History has always been shaped by major events sending ripple effects through societies and generations. Epidemics and natural disasters in the past have directly impacted the future of communities by propelling political movements, crushing revolutions, and changing the norms.
Everything normal to us today, was the “new normal” a few decades and centuries ago. Our “new normal” too, will be the “traditional way” for future generations when they discover and evolve towards better norms.
But the pandemic that struck the world towards the end of 2019 didn’t just alter our societies and our ways, it flipped them 180 degrees. In fact, it’s the textbook example of a blockbuster zombie apocalypse film—minus the zombies of course.
COVID-19 didn’t change society gradually over an extended period. It jolted us to a new reality overnight. It changed the way we eat, work, sleep and study. Even grocery runs aren’t the same anymore! People continue to work from home and are enrolling in online education programs and after more than a year and a half, it’s safe to say that these changes are here to stay.
Where It All Began
At the very beginning of the pandemic, nobody had expected physical classrooms to be abandoned for an entire year. In fact, when the outbreak first took place in China, it was during the winter break, when all students were already confined in their homes.
But once the government started grappling with the severity of the situation, it was fairly evident that no children would be returning to schools right away.
The Chinese Education Ministry rightly announced that the spring semester would have to wait and students that had left campus would stay away until further instructions. All schools were instructed to encourage their students and staff to stay home and to develop plans for prevention with all resources available.
Gradually, as the pandemic spread throughout the world post the Chinese New Year, other countries too realized the gravity of the situation and moved towards complete closure of schools. The UK closed its educational institutions on March 23rd of 2020, and so did many other countries across the globe in the coming weeks.
No government or educational institutions were really prepared for what was to come. And initially, no one really had a comprehensive plan to move forward. And for students especially, it was a pretty hopeless situation except for those who were already enrolled in e-learning colleges—the pandemic made no difference to virtual classrooms whatsoever.
The World Catches Up to Online Learning
The concept of distance learning isn’t particularly new. In fact, it has existed since before the internet—when the postal service was developed!
Known as “correspondence colleges,” these revolutionary institutes at that time would allow remote students and professors to send assignments, instructions, tests and other study material back and forth through the postal service.
And then with the advent of the internet, the remote learning world was quickly dominated by e-learning platforms and online schools that included everything from primary education to higher education, including A-level online classes, online IT diplomas, and short business courses.
But the pandemic has breathed new life into online learning. It’s taken online schools out of the back alleys of our education systems and into the mainstream. This is because it took only a few weeks to realise that there was no way to open schools until we had vaccines. And the world was only just starting to learn about the virus; a vaccine was months away if not years.
And so, began the new era of online learning.
What Online Learning Entails
The complete transition from physical classrooms to online ones was difficult, to say the least. Traditional schools, teachers, parents, and most important students were not equipped to deal with the changes. And so, it took a while for the concept to sink in.
Traditional educational institutions tried to develop their own version of online learning. This was mostly recorded lectures, live zoom classes, open-book tests, online assignments, and quizzes.
Schools and colleges that managed to get through entire terms with these approaches are definitely commendable. But was it the best that online learning offers?
The fact is online learning is vastly different from the traditional school experience. And to try and recreate a traditional classroom online is a fool’s errand. Online education programs are designed very differently. They’re flexible but goal-oriented. And the ultimate goal is more than just attendance. It’s to ensure that the student learns and grow with the course.
Online learning acknowledges and appreciates the fact that no two students are the same, and neither are their learning methods and pace uniformed. Each student is unique with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Considering these basic facts, online learning is built around versatile approaches. It includes live classes, one-on-one live sessions with instructors, recorded lessons for reinforcement, course work, access to essential e-books and journals, educational videos, discussion forums, remote group work, quizzes, and interactive testing.
In short, online learning gives people the space and the freedom to choose their own methods of learning, while ensuring that they stay on track.
The Benefits of Switching to an Online Learning Model
Most people would go on and on about the necessity of physical schools and how they were incredibly important for students to develop social skills and other skills. But in many instances, schools are highlighted far more for incidents of bullying and peer pressure than lasting friendships.
But that being said, we agree that to a certain degree, schools were a major part of secondary socialisation. However, this fact was more relevant a few decades ago when the internet didn’t exist. Nowadays, people find their tribe playing e-sports; they don’t need school to find like-minded individuals.
Moreover, online learning offers benefits that are far beyond the physical boundaries of a traditional classroom.
