More students are finding that online programs often fit better with their busy schedules, but have a hard time acclimating to the changes in the learning environment when switching from in-person to online.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, students that were forced to take classes online often found that they were unable to learn as much or as easily as they could in-person, and teachers expressed concerns with the effectiveness of online programs.
Still, online classes are widely available at most institutions around the world. Despite real problems, there are benefits to online learning among students that have additional jobs or responsibilities outside of school that make in-person schedules more difficult. Now that we have the resources and technology to address some of the bigger concerns with online learning, it’s time that institutions implement changes that can assure students attending classes online are getting the same quality of education that they would be getting in person.
What are some of the common issues that online students face in virtual learning environments?
One of the bigger concerns with online learning environments is that schools will try to put more students into a class than one professor can handle. At many schools, small classroom environments is one of the selling points for incoming students looking to establish relationships with their professors. With online classes, many schools think that they can put more students on the roster because there is no concern about physical space.
Many professionals argue that teaching online classes is harder than teaching in-person or even hybrid classes. This is because it can be harder for teachers to gain insight into how their students are doing, and will often end up having to put more work in to give the same attention to detail that they would with classes that have less students enrolled.
One Forbes article argues that 12 is the magic number when it comes to how many students should be enrolled in an online course. The article also argues that putting too many students in an online class can make things more difficult for both students and professors. This could even give students a better chance at developing those key relationships with their professors and one another, which is something that could help them even after graduation.
Technology often makes online learning more difficult, especially among students that don’t have the money to invest in hardware or software that will be required. One of the bigger takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic and online learning was the importance of having accessible wifi and computer technology. While it’s less likely that students in a college environment are struggling to find reliable internet to get their work done, it’s also something to keep in mind when considering how online classes could affect your student body.
Do your students have access to computers? Do your students have access to Wi-Fi? Are your online class catalogs taking into consideration that, while often more inclusive of busy students, online classes are out of reach to students going through financial trouble?
Addressing technology concerns—both in terms of hardware that can make the classes accessible, and in terms of software that can make them more user-friendly—can help institutions create a better online learning environment. Encourage students to use tools like Notion, a customizable desktop organizer that students can use to streamline their busy schedules on their computers. Other tools, like Zoom, can be used to make the online learning environment more interactive.
In terms of software, schools are often ill-equipped to take on a robust online class schedule if they do not first invest in tools their students can use. Institutions considering an expansion of their online programs should first look at updating softwares that their teachers and students are expected to use. This can be something as simple as offering Slack to teachers for use as a classroom communication tool, to softwares like Basecamp for productivity and Instructure for work submission.
Teach instructors to look at online classes as a new learning opportunity, rather than a task in having to record lectures and upload them to the web. This article points out that online, pre-recorded lectures are often void of the benefits that make in-person lectures effective, so looking at online programs as an opportunity for collaborative learning can make it more effective. It can also make it more realistic, as many students will be entering a workforce that is becoming increasingly more remote.
Online programs can be tremendous tools for both students and faculty when navigating a busy school schedule. Taking classes online can often mean more freedom for students, and more freedom for teachers that don’t have time in their schedule to offer another class. However, online programs should not be looked at as an alternative to taking classes in-person, rather a new form of education entirely. Take time to learn what students and faculty members taking online classes might need, and consistently work to upgrade services that can make the online learning experience even better.