Online Learning: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
By Zihao Wang
Ever since May of 2019, the United States education system has experimented with a new form of learning: distance learning. Under this method, students attend classes through online platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. While learning may be continuous, the truth is that online learning is inferior to in-person education for many reasons, such as reduced focus from students and lack of interactions. Furthermore, online learning has caused a drastic increase in psychological problems. Current analysis shows that nearly 20% of the US population, including students, have developed depression, anxiety, or some form of chronic mental illness in the past year. Experts explain that this increase is mainly caused by the lack of necessary socialization. In addition to health problems, distance learning does not provide students with the same kind of education as in-person learning. With online learning and new schedules, classroom time is decreased, and student participation is extinguished. Many students claim that distance learning has hindered their study habits as well as their ability to retain information.
While it does seem that this ought to be the best time for online learning, the truth is that it could most possibly be quite the opposite. Online learning has been a long and tiring journey for students, and the introduction of further lockdowns in places such as the United Kingdom has been nothing but a disappointment for students. However, the biggest effects are felt by students in the lower-income classes. Many state school students in the UK have immensely missed out on their learning due to the lack of resources for schools to conduct online learning. Similarly in the US, the BNC found that 44% of college students felt that “values of colleges have declined due to the pandemic”. In today’s society, many students struggle to pay the enormous fees required to attend college, and the introduction of online learning has only decreased the quality and value of education that many students are receiving despite paying large sums of money and taking out massive loans. Therefore, the pandemic has not only widened the income inequality of our society, but it has also widened the educational gap between the wealthy and the poor, adding on to the increasingly concerning trend in society observed in the past few decades.
However, while online learning is inherently harmful, not all is lost. In response to COVID, online tutoring centres like Vertex Tutors have erupted as a source for students who need more help in their academics. The emergence of online tutoring has expanded the market for the tutoring industry during the pandemic, rather than the downfall that many had expected. In 2020, the size of the remote tutoring market has increased by 17.7% in the US due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the industry being worth as much as $1.53 billion today. Whilst these online tutoring centres may cause no less physical damage to students, the teacher-to-student, or even student-to-student nature of the classes help mitigate the mental illnesses mentioned above through increased interaction. Online education providers have also seen similar expansions in their markets. High-school and university course provider Coursera is due to be going public soon, catching the eyes of many investors to a market where great potential still lies. Despite the large list of disadvantages that it has brought, online learning has helped boost the finances and increased the size of markets of certain sectors in the educational industry, as well as generally bringing more convenience in obtaining knowledge for students.
Overall, the pandemic has hindered many students’ learning experience and caused great discontent within the youth population. It has also contributed to widening the educational gap between different income classes, which has already been a concerning pattern in society since the late 20th century. In spite of this, online tutoring services has expanded during the pandemic and has helped mitigate the psychological effects and impacts of COVID-19 on students through an increase in human interaction in limited circumstances. However, as focus shifts to the post-pandemic society and the uses of online resources for learning and working, one mustn’t forget the mental harm it brings to students and workers. The consequence of introducing excessive online working includes lower productivity, which stands in contrast of the anticipated effects of increased motivation and efficiency due to less travelling within large cities. Therefore, it is important that society must find a balance between online and real-life working in a post-pandemic society, and governments should set up public policies and support schemes to help individuals and firms achieve this equilibrium.