The challenges of online learning

Emma Seton·22 May 2020·4 min read
The challenges of online learning

Since the national outbreak of the corona virus, many UK Universities have taken the decision to deliver the summer term online, encouraging students to leave campus and return home. When this was announced in March, many students and lecturers assumed that face-to-face teaching would resume in September, however this is looking unlikely.

The University of Manchester was the first major UK University to announce that online teaching will continue in September and throughout semester one, as there is insufficient provision for socially distanced lectures, keeping face-to-face teaching to a minimum restricted to seminars, tutorials and labs within smaller cohorts. Earlier this week the Cambridge University announced that it would deliver the entirety of the 2020/2021 academic year online. Universities, as independent institutions, have complete autonomy over their decisions for online learning, however it is likely that other UK Universities will be influenced by the decisions of Manchester and Cambridge. But what will this new style of learning mean for students?

Online learning, while unplanned in the case of COVID_19, is not completely unprecedented. The Open University offers an array of online courses, which are often seen as desirable, as they offer students flexibility, and independent control of their work-life balance. However, while some students may thrive in flexible learning environments, others struggle with time-management and self-motivation, benefitting from a timetabled structure within their education.

The new learning experience will be entirely different for students; for those with limited technological literacy, the changing environment may be particularly challenging. While many students can use basic software, there is a general illiteracy around solving malware issues as previously students had access to on-campus IT support. Furthermore, online learning is reliant on access to strong broadband and internet connection. While, for many students, this is not a problem, a minority of students do not have the same access as their peers. Some students may not have their own personal laptop or even access to a quiet space to focus on their studies. While some students may have ample conditions for remote learning, others face limited success. Will this forecast a widening of the equality gap? Only time will tell.

The burden of online learning is not only experienced by students, many academics, who arguably already have dense workloads, now must invest their time in learning new technology and adapting their teaching to be delivered in the online format. Although many people may feel this format of teaching is less desirable than face-to-face lectures, institutions like the Open University exemplify that online teaching is still successful. However, if you’re feeling nervous about online learning, you’re not alone and there are things you can do to make the transition easier.

Stay in touch with your lecturers, while it is uncertain whether they will have their usual office hours, they’ll be available over email. It is important to maintain professional relationships through online communication, and this will also help minimise any anxieties surrounding online learning.

Remember that flexibility has its benefits, for those who struggle to attend 9am lectures, you will no longer have the same obligation to do so; the online format means you can watch lectures any time. If you prefer a structured routine, then try making your own timetable. However, remember to take regular breaks - looking after your mental health is paramount.

In the digital age, technology is becoming more dominant in our daily lives, while many students will face new challenges within online learning, the remote format ensures students are staying home and staying safe.