No-Risk of Bringing Home a Contagious Virus
This is obviously the biggest benefit at the moment. Online education allows social distancing. You’re meeting the world and learning new things, but virtually. So, there’s no chance for the virus to spread through you.
In fact, you’re doing community service and deserve a pat on the back!
Flexible Learning & Self-Paced Educational Goals
Another great thing about online learning is that students finally get to breathe. While they may still take live classes following a schedule, remote learning does allow them to be in their comfort zone and pace their work based on their learning capacities without being constantly supervised.
Moreover, proper online school curriculums allow much greater flexibility in terms of course selection and assignment submissions. This helps students to curate a learning pattern on their terms.
Saves Time and Unnecessary Expenses
This is one of the greatest benefits of online learning. With traditional learning practices, one spends the majority of their day in classrooms, which leave little or no time for anything else. Moreover, some people have had to commute great distances to reach their institutes, which make learning quite a chore.
With virtual learning, you can save a lot of time. We bet the journey from the bed to your desk at home takes less than 60 seconds. Moreover, you don’t have to spend insane amounts on organising your school wardrobe or other aspects of your appearance. With online learning, everything becomes easier and less expensive.
No More Limitations on Resources
Classrooms are always bound by physical limitations. Even the biggest libraries have their limits. But remote learning gives you access to all the books, journals, papers ever published in this world. Every resource is pretty much at the tip of your fingers.
A single Google search results in millions of resources that you can peruse through to your heart’s content. No physical school in the world could offer the same sort of access.
Makes Students More Disciplined
A lot of parents and teachers feel that some students are simply too laid-back to be responsible enough for e-learning. But the truth is, humans, learn best when they encounter unexpected situations. Some of the most carefree students have realised in the past year that virtual classrooms are here to stay so the only way forward is to get their act together.
Online learning can discipline people, preparing them better for the ruthless world that awaits outside the protective walls of their classroom.
A Walk in the Park for Shy Students
If there’s one social group that’s thriving in these socially distanced times, it’s the introverts. Students who’ve always been too shy to speak up in class are able to do so from behind their screens.
Online learning essentially levels the playing field for all students, regardless of their personalities.
The Challenges That Need to Be Overcome
But while online learning has some incomparable benefits, traditional learning institutions have been faced with a lot of challenges while trying to adapt to the new normal.
For starters, teachers and students were not used to these methods which resulted in them taking a long time to handle and adapt to the technical and logistical aspects of online learning before they could even begin the actual “learning” part.
Moreover, the fact is that a lot of students are either visual learners or have very low attention spans. Traditional schools and their curriculums aren’t designed to engage them. As a result, such students aren’t able to retain knowledge as easily as others during remote classes.
Some students also complain about feeling lost on the internet.
The truth is that the internet is a labyrinth of information and data. Students need to be guided through these e-resources to make sense of it all. In an attempt to make the most out of the situation, teachers have encouraged students to use resources from the internet without proper instructions on how to sort through the information. This has caused gaps in learning and a lack of clarity.
There are also a lot of other challenges that students have come across. For instance, many find it lacking structure. Some of them feel that there are communication gaps. And most importantly, students, especially those online A level courses feel that their workload has increased while their learning has ceased.
Was the Traditional Classroom Failing Anyway?
Let’s be honest. Most lectures delivered in traditional classrooms packed with 50 something students aren’t just boring, they’re pretty ineffective. At the end of the day, students end up studying online anyway.
Moreover, traditional schooling hardly takes into account the fact that there are various different personalities out there. And not everybody can thrive within the confines of a pre-decided schedule and a physical classroom.
Virtual learning on the other hand is infinitely more flexible and effective.
What Does the Change Mean for Higher Ed?
A lot of educational institutions right now have transitioned to hybrid models. This combination of part-campus and part-remote learning is suiting higher education the most.
This is mainly because students at this level are already responsible enough to take the reins of their learning journey into their own hands and remote learning allows them to reach out for help when they need it.
For the most part, it looks like most people will continue with virtual learning in the coming times, regardless of the pandemic, since its benefits are far too impressive to be ignored.
But that being said, those who’ve been surfing the waves of online learning since before the pandemic are far more equipped to handle its intricacies.
For instance, our instructors and teachers here at Oxford Learning College have been assisting people with distance learning for years now. Our learning models weren’t developed as an alternative option due to a pandemic—our courses and curriculums are designed for the purpose of e-learning and they’ve been incredibly successful for years.
We offer short business courses, alternative therapy courses, and most importantly fast track A levels online.
Online learning is the future. The sooner we embrace it, the better our learning opportunities would be.