Evaluating online education

We are at a pivotal moment in the history of education. With online education now becoming the new normal, is the outlook of future education bright or bleak?

Hands-on


We live in the age of a global pandemic, and what comes with that are many changes. There’s perhaps no change more vital to the future advancement of our society than education. Education, for that matter, has always been the pillar of development in our society. Humanity has advanced this far due to people’s unquenchable thirst for exploration coupled with their insatiable desire to learn. For years, humans have looked through every nook and cranny worldwide, searching for the most effective and efficient teaching and learning method. Depending upon where you live, those techniques used to teach future generations could vary and may look much different. Yet, many of them have one thing in common; they’re hands-on in one way or another.


Everyone learns in different ways. Some of us are hands-on learners who need to hear and feel the experience of teaching rather than simply reading it. Others react well to reading a passage, comprehending and reciting one they just finished with great fervor. There are endless factors that impact our ability to learn. However, there’s a reason a substantial portion of the world learns in person. It’s because education isn’t simply about learning material. When you go to school, you’re exposed to many different life components, ranging from race to social class differences. Moreover, you discover many different methodologies of how to learn. The more options you’re exposed to, the more likely you will find what works for you.


Online


At some point in their academic careers, typically in college, although that is changing, most students experience various class formats, including online, in-person, or hybrid, a mixture of the two. Over time, humans have revolutionized learning. Many years ago, we were limited by technological capabilities and could only do so much online. These days, there are endless resources available online to both students and teachers. For years now, many college course offerings have been strictly online. No in-person instruction, ability to ask the professor a question on the spot, or socializing with other students, and that’s just the beginning of it.


Sure, online classes were partly created due to a growing number of students who couldn’t afford to go to school full-time. Instead, students opted to take classes on a part-time schedule, allowing them to work other days throughout the week to provide for themselves. I completely understand why online classes have become so prevalent in our society, especially with certain classes. If you are taking general classes for an Associate’s degree, you probably don’t need in-person instruction for every single class, as many of them are made up of common principles. However, as we survey individuals who are pursuing a specialized degree, such as a Bachelor’s or any graduate work, the outlook becomes different, or at least it should be.


When someone chooses a major for their Bachelor’s degree, it’s likely to be the field of work they end up in for a considerable amount of time, if not the rest of their lives. Except, many people don’t end up using their degrees, which is another conversation for a different day. But for the ones that do, precise, in-person instruction almost seems like a necessity. If they want to be successful, that is. It’s the nature of the beast. Yet, many people complete their entire degrees online, and for some, it works. Although most people I’ve met who’ve done so typically say they wish they could’ve completed some parts of their program in person.


Outlook


Even for those who are naturally gifted, successfully comprehending and understanding content in an online format, only so much can be understood by the human mind without some level of sensory perception. Our senses can help reinforce learning and are more likely to come out in person. An example that comes to mind is how I’ve learned many things by feeling. Sometimes when you learn something, you don’t remember the exact method of how to do it, at least not at first. Rather, you remember how it made you feel, which prompts you to remember how to do it. Scenarios like this are typically not thought of when it comes to education. Often, humans seek out the most convenient method possible to complete something, and that includes education.


Enter COVID-19, which has changed how we carry out our everyday lives in modern-day times, and education is no exception. Since the pandemic started, almost every class, from elementary school all the way up to higher education, went online. Considering the virus, it was the safest outcome for students and teachers alike. However, there’s been an outcry from both regarding the quality of education current students are receiving. Since many classes transitioned to online learning, grade marks for many students are down. Some parents are even holding their kids out of school until they can return in person, citing a lack of real-world education their child will receive in the interim.

For others, who’ve braved the online course transition amidst the most critical period of their academic careers, trading in valuable discussions with professors, real-time examples, and banter with classmates, for a strand of e-mails with a professor and online discussion boards, things haven’t been the same. Yes, many people were used to these types of classes before the pandemic. But others, such as myself, always opted to take courses in person because it’s simply the most effective environment for the type of learner I am.


I appreciate listening to my professor and understanding their expertise while having the ability to have my question answered at that very moment, aiding me in remembering it. Rather than a day later, when I remember to send an e-mail about my question and the answer I receive is a watered-down version of what the professor would’ve stated in person. Additionally, many professors are older and have difficulty constructing a message in an e-mail the same way they can in class. That’s been part of my experience as a COVID-19 student, and my program isn’t prominently hands-on.


What about the programs that are? How are students supposed to learn the same concepts their predecessors were able to learn in person? Through an online interactive platform that’s supposed to replicate the in-person experience? Of course, that helps. But what’s going to happen to the many students who learn best in-person, like me? Once the virus is controlled, will they enter the workforce with less knowledge than those who precede and eventually succeed them? Will they be kicked to the curb and replaced by a more knowledgeable group due to learning less throughout a crisis? I am not sure anyone can answer that question. I know we cannot simply put education on pause and return to it once the pandemic goes away. But these questions are already being prompted as time goes on.


I hope students who graduate in the next few years will have learned as much as humanly possible during the crisis and that this time of strife and uncertainty will give them a level of resilience not seen in previous workforces. Online education doesn’t solve everything because all of education’s intricacies can’t be taught or learned online. When the virus is contained, we’ll have to do our best to help the individuals who committed themselves to education, undeterred, despite extraordinary circumstances, because those are the ones who have shown the grit to change our world.

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