The Conversation

After the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic around December 2019, our lives have been drastically changed, regardless of which sectors we work in. One example of these sectors is education. The shift from face-to-face to online education, behind our screens, has been our new reality for over a year now. Even though we can assume everyone is living a similar lifestyle with more isolation, the effect of online education has not been the same on each student due to a variety of reasons that will be discussed below. These reasons ultimately stem from the advantages and disadvantages of online education and the uniqueness of each individual. Since online education benefitted and harmed students in various ways, identifying these factors can help to form an ideal education format that has the optimal advantage for each student.

Starting with the advantages of online education, the higher efficiency of education is one factor that first comes to mind. Teachers have been more able to extend their lesson plans beyond traditional textbooks with the help of online teaching platforms. For example, in one of the courses I took this year, namely “Business Law and Ethics”, the course instructor has set up weekly online exercises in which students have made citations on the weekly reading materials. This teaching method has been applied to allow the students to practice and apply their knowledge. Besides, students can also gain points for their effort, with a point system of “participation bonuses”. Students can earn these bonus points by participating in courses during Zoom calls and making annotations. Participation bonuses are applied to maintain social interaction during lessons. According to experts, social interaction aids students as a motivating factor in their learning, even before coronavirus, which justifies the participation point methodology.

Another advantage of online education is the flexibility of time and place. Many international students have returned to their home countries. One reason is the sense of isolation since cultural adaptation and forming a social circle costs time and effort. Another reason is the unnecessity to pay further accommodation costs due to the availability of the course materials online. In addition to this, online teaching platforms also allow teachers to reach out to a more extensive student network. For example, since the lectures and knowledge clips are recorded and archived online, students can watch them at their convenience. This freedom is especially beneficial for students who reside in different countries that have different time zones. The flexibility of time and place allows students to stick to their desired schedule, making online education feasible.

The third benefiting factor of online education is its affordability. Due to the availability of course materials online, transport and accommodation costs (the latter for international students) are automatically eliminated. The reduction of these costs makes online a sustainable and green way of learning. According to recent research, online courses use 90% less energy and have 85% fewer carbon emissions than traditional, face-to-face classes. In addition, the use of technology also cuts back the usage of paper and electricity, making online education sustainable and in line with the preservation of nature.

Last but not least, online education suits a variety of learning styles. Every student has a different way of learning. Some understand better visually, while other prefer audio. Similarly, some students are motivated in a classroom setting, while others are solo learners. According to the latest studies, visual learners benefitted at the same level due to the availability of the written material such as PowerPoint presentations.

Meanwhile, auditory learners learned best by interacting with other, doing listening/speaking activities. Similarly, group projects and classroom discussions on Zoom meetings became the new medium of learning for students who prefer collective learning. Students who choose to learn individually have been arguably even luckier due to most individual learning time. In addition, Zoom meetings are also not equivalent to a classroom setting teaching in terms of human interaction, which individual learners thrive from.

Even though online education has brought advantages to learning, it also introduced several drawbacks. The first disadvantage of remote education is students’ difficulty focusing on screens for a long time. Students tend to get distracted by social media during their lessons easier in the online environment since they have nearly no control over students than in the classroom setting learning. Furthermore, students also can leave class whenever they want, which is not possible with physical education. Similarly, according to study conducted in 2018, before the pandemic, students’ academic performance was also significantly lower than the students taught by teachers who imposed rules on the usage of technological devices during the lesson. This research proves the timelessness of the problem of distraction for the students. Also, it underlines the necessity of more disciplinary measures that need to be taken due to the greater distance between the teachers and students.

The first disadvantage of remote education is students’ difficulty focusing on screens for a long time. Students tend to get distracted by social media during their lessons easier in the online environment since they have nearly no control over students than classroom setting learning. Furthermore, students also can leave class whenever they want, which is not possible in physical education. Ironically, according to a study conducted in 2018, before the pandemic, students’ academic performance was also significantly lower than the students taught by teachers who imposed rules on the usage of technological devices during the lesson. This research proves the timelessness of the problem of distraction for the students. Also, it underlines the necessity of more disciplinary measures that need to be taken due to the greater distance between the teachers and students.

