When I was asked to write a blog post on this topic, I was both excited and a bit concerned. From having read tens of different posts on shifts in technological use since the pandemic started, I know this can go in several directions. Here, however, I will limit myself by focusing on university students and how online learning will continue to affect them for the foreseeable future. This will definitely be interesting!
Is Online Learning Here To Stay?
I don’t think that should surprise anyone and if any of you gasped or rolled your eyes at that, then hopefully you’ll come to see what I mean by reading the rest of this post.
Personally, I don’t see a problem with online learning moving forward. Not only because I am always, always engaged in some type of online learning, as I’m always doing at least one online course (I’m doing three as I write this), but because learning will surely become more flexible, hybrid and better in the long term, in my opinion.
Those three ideas form the focus of my point.
Online Learning and Flexibility
One of the massive downsides of traditional learning is you have to be in a fixed location at a fixed time on a fixed date. Now most of the time that will not be a problem in the slightest but if you’re sick, overwhelmed or dealing with something else, then you stand to miss out on that learning.
Subsequently, on the flip side, if the lecturer is out sick or can’t make it for one reason or another, then all those students miss out through no fault of theirs (or the lecturer’s).
Therefore, what online learning allows is a bit of flexibility, because even before the pandemic most universities recorded lectures for revision purposes and for people who couldn’t go. This was great for students because of the clear revision benefits, but it also means students can be slightly more flexible if they need it.
This has only increased because of the pandemic, the point where online learning became mainstream. With universities now focusing on online learning, it means students can be flexible in what, when and how they want to study. Which, if done responsibly, can be better for everyone.
Overall, I believe online learning will persist, at least in some forms, because of its ability to enable staff and students alike greater flexibility to their already busy university life.
Leading us to our next point.
Hybrid and Online Learning
Thankfully with the pandemic finally, gradually receding (I hope), we are all starting to return to the university campus and lecture theatres. As such, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking online learning is done with completely. However, this may simply pave the way for the hybrid approach to learning – i.e., some teaching can be done in-person, other teaching can be done online.
This can be a brilliant option because it offers a compromise that works great for the vast majority of people. For students, it still allows them to see other amazing people in-person, get the traditional university experience and get to ask questions in person to their lecturer. Yet, they still get to have the flexibility of online learning that they can fit into their schedule and plan around their assignment and coursework more effectively. As that was always one of the biggest pains about in-person teaching (and why lots of people didn’t come towards the end of deadlines) because the in-person lecture was fixed, people skipped it so they could focus on their coursework.
Therefore, having some online learning can be a decent workaround.
For lecturers, on the other hand, they get to still see their students (which they do enjoy), they get to teach the topic they love, and they still get the flexibility benefits of online learning if they need it.
Thus, the hybrid approach will probably be sustained as a permanent fixture in higher education.
Online Learning and The Long Term
Long time readers of this blog and The Psychology World Podcast, won’t be surprised that I mentioned the long term here, because I always focus on it over the short term. Therefore, I have to mention it when we talk about online learning. Since online learning can be sustainable for the long term and it is arguably more resilient than traditional methods. For example, if the internet wasn’t available during the global lockdowns, would we have been able to learn?
Almost certainly not. Or, nowhere near as effectively as we did and we, in the UK, are lucky to have such technological advances that enabled this.
However, online learning also widens our opportunities for learning if you know where to look. For example, the tens (and probably hundreds in the future) of online courses I do always come from the same couple in the USA, and without online access to this knowledge, I would never be able to learn what I do. Therefore, in that regard, online learning has allowed me to access knowledge I never could have before.
In addition, if we step away from my personal example, we can see this growth in learning from places like online universities, online degrees and courses that allow people to upskill whilst fitting the learning in with their busy lives. This is a great advantage to full-time workers that still want to go to university, get a degree and improve their lives for the long term.
But of course, I am not blind to the fact that online learning has downsides. Yet as I’ve sprinkled throughout this blog post, traditional learning has downsides too. As well as this, there is a chance that these negatives will inhibit people’s use and enjoyment of online learning.
For instance, the major problem of learning online was the loneliness that people experienced because of it. Since we couldn’t see other people, have our casual (and normally funny) chats, we couldn’t enjoy those strange little social moments like meeting someone for the first time amongst other things.
So of course, this must be managed. We must be careful that with online learning being here to stay, we still give ourselves, students and lecturers a chance to meet and socialise. You only have to look at the psychology literature to see how damaging lockdown in conjunction with online learning was to mental health.
Nonetheless, this is why I love the hybrid approach because you can still see people and it is the best of online and in-person learning joint together.
Then as a wider point and this is more for our own understanding, we must be mindful that not everyone has access to the same levels of technology as we do. For example, not everyone has access to their own laptop, computer or good broadband, and that is another downside to online learning that must be addressed.
And hopefully it will be in the future.
So, what can we take away from this pandemic and shift to online learning? Online learning… it is a great and powerful tool that really can transform lives for the better, if it is coupled with socialising and in-person learning. Whilst I will always continue to do various forms of online learning, I too will seek out in-person ones too because I want that connection and real-world learning.
So if you take anything away from this post, then please try and enjoy online learning because it is here to stay. That isn’t something to be scared of, it is something to embrace because of the opportunities it gives us to flexibly learn, while still enabling us to engage with real-world people and in-person learning.
Online learning isn’t going away, but when it gives us so many opportunities to learn… why would you want it to?
If you wanted to learn more about online learning, please check out these posts: