All teachers approach this new paradigm with varying degrees of enthusiasm and concern. Are you optimistic or skeptical about online learning? Are you interested in how online course delivery can enhance your teaching and provide unprecedented learning opportunities for your students, or do you want to know what you will find when planning and conducting your online classes? It is important to consider both the pros and cons of online learning so that you can better prepare for this new environment, as well as embrace the new opportunities it offers. What are your strengths or weaknesses? At first you choose which link to follow, but please look at both, it's fair!
Strengths of online learning
There are many reasons why online programs have become a popular form of distance learning in higher education today. The online environment offers unprecedented opportunities for people who would otherwise have limited access to education, and it is also a new paradigm for professors, within which dynamic courses of the highest quality can be developed. Some of the main benefits of online programs are listed below:
The main advantage of asynchronous online learning is that it allows students to participate in high-quality learning situations where distance learning and scheduling make it difficult to learn on site. Students can participate in classes from anywhere in the world, as long as they have a computer and an Internet connection. In addition, the online format allows students with disabilities (and teachers) to participate more freely in classes. Participants access the virtual classroom through their computers rather than "going to class" physically.
At any time, at any pace.
The virtual classroom is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The efficient use of time is another advantage of the online learning format. Asynchronous communication through online conference programs allows the professional juggler to work, communicate with family and learn on time, participate in class discussions. No questions about how to get the job done, just do it at a time that is most convenient for you. Students can access their courses at any time of the day or night. They also have permanent access to lectures, course materials, and classroom discussions. This is especially convenient for those who may need to re-read a lecture or take more time to reflect on some material before moving on.
The online format allows for dynamic interaction between teachers and students, as well as between students themselves. Resources and ideas are shared, and a constant synergy is created in the learning process. Each person can contribute to course discussions and comments on the work of others. The synergy that exists in the students' virtual classroom is one of the most unique and vital features of the online learning format.
High quality dialogue
In an asynchronous online discussion structure, the student can reflect on the comments of others before responding or moving on to the next topic. This structure gives students time to formulate responses with much more depth and reflection than in a traditional face-to-face discussion situation, where one participant has to analyze another participant's comment on the spot and formulate a response or else loses the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
As part of the online discussion, the individual student responds to the course materials (e.g., lectures and textbooks) as well as to comments from other students. Students often respond to these topics as part of a larger conversation that speaks more clearly to their individual problems. These situations result in smaller conversations that occur simultaneously in the group. While students are required to read all of their classmates' materials, they only actively participate in the parts of the dialogue that are most relevant to their own interests. In this way, students control their own learning experiences and adapt class discussions to their own specific needs. Ideally, students will make their own individual contributions to the course and at the same time take in a unique combination of relevant information.
Uniform playing field
In the online environment, students have a certain degree of anonymity. Discriminatory factors such as age, dress, appearance, disability, race, and gender are largely absent. Instead, there is a clear focus on the content of the discussion and the individual's ability to respond and make thoughtful and reasonable contributions to the material in question.
Access to resources
The online classroom can easily include prominent guest experts or students from other educational institutions. In addition, modern students have access to resources and materials that can be physically located anywhere in the world. The instructor can create an online resource section with links to academic articles, institutions, and other materials relevant to the course topic, which students can access for research, extension, or in-depth analysis of the course materials.
The adult education literature supports the use of interactive learning environments as facilitators of self-direction and critical thinking. Some educators have made great progress in applying these concepts to their earthly learning. However, there are still many classrooms that rely on classroom instruction and memorization of material. The nature of the semi-autonomous and self-directed virtual classroom world makes innovative and creative approaches to learning even more important. In an online environment, teachers and students collaborate to create a dynamic learning experience. The implementation of technological change creates the hope that those who move to a new technology will also leave behind bad habits by adopting this new learning paradigm. As teachers transform their courses to take full advantage of the online format, they need to think about their course objectives and teaching styles. Many of the qualities that make a successful online instructor are also extremely effective in a traditional classroom.
Weaknesses of online learning
While online programs have significant advantages and offer unprecedented access to quality education, there are inherent disadvantages to using this medium that could threaten the success of any online program. These challenges fall into six main categories:
Equal rights and availability of technology
Before any online program can have any hope of success, it must have students who can access the online learning environment. Lack of access, whether for financial or logistical reasons, excludes students who are eligible for the program. This is a major problem in rural and socioeconomic areas. In addition, from an administrative point of view, if students cannot afford the technology used by the institution, they are lost as clients. As far as Internet accessibility is concerned, it is not universal, and in some areas of the United States and other countries Internet access represents a considerable cost to the user. Some users pay a fixed monthly fee to connect to the Internet, while others are charged for the time they spend on the Internet. If the time of the online participants is limited to the amount of Internet access they can afford, then learning and participating in the online program will not be fair to all the students in the course.
Both students and teachers must have a minimum level of computer skills to be able to work successfully in the online environment. For example, they must be able to use several search engines and be comfortable navigating the World Wide Web, as well as be familiar with newsgroups, FTP procedures and e-mail. If they do not have these technological tools, they will not be able to work successfully with an online program; a student or faculty member who cannot work in the system will drag the entire program.
Limitations of Technology
Convenient and reliable technology is crucial to a successful online program. However, even the most complex technology is not 100% reliable. Unfortunately, it's not a question of if the equipment used in the online program will fail, but when. When everything works smoothly, technology is conceived as a low touch and is used as a tool in the learning process. But breakdowns can occur anywhere in the system. For example, a server that hosts a program can fail and interrupt the training of all participants; a participant can access the training through a computer connected to a network that may fail; individual computers can have many problems that can restrict student access; finally, an Internet connection may fail, or the institution where the program is located may be overloaded by users and slow down or fail at all. In such situations, the technology is neither perfect nor reliable, and can divert attention from the student's needs.
2. Students .
While the online method of education can be a very effective alternative means of education for mature, self-disciplined students, it is an inadequate learning environment for more dependent students. Asynchronous online education gives students control over their learning process and allows for the design of a flexible curriculum for non-traditional students; however, this imposes a great responsibility on the student. To successfully participate in an online program, students must be well organized, self-motivated, and have a high degree of time management skills to keep up with the course. For these reasons, online education is not appropriate for younger students (i.e., of elementary or high school age) and other students who depend on it and have difficulty assuming the responsibilities required by the online paradigm.
Lack of basic online accounts
Successful learning in the field does not always lead to successful online learning. If facilitators are not adequately trained in online transmission and techniques, the success of the online program will be jeopardized. The instructor must be able to communicate well in writing and in the language in which the course is offered. The online program will be weakened if its facilitators are not adequately prepared for the virtual classroom.
The instructor should be able to compensate for the lack of physical presence by creating a conducive environment in the virtual classroom in which all students feel comfortable and, especially, in which students know that their instructor is available. Failure to do so can alienate students from each other and from the instructor. However, even if a virtual instructor is competent enough to create a comfortable virtual environment in which the classroom can work, lack of physical presence at the institution can still be a limitation for an online program. For instructors, as well as participants, things like not being present at meetings and other events that require on-site interaction can be a limiting factor in an online program.
4. administration and faculty
Some environments hinder the success of an online program. Administrators and/or teachers who are uncomfortable with change and working with technology, or who feel that online programs cannot provide a quality education, often hinder implementation. These individuals represent a major weakness of the online program, as they can hinder its success.
Sometimes administrations cannot see beyond the results and see online programs only as a means of increasing revenue, so they do not try to see online programs as a means of providing quality education to people who might not otherwise be able to access it. In this case, an institution that does not understand the importance of adequate facilitator training, basic facilitator attributes, and class size limitations will not understand the impact these elements can have on the success of an online program.
5. 5. Online environment
Levels of synergy
Online learning has its most promising potential in the great synergy represented by active dialogue among participants, one of the most important sources of learning in the virtual classroom. However, in larger classes (20 or more students), the level of synergy begins to change on the learning continuum until it finally becomes self-directed learning, in a large classroom. At this stage, dialogue is limited, as is interaction between participants and the facilitator. The tool is not being used to its full potential.
What should not be taught online?
Even with the recent enthusiasm and excitement generated by online programs, it is important to recognize that some subjects should not be taught online, as electronic media do not allow for the best method of teaching. Some examples are: practical subjects such as public speaking, surgery, dental hygiene, and sports, where movement and physical practice help to achieve learning goals. These subjects are probably best taught in a traditional, full-time learning environment. Hybrid courses can be a temporary solution, making this part of the course more accessible to more people who would otherwise have difficulty reaching the campus. However, solutions of this type still highlight the fact that online learning cannot meet all educational needs and objectives. The fact that it is technologically possible to simulate a physical learning experience does not necessarily mean that it is the best way to learn.
The curriculum of any online program must be carefully designed and developed to be successful. In many cases, distance education programs are rushed through an institution without considering the importance of the curriculum and the need for qualified professionals to develop it. Curricula and teaching methodologies that have been successfully implemented in the field will not always result in a successful online program where teaching and learning paradigms vary widely. An online program should reflect the use of dialogue among students (in the form of written communication) and group interaction and participation. Traditional classroom lectures have no place in a successful online program. The highest quality education can and will take place in an online program, as long as the curriculum has been designed or modified to meet the needs of the online environment.
Today is a very exciting time for technology and education. Online programs offer a technology-based learning environment that enhances learning opportunities and can provide a high quality education in a variety of formats and forms. Given the special needs of adult students who need or want to continue their education, online programs offer convenient solutions to conflicts with work, family, and study schedules. Institutions of higher learning have found that online programs play a crucial role in ensuring access to education for the populations they wish to serve. For an online program to be successful, the curriculum, faculty, technology, and students must be carefully designed and balanced to take full advantage of the strengths of this format, while avoiding the pitfalls that can arise from its weaknesses.