The five-minute commute from bed to desk for a lecture has become a familiar routine for university students.
Both universities and the government claim that learning has not been compromised. Meanwhile, multiple petitions are circulating online stating otherwise and demanding a tuition fee reduction. In an increasingly online world, can it truly be argued that online school is worse for students? If so, given the technology now possible, why?
According to a study conducted by the American Institutes for Research and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, students failing Algebra 1 who took online recovery classes over the summer had lower test scores than those who attended face-to-face. Likewise, a report by Brookings Institute concluded that those taking online courses “perform substantially worse”, even leading to an increased probability of dropping out altogether. The reasoning behind this was theorised in a study from Kent State to be due to “multitasking behaviour” whereby the student, in between or whilst, doing work will scroll through social media or watch videos, reducing concentration and subsequently learning ability.
The research also suggests that those already struggle will so more under online conditions. Despite some of the aforementioned research being conducted before the pandemic, it seems to hold extreme relevance at a time we are being told that online learning, with the underlying public health disaster, should not make a difference to our grades.
Additionally, those with no access to the internet or modern technology are likely to be at a further disadvantage to their peers, furthering an inequality that already exists in education.
There is another side to online school that may argue of a more informal approach that suits students with a disliking of in-person teaching, with many lectures being asynchronous and so allowing greater flexibility at an uncertain time. On top of this, participation is said to increase with online learning.
However, with this comes a lack of structure, something students rely on from the very first day of school to motivate them and allow compartmentalisation of environments of relaxation and learning; the new lack thereof leaves little to compel production of a high standard of work.
In a study published in ‘frontiers in Psychology’, Kemp and Grieve found that there was not a significant difference in examination results, but students expressed a preference for face-to-face discussion but online written activities; the social aspect of education is important but a less stringent approach to essays worked in their favour. Kemp and Grieve also alluded to the fact that online learning does allow more time to reflect on the material learnt and gain a deeper understanding by being able to approach the topic at your own pace.
Online school will never be an equal experience for all, with differing home environments and access to resources there will always be those who suffer the consequences more than others without a scheme in place to help. The benefits of having to learn online are there if people are able to. However, the stark change from what students expect and are used to is bound to have an impact on academic outcomes and the lack of valuable in-person learning leaves a hole in educational experiences and development of critical thinking for all.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova