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Is Online Learning the Future of Education?

Being in the midst of a pandemic has truly changed the way we view the world– whether it be how we work, connect, socialize, and even how we learn. Education is a trillion-dollar industry, and it’s still growing! In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

COVID-19 had many of us fretting over a sudden, stressful switch to online learning. Suddenly, we were logging into zoom and watching video lectures instead of physically going to class and learning the material. Although the majority of us felt overwhelmed by online learning, many are suggesting that this pandemic marks an important shift in the education sector. Not only is online learning a more flexible option for education, but it is also more accessible than “regular” higher education (with the exception of people who don’t have access to any technological device or those who struggle with using such devices). Furthermore, one of the main concerns of people considering higher education is cost. Online learning affords students a cheaper option to pursue their academic goals. 

computer with tea and two notebooks
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson from Unsplash

Despite these benefits of online learning, there are many concerning drawbacks to consider when thinking about whether this is truly the future of academia. One of the biggest reasons as to why many students dislike online learning was because it causes social isolation since we are unable to freely spend time with our peers in classroom/tutoring sessions. On top of that, since we are in a pandemic, we have to be particularly cautious and make sure to limit in-person interactions with people. This severely limits and restricts social interactions, which made our last semester all the more difficult. However, it’s crucial to remember the importance of being careful during such times, and no matter how much we want to meet up with large groups of friends, it’s unsafe to do so, and therefore, we should refrain from such gatherings.

Additionally, online learning was rather difficult for certain courses. As a pre-medical student here at VCU, I felt that the difficulty of my STEM courses increased substantially after switching to an online platform. Labs and other demanding courses such as organic chemistry, physics and upper-level biology were much tougher online. However, it is also important to learn to be flexible and be able to adapt to various situations– it truly shows great resilience when we are able to adjust to unexpectedly dire circumstances. 

Lastly, one of the other problems I noticed with online learning was that it was increasingly difficult to prevent cheating online versus if we were in class in-person. To combat this, many professors increased the rigor of exams and coursework, used video recording apps, etc. This in turn increased the rigor and stress associated with each of these classes. However, it’s an adjustment and sacrifice that needs to be made in the name of public health and safety. 

All in all, online learning is never going to completely replace in-person education. There is simply no replacement for going to an in-person class, even though virtual learning is an important step towards overcoming this pandemic. On the other hand, COVID-19 is proving that the flexibility of online learning is something that will never match in-person learning. Although online learning will never be a total replacement for going to class, this pandemic has shown us that many classes could comfortably switch to an online format, which could save educational institutions hundreds and thousands of dollars in the future. 

Rishitha is a senior at VCU majoring in Bioinformatics, while on the pre-medical track. When she isn't in classes, she loves to binge-watch sitcoms, cook, bake, and spend time with her friends and family! In her future, she hopes to become a physician and make meaningful impacts on patients' lives!
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