What didn't you like about online learning?

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Oh, don’t even get me started.

Look, I’ll advocate for online learning any day of the week—after all, it gets a lot of things right (like accessibility and flexibility, for example)—but something definitely gets lost in the transition from in-class instruction to online instruction.

I earned my Master’s degree entirely online, and while it was convenient at the time for a lot of reasons, I realize now in hindsight that the decision to pursue the degree online did somewhat cheapen the experience for me.

Now that I work at a university, I see the rigors of in-person graduate programs and the community that students build with each other through shared experiences in the classroom. This is difficult to replicate in an online environment. I never felt like I was connected to my peers during my online studies. Sure, we communicated through discussion boards, but it wasn’t the same as meeting up with another student to go grab lunch or a cup of coffee after class.

I think, too, that this same lack of community also extends to the instructor-student relationship. It’s easy to see the instructor as some faceless entity on the other side of a screen, and unless you make an effort to get to know them through things like virtual office hours, it’s possible to just go through the motions of completing your work without ever really knowing your instructors. It’s a shame, too, because a lot of faculty are often conducting very interesting research that they would love to share with their students in a more informal setting.

Finally, I’d say that online learning also limits how much a student can really get involved with in terms of extracurriculars. If the groups you are interested in meet regularly online, that’s one thing, but if the group mostly meets on-campus, you’re not going to be able to participate at the same level as others. It’s an equity issue that is really not easy to solve.

Community is such an important part of the educational experience. Students who feel connected to their community and feel a sense of belonging are more likely to persist. While online learning does have its merits, bridging this gap is much easier said than done.

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