Secondly, online education is also far more prone to technological issues. Since the internet is the new medium of instruction, connectivity and speed have become crucial for everyone, arguably even more for students than for workers because students also take their exams online besides their courses. Fortunately, lessons can be recorded, but exams need to be watched by professionals to prevent fraud. To tackle this issue, surveillance software programs such as “Proctorio” are used by several educational institutions. However, not every establishment has sufficient technical knowledge to provide this setup. Similarly, not every student has the financial freedom to possess devices that allow such software usage.

Furthermore, only 59.5% of the globe has active access to the internet, according to the statistics. This denotes the remaining 40.5% of people cannot use the internet during the pandemic, which is a very high number. Zoom usage, another alternative this problem, is also not practical enough due to the high number of students and the turbulence of the changing internet connectivity. Under these circumstances, students experience more stress and lower engagement in learning along with lower motivation.

The necessity of teacher training is also another issue of online teaching, which is very connected with technological problems. Much like some students living in lower-income families, preventing them from accessing the sufficient technology needed for online learning, a teacher can also experience similar problems. Since the internet has been in our lives since the beginning of the 21st century, not every country has acquired this technology at the same time due to the differences in the levels of development. According to data by the World Bank, teaching staff living in underdeveloped and developing countries have significantly lower tech. knowledge than teachers in developed countries. The inequality of technical that teachers have in return affects the quality of education students receive. The imbalance of the education quality in return affects the development of nations in the long term. Based on these facts, students and their countries as a whole are affected by the pandemic even worse.

The sense isolation, which is another major setback of online learning, has affected students’ mental health negatively. The mental health problems stem from loneliness and the sense of helplessness which leads to depression and social anxiety, according to recent scientific research conducted by Maastricht University. In addition to this, the feeling of loneliness combined with depression and anxiety is also reinforced by pessimistic thoughts about the future, speaking from a student’s perspective. To tackle this issue, several universities such as the University of Amsterdam have set up mental health of students by providing them more room for socialising and professional help. Nevertheless, these attempts do not consistently achieve the desired successful outcomes. One student who studied in the same university, committed suicide due to some negative personal circumstances accompanied by his deteriorated mental health since the pandemic. In order to prevent such incidents from taking place in the future, an imminent solution is required.

Less classroom attendance is another disadvantage of online education for several reasons. The accessibility of lectures anytime also gives students a sense of security, contributing to the desire to delay studying. Furthermore, the accessibility of course alone is why students do not want to stick to the schedule, which is fundamentally related to the false sense of security. Worse mental health, depression and social anxiety also, in return, make student reluctant to attend live classes or leads them to close their camera during the period. This point is also counterintuitive to consider as a negative factor since the flexibility of time and place is expected to have a very positive effect on student attendance and engagement since it grants students more room for freedom. Based on personal experience, less student attendance diminishes further during the weeks before the examination, which hints at procrastination.

Last but not least, online education is also bad for student’ physical health due to high screen time. Spending long hours in front of the screen causes students to develop health hazards such as bad posture, headaches and vision problems in the long term. To tackle this issue, setting up frequent breaks that serve as a refreshment of mind and body is recommended by experts.

Consequently, due to the numerous disadvantages of online education, another education system is needed. A hybrid type of education that combines online and physical education seems like a more plausible option based on the pros and cons. For example, students should have the possibility to follow their courses at school some days of the weeks, whereas they should also attend them online at their convenience. Combining different methods has a higher chance of motivating students to learn by making education a more accessible experience. Besides, it also helps nations grow by guaranteeing them a qualified and skilled workforce consisting of educated citizens. As Benjamin Franklin said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”