As an educator who has been teaching at the college level for 15 years, I have long been a believer in the kind of magic that can (and does) happen in the traditional, in-person classroom. A few years prior to COVID-19, I began teaching online courses in addition to in-person courses. Since then, I’ve also come to believe that, when done well, there are incredible benefits to online learning, especially for certain types of learners. Now that social distancing has—at least temporarily—increased the numbers of students learning via Zoom and other virtual formats, I hope to share these benefits so that students can be excited rather than overwhelmed by their experience of online learning.
1 — Online classes are more personalized
Whether online classes are synchronous or asynchronous (taught in real-time or not), they typically allow students to work more at their own pace than a traditional, in-person classroom setting does.
Since it’s impossible for online classes to function with the constant, physical presence of a teacher guiding students through all aspects of a course—from lessons, to help with homework, to reminders about project due dates—online classes can allow students to take greater control (and ownership) of their learning experience.
In turn, this allows students to personalize or help co-create their learning experience. When will they log-in to view pre-recorded lectures? Which homework readings will they re-read for extra clarity? How will they organize their time to best account for upcoming due dates? The teacher is there for help, of course. Ultimately, though, these choices are up to them, which makes online learning perfect for especially self-motivated students—or students working on developing their self-motivation.
2 — Online classes are more flexible
Simply put, there are more options when it comes to the world of online learning—including the type, timing, and location of classes that students can take.
Are you interested in taking an astronomy class, but your high school doesn’t offer one? Typically, there are more courses available to you online than there are courses available to you locally. Would you like to pursue the next level of Portuguese, but in-person courses are only available during your work hours? Again, the existence of online course options opens up possibilities for you.
And they make for greater ease of use, too. Students can now take classes from the comfort of their home, a coffee shop, or literally on the go—wherever works best for them.
This means that online classes are also more flexible for a variety of learning styles. Since no two students learn exactly the same way, students in online classes can create environments that are more conducive to their individual learning styles. Do you retain information best when listening to music? With your aromatherapy mister on full blast? Do you feel most comfortable contributing to Zoom discussions when wearing sweatpants? Or with your pet cat resting in our lap? With online learning, you can flex the class to best suit your needs—not the other way around.
3 — Online classes are more accessible
Whereas students may have been previously limited—such as geographically, financially, or physically—to the education they could receive, online classes drastically alter the face of such access. In most cases, all a student requires now is an internet connection, and an endlessly diverse array of courses is literally at their fingertips.
This is especially important for classes and programs offered outside of one’s “regular” school curriculum, such as online tutoring services and extracurricular activities. With the accessibility afforded by online learning, more and more individuals are benefiting from these opportunities.
4 — Online classes allow for easier communication
For some students, online classes are a real game changer because they reduce all of the distractions that come with the traditional, in-person classroom, making it easier to focus and learn. Along with this reduction in distractions come more simplified modes of communication. For instance, a teacher can ask if students understand an equation that was just explained, and students can reply with a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”
Again, for students who have difficulties focusing on discussion during class, the Zoom or Google Meet chat box can be a useful tool for teachers to log contributions to conversation in real time to then be returned to later for study. And, of course, Zoom and Google Meet sessions can be recorded to either be viewed or listened to again (and again). These are just a few ways that the online classroom can allow for easier, more adaptable communications between teacher and student for optimal learning.
5 — Online classes allow for deeper connections
Online learning can be an asset because it streamlines student access to teachers. Though it may seem counterintuitive since online classes seem to put students at more of a remove from their teachers, students can often actually see their teachers’ reactions online more immediately and clearly in the online classroom than they can in the traditional, in-person classroom.
Student-teacher access can be more streamlined via online learning outside of virtual lessons, as well—in particular, when it comes to email and chat communications. Often when a student asks a teacher a question in person either before or after class, the response is somewhat compromised. This is because the teacher is either getting ready for the lesson to come or “decompressing” from the class that has just occurred while (likely) fielding a stream of questions from a line of students. However, if a teacher receives a question by email or chat, they have the luxury of a little extra time and space to mull it over, eventually replying with a more well-thought out answer.
In these ways, online classes can allow for communications/connections between teacher and student that are, however surprisingly, more immediately gratifying, clear, and in-depth.
6 — Online classes let you to focus on the bigger picture
Since many students who take online classes sit in on their classes at home, it’s possible for their families to play a bigger role in their education. Whether they are home-schooled or not, this can be a plus for some students for whom family plays an especially central part in their lives.
Additionally, since taking classes from home eliminates time spent traveling to and from school, taking online classes can also make it easier for students to remain fruitfully invested in other walks of life, such as their work, extracurricular activities, and even social life. In this way, online classes keep school from necessarily being one’s singular focus, and instead allow students to help focus on the bigger picture of their lives if they prefer.
The widespread shift to online learning in recent months has meant a lot of changes—for students and educators alike. While there are real challenges associated with online classes for some, my experience teaching these classes has shown me that there are very real benefits, too—from greater accessibility, flexibility, and personalization for students to more ease and depth of communication between teachers and students. I hope that students can focus on and grow with these positives in the future months of their online learning experiences.
Stacy G. is a writer and teacher who has taught composition, literature, and creative writing courses at a number of public and private universities across the U.S. She has also taught SAT, AP English, and Literature SAT Subject Test courses at Elite Prep. She likes poetry, dogs, and poetry about dogs.