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  • LeRon Hunte-St. Rose

The Impacts of Online Learning on Student Education

The prevalence of online learning has risen to new levels this year, due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most governments across the world have been forced to close schools in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, said to spread easily among schoolchildren.

Responding to this, UNESCO has recommended the use of distance learning software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to teach students remotely, ensuring the disruption to their studies is limited as much as possible.

The shift to online learning has had a substantial effect on the education system, both in the UK, and worldwide. At university, it's important to be aware of both the positive and negative aspects of E-Learning, to ensure we can maximise our learning potential, and adapt to this new way of studying.

1. Motivation

One of the most common impacts of online learning has been a drop in motivation due to a lack of social interaction with others. For many people, studying alongside peers can serve as an accountability system, and working with like-minded individuals can also encourage students, and improve learning as part of a group. Personally, I have found it challenging to stay focused with a lack of contrasting activities such as sports or other social events.

2. Unequal Access to Tech

Another impact of E-Learning is the fact that not every student has the same access to technology, which can cause them to be disadvantaged when studying from home. This means that older computers or slower Wi-Fi can cause students’ learning experiences to be significantly diminished compared to classroom learning, where optimal technology is available for all.

The Department for Education (DfE) is providing laptops and tablets to trusts, local authorities, schools, and other further education (FE) institutions to help mitigate this, and I’m hopeful this can afford students the same tools to study as their peers.

3. Unequal Access to Resources

Libraries, and other communal areas of study have also largely closed due to the pandemic. This means that physical resources such as books, teachers or quiet study spaces are unavailable. Students need peace and quiet to work, which can be hard to attain with study areas closed. For students without stable access to the internet at home, this increases the difficulty of keeping up with distance learning. Also, students with less space at home may have to share rooms with other family members, which can make quiet study challenging.

There are also some strengths of online learning, which can provide evidence for a blended approach to be considered; after the end of the pandemic:

1. Anywhere

Online learning allows for greater flexibility when studying. Students can participate in classes from anywhere in the world, provided they have a computer and Internet connection. Additionally, the online format allows disabled students (and teachers) more freedom to participate in class, as they don’t need to travel far to study.

2. Anytime

Online study is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means that students in different time zones can access the same content. Students can access their courses at any time of day or night, with continuous access to lectures, course materials, and class discussions. This is particularly convenient for those who may need to reread a lecture or take more time to reflect on some material before moving on.

3. Level Playing Field

Online study allows for a level playing field when studying. Discriminating factors such as age, dress, physical appearance, disabilities, race, and gender are largely absent when studying online. Instead, the focus is clearly on the content of the discussion and the individual’s ability to respond and contribute thoughtfully, and less so on their appearance or creed, which can result in bias during classroom study.

4. Access to Resources

Finally, online learning allows for access to resources and materials that may be physically located anywhere in the world. For example teachers can compile online sources with links to scholarly articles and other content, entirely available online without having to distribute physical copies to classroom students.

Northeastern University have published 10 recommendations for students; to ensure online learning remains effective, in an effort to minimise the disruption to education worldwide. Here are some takeaways:

1. Treat an online course like a “real” course

One of the easiest ways to ensure motivation doesn't drop, is to remember that you are paying to take this online course, just as you would for an in-person class. You must “show up” if you’re going to get real value out of your class. Treat your online classes the same way you would a face-to-face class, and make sure effort is maximised.

2. Hold yourself accountable

Set goals at the beginning of the semester, and check in with yourself weekly. In a traditional classroom setting, you’ll often receive verbal or visual reminders of an assignment’s upcoming due date. But without a professor actively reminding you, it’s up to you to make sure you’ve allotted enough time to complete the work so you’re not starting an assignment the day before it’s due.

3. Practice time management

Create a weekly schedule that you follow, designating certain hours each week to reading, watching lectures, completing assignments, studying, and participating in forums. Commit to making your online coursework part of your weekly routine, and set reminders for yourself to complete these tasks.

Check in periodically throughout the term, and look at how you’re spending your time. Ask yourself: How much time am I dedicating to course reading and assignments? Am I regularly underestimating the time it’s taking me to get things done, forcing me to cram the nights before the exams? A little self-reflection and adjustment can go a long way.

4. Create a regular study space and stay organized.

Try your best to set up a dedicated learning environment for studying. By completing your work there repeatedly, you’ll begin to establish a routine. Experiment to discover which type of setting boosts your productivity.

Setting up a regular workspace or office will also help you to stay organized. Knowing exactly where important dates, files, forms, syllabi, books, and assignments live will help keep you on track towards hitting your goals. When setting up your study space, try to ensure you:

  • Have a high-speed internet connection

  • Have the required books, materials, and software for the course

  • Have headphones for listening to lectures or discussions (especially important in shared spaces)

5. Eliminate distractions.

From Netflix to social media, you’ll be faced with many distractions that can easily derail your studies. The best online students know how to lessen these distractions and set aside time to focus.

Regardless of where you choose to work, consider turning your phone off to avoid losing focus every time a text message or notification pops up. And if you’re still having trouble resisting the temptation to check your email or surf the web, try downloading a website blocker.

6. Figure Out How You Learn Best

Once you’ve established where you’ll learn, think about when and how you accomplish your best work. If you’re a morning person, make time to study first thing. More of a night owl? Set aside an hour or two after dinner to cozy up to your computer.

7. Actively participate.

Participate in the course’s online forum to help you better understand course materials and engage with fellow classmates. This might involve commenting on a classmate’s paper on a discussion board or posting a question about a project you’re working on. Read what other students and your professor are saying, and if you have a question, ask for clarification.

(Source: Northeastern University)

In conclusion, online learning has definitely changed the way education is delivered to students around the world. Following the above tips can help students find the right balance with this ever-growing way of learning, and ensure that they can optimise their study habits to get the most out of their courses. Hopefully, after the pandemic, educational institutions can incorporate both online and face to face teaching to support students, and further optimise the way we learn.


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