The pros and cons of online learning in higher education

13th November 2022

As with all institutions across the UK, the Covid-19 pandemic drove a desperate digital revolution. Long periods of lockdown and limited social interaction pushed the main elements of our lives online, from the workplace to retail outlets – and higher education institutions were no exception.

Despite a full twelve-month period of schools and universities operating as normal, with students and staff physically present onsite and teaching returned from computers to classrooms, it seems that an element of online learning is set to stay. Although initially disruptive as everyone got to grips with the technology, digital education proved to have a number of unforeseen benefits.

The positive aspects of digital teaching mean that many higher education centres are looking to do a blended learning experience in the future which combines physical classes with elements of online instruction – a best of both worlds concept. However, the expected detrimental effects of online learning were proved true during the pandemic too. Will this multichannel method prove to be beneficial in the long-run? Explore the pros and cons of online learning in higher education and see whether it is set to stay.

Flexibility leads to inclusivity

The main advantage of online operations is that it is a more flexible approach to teaching. If the course is not conducted live, students have the option to work at their most conducive times and learn at a tempo that perfectly suits them. It also allows for playback and repetition which is all important to embedding facts and figures into the memory. This makes it inclusive of all types of learner. Another way in which it is flexible is that you can follow the course from anywhere in the world, helping people to achieve a positive work-life balance and attracting students from overseas.

Lack of social interaction

While it is beneficial for people to learn in their own style and at their own pace, pre-recorded online classes have no room for discussion or asking questions which can leave students feeling unsupported. Additionally, higher education is not only about academic learning – it also serves a dual purpose in contributing towards emotional maturity through regular social interaction. Without the in-person seminars and debates with their peers, students risk being less socially aware.

Time- and money-saving

As most students have internet services in the comfort of their own home, online learning removes the need for travel. Naturally, no commute saves both time and money and is potentially environmentally beneficial if the student would have used transport to travel. Having access to resources online also negates the need to buy physical textbooks which further saves on costs, although this does not apply to some courses such as English Literature which require books to be purchased. It is worth remembering that there are independent student loans available to help with low-cost essentials for students who need or prefer to use physical materials when revising.

Less effective teaching

While some students will have the discipline to stay focused throughout a day of digital learning, no adult supervision or surrounding peer group makes it is easy to become distracted. Inattention through the use of other technological devices such as mobile phones or simply switching off means that this method of teaching is much less effective than in-person tuition – especially for students lacking in emotional maturity and self-discipline.