What Are Some Advantages And Disadvantages Participating An Online Learning Environment

As more and more people participate in both traditional and online education, there are different advantages and disadvantages of each.

Doing an online college degree can look like a foreign concept to so many of us who grew up in our high school classrooms. Some college freshmen choose to take online courses solely to save money. Others, such as myself, have absolutely no intention of going back to school at all—we just don’t want to be stuck in class. You can even pay for some school on your own, which means the cost of education can truly be split down the middle.

But does online schooling serve any practical purpose? While it seems like college should be as easy and inexpensive as it possibly can be, it’s worth looking into what the true advantages and disadvantages are. We recently spoke with Francisco Caicedo, a professor of sociology at Fordham University and the author of The Dangerous Discomfort of Online Education, about online learning.

What were some of the main advantages and disadvantages of becoming an online student?

With these questions, I was very willing to listen to anyone who wanted to tell me their stories. One story that was told to me by one of my students showed a poignant way in which an online learning experience can be radically positive.

It happened during my first year as a graduate assistant at Fordham. I was assigned the part-time duties of teaching an online course titled “Writing for a Better World.” The course course involved a chapter in each of the fifth through eighth grades, and with roughly 35 students, it was a fairly large cohort.

Before I began teaching the class, I shared with the classes an informational webinar that gave a brief history of education. That webinar seemed to go over well and I began by asking students to write in, either by email or in writing. I got some interesting responses, but some students actually weren’t able to write. Most of them struggled with dexterity, dyslexia, the inability to break a sentence into complete units and so on.

During the first week, I asked the class to write something to show me that they were truly trying to write in their own voice, instead of trying to adhere to a writing outline of my own.

The first week of class I wrote something, and I immediately had a confederate critiquing and commenting on it. This was only my third day in the classroom and I had a bunch of people already writing for me.

The following week I wrote the same thing, but this time, my colleague commented that the content was not high quality. This was a mistake that would not come from any other person in that building. I was right on my second try, but that’s as good as it would get.

The following week I taught my own lessons and I knew something was wrong in the class. Most of the students had written the same thing, because most of them wrote the same thing twice. I decided that something was wrong and I didn’t want to try to teach based on what the other teachers were teaching. I also decided that the students had given a negative feedback to the instructor.

With the class in my hands, and with no other instructors in the building to teach from, I decided to step out of the picture and teach from a top-down perspective. I wanted to address students’ weaknesses and choose my own style of teaching, based on their critiques and my own research.

It was quite a creative and daring thing to do, and it was my way of trying to fix what I thought was wrong with the class. Of course, I was criticized for my approach. However, I began to hear evidence that I was correct. In just a short time, the students that complained about how bad it was, began to write their own essays.

I found myself in an incredibly successful place. I felt that the teachers had given students back their voices. Students who had once complained would now become evangelists about online learning. Suddenly, writing became not just another way to get into a college, but a way to get ahead.

This type of thing is rare, but these students were lucky. The role of the teacher is to serve students and because the teacher is not connected to an institution, there is some opportunity to improve the teacher’s instructional methods. I’ve had several students approach me in the last few years and praise me for my tutoring style.

While we’re talking about online education, it’s worth acknowledging that there are still a lot of students who need to meet each other in person, and there are still a lot of shortcomings in the technology behind these programs. I wouldn’t want students to think that there are never any negatives with online learning—but there are.

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