Online classes - Good or bad?

Online learning, the latest paradigm in education, has taken the world by storm. The schooling system, public or private, has been mandated to adopt tools that enable teaching over video conferencing between the teacher and students. The education system as we know it has changed. Whether it’s for the better or worse, only time can tell.

A surprisingly large majority of both parents and teachers across the world have voted to bring things back to normal. If COVID-19 vanished from the face of the earth tomorrow, there are going to be stampedes at school halls, in the hope of making pre-2020 schooling possible again.

Why? Because the elders believe that education is far more effective at schools rather than over laptops and phones. There are no metrics yet to project that the future generations will be better problem solvers attending school offline vs online, yet, a consensus has been arrived at that online learning cannot replace offline learning.

In the midst of this debate, have we ever gone ahead and asked our children what they feel is more impactful and enjoyable? Have we developed a holistic inquiry to understand the objective pros and cons of online teaching vs offline teaching, including metrics that impact the world outside education such as carbon footprint and GDP? Most importantly, have we really wondered if offline teaching is the most obvious solution to the problems that arise out of online teaching, or can there be solutions developed to help us scale online teaching the right way?

I found an interesting article written by a 14 year old student in USA who, with objective assessment, has proven that online learning has been way more effective for her compared to in-person schooling. She makes a vital point that our objective should be to make education more effective, and not just bring them back to normal.

After setting the context thus far, let me make 2 “what if” points that can help you readers understand where I’m going with my article.

  • What if we choose the best physics teacher for 8th graders in your country, and have him/her teach all the 8th graders online?

  • What if there are revolutionary online tools developed to make peer-to-peer learning possible, thus completely making the “Oh, schools offer collaborative learning environment, and our kids develop better social skills” argument null and void?

Are we all really so arrogant to assume that an education system consisting of [classroom hall, benches, desks and blackboard], will continue to remain unparalleled for decades ahead?

If we look at the number of startups that have emerged over the last decade striving to make online learning a reality (MOOCs, tutoring apps), our argument about physical classes outweighing online classes may suddenly seem questionable. With the level of impact made to learning via online classes thanks to accessible tools (YouTube, 2D/3D animation, image and document display) to help students visualise class concepts better, we need to do a better job in understanding why then are we not coming together to plug the gaps of online teaching.

Let’s take a step back and list down some of the key drawbacks of the education system today that the policy makers of our countries are being pressured to solve.

  • Lack of experiential learning or application based learning

  • Education focussing on marks rather than outcomes

  • Lack of focus on subjects beyond STEM

Read the points again. But this time, ask yourself the following question after each point:

“If I were challenged to solve this problem, would I go the online way or the classroom way?”

If your answer against every drawback was ‘Online learning’, you are a part of the majority.

It’s not that the choice is simple. Only reason most of us opted to solve it going the online way is because it just seems more feasible that way!

A lot of thought is yet to go into figuring out the optimal path ahead to solve for the aforementioned drawbacks. But many leaders in education have already voiced their opinion on roping in larger funding for startups that are innovating to make online education as impactful as offline education.

What this requires is a global focus, not just national. A global focus that helps the students to learn from real-life scenarios across the world from all domains, and enable the students to be empowered to come up with solutions to global problems. A global focus that paves the way for assistive technologies to make peer-to-peer learning possible, and measure the progress of students via tangible outcomes over marks. A global focus that connects the students to educators from domains beyond STEM, and helps the younger generation find their calling as they steer through various subjects.

Let’s progress ahead towards better solutions to make education impactful, and not just focus on bringing things to normalcy.