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Online Learning: The Pros and Cons

It’s safe to say I’m not the only freshman who didn’t imagine their first year in college to be online. Rather, I envisioned getting lost on campus, enjoying my classes alongside my peers exploring the city of Chicago, attending organization and extracurricular meetings, and meeting lots of new people. Thankfully, with the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, there’s renewed hope for these adventures! But remote schooling is an experience we definitely won’t forget. So, let’s reflect on some of the pros and cons of online learning that many of us have experienced in the past year.

First, let’s acknowledge the difficulties. It’s been hard staying motivated when going to college has basically become opening our laptop. