage group activity.  These tools help foster accountability and keep students engaged.

 

3.    Online Learning Requires Additional Training for Instructors

Online classes imply an initial learning curve and extra effort on the teacher’s behalf to create a successful online course. Instructors need to get a deep understanding of the different approaches to teaching and learning to avoid just replicating the physical class environment and miss out on all the added advantages and tools that eLearning and blended learning have to offer.

 

Of course, instructors also need proper training to tackle the technical aspect of online learning: the use of video and audio recording equipment, virtual classroom and lecture capture software, and of course the Learning Management Software (LMS). The combination of all these new skills represents a steep learning curve for the teacher, but thoughtful investment in proper training will pay off tenfold for the institution, the teacher, and the students alike!

 

4.    Online Classes Are Prone to Technical Issues

The classic disadvantages of online learning center around technical problems.  Nothing disrupts an online lesson more than audio, video, or connection issues.  Many times in the past, students were required to download and/or install cumbersome apps or technology that would deliver inconsistent performances.  Luckily nowadays, online classes can be accessed through the click of a link without the need to install anything.  Internet connections throughout the world have improved dramatically. Additionally, people’s devices have gotten significantly better.

 

5.    Online Learning means more screen-time

It’s pretty much inevitable in 2021, but darn do we spend a frightening amount of time in front of screens. Online learning sadly contributes to this problem. Excessive screen-time can lead to all sorts of physical ailments like poor posture or headaches. But it can also be a personal issue to students who struggle with learning from or focusing on screens. Especially since the internet is geared to distract students with social media and entertainment just a click away from the learning material. The better online learning platforms and software out there have all kinds of tools and features to help students staying attentive and engaged.

Conclusion

There are advantages and disadvantages of online learning for higher education. But as technological capabilities have reached new heights and many of the major concerns of students taking online classes have been addressed, the advantages of online classes are beginning to drown out the disadvantages.

 

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