Students who struggle will likely struggle more online

-Susanna Loeb


The times and the pandemic have dictated school closings and the rapid expansion of online education. As this situation has occurred I think we all have one question in our minds, can online lessons replace in school time?

Clearly online time cannot provide many of the informal social interactions that students have at school, but how will online courses do in terms of moving student learning forward? Research to date gives us some clues and also points us to what we could be doing to support students who are most likely to struggle in the online setting.

Study shows that in the online setting, students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation. For example, at school we don’t have much distractions but at home phones can be our biggest distractor.

Online learning can take part in a variety of forms. Often people think that thousands of students only watch a video online and fill out questionnaires or take exams based on those lectures. But online learning is not just about those. While online learning people also gain the ability to teach themselves and do some self-learning activities. Moreover, some teachers help to run virtual discussions among the students, assign homework, and follow up individually with the students. Sometimes in these courses teachers and students all meet at the same time and sometimes the courses are uploaded onto a platform. In both cases, the teachers provide opportunities for students to engage with subject matter, and learn the concept fully.

I think, the main benefit of online courses are that they provide many opportunities for students. If a student fails a course, he or she may be able to catch up during evenings or in their leisure time using online classes. Also if the classes are uploaded onto the internet, the students can take the courses wherever and whenever they want.

In comparisons of online and in-person classes, however, online classes aren’t as effective as in-person classes for most students. Some study show that students’ success rates and test scores were lower in the online setting. Students who have assigned to the online option also rated their class as more difficult than the face-to-face option.

It is not surprising that in-person courses are more effective. Being in person with teachers and other students creates social pressure and benefits that can help motivate students to engage. Some students do as well in online courses as in in-person courses, some may actually do better, but, on average, students do worse in the online setting, and this is mostly true for students with weaker academic backgrounds.

But just because students who struggle in in-person classes are even more likely to struggle online doesn’t mean that’s unstoppable. Online teachers will need to consider the needs of worse students and work to engage them. Teachers need to understand what students know and what they don’t know, as well as how to help them learn new material. 

Online courses are generally not as effective as in-person classes, but they are certainly better than no classes. So we may be judgeful against online learning, but there is also time to embrace and improve it.


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