Online learning has been a subject of debate for a couple of years now with regards to its efficacy and validity as a medium for education. The issues with online learning revolve around the ideas of lesson adaptability, computer literacy, time management, and motivation. These issues are indeed valid and are raised by several institutions within the Philippines whenever discussions regarding shifting the academic year towards a learning management system take place. However, it is also encouraged that we take a look at some advantages that online learning delivers.
Before we get into the list, I would like to share some statistics on online learning so that we may put into context the reality of this trend. Here are some facts about the numbers of online learning in the United States: as of 2017, there are over 3.1 million college-level students enrolled in online classes exclusively (15.42% of the total number of students, a 15.42% increase from the previous year), while there are 3.5 million enrolled in both online and physical classes (17.64% of the total number of students, a 17.64% increase from the previous year). These numbers may seem minuscule compared to the total number of students at the college level worldwide, but the consistent trend of online learning has been riding upwards ever since its innovation. (Read more here: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/11/07/new-data-online-enrollments-grow-and-share-overall-enrollment.)
That being said, here are some merits of online learning through the lens of a communication specialist (these may not be true to all, but these are based on personal experience and academic readings on related topics):
The Hyperpersonal Perspective
Proposed by Joseph Walter in 1996, the concept behind the “hyperpersonal perspective” is that through computer mediated communication we create a persona that emphasizes our positives during online interactions. This means that when a student interacts with his/her classmates via computer-mediated communication, they exhibit their utmost excellence (excellence is based on cultural norms) in terms of behavior and message crafting. For example, a hard-to-handle student may become more participative in online classes because he wants to be conceived as someone responsible–because based on his/her culture, being participative is the ideal self.
To aid this idea of the hyperpersonal perspective, we must remember that the internet is a permanent database. What this means is that anything we put on the internet is there to stay and can potentially be seen by millions of people. This phenomena affects the way students think such that they reflect first on their ideas before posting. What we get as lecturers is a higher level of thinking and authenticity from the students.
One of the biggest factors of online learning is the environment it is presented in. Students are more motivated to learn in a place they perceive as conducive to learning. Let us admit it–the classroom is not always the best place to learn anymore. With a shift towards a more dynamic generation, we expect that there will also be a shift in learning environments. Gone are the typical classroom setups; the 21st century is bringing in learning tablets and computers. Times are changing, and education has to adapt to its main consumers.
Online learning is generally priced at a lower cost than physical classes. It removes a lot of factors of a typical classroom setup, such as room and equipment maintenance, logistical factors, operational costs, etc. Online learning is simple. Both parties (the students and the instructor) should have a stable internet connection, a working laptop/computer, a microphone, a headset, and finally a mindset to learn.
Potentially Higher Motivation
Now, this last point is quite debatable, as some students prefer a classroom setup, while others prefer online. I personally prefer a classroom setup because it is what I am accustomed to. However, a learner’s motivation with regards to online learning correlates with the materials being used by the instructor; that is why it is so important for lecturers to prepare flexible and engaging materials, such as different interactive websites or videos. Motivation is a key factor in learning. Without a doubt, this subjective idea of higher motivation can be improved through the lecturer’s own initiative.
Overall, online learning has its advantages and disadvantages. However, as educators, we have to learn how to adapt to the younger generation, as we help them construct this world of ours. It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that the future generation is still invested in education as the previous generations because learning is always a significant factor when it comes to building the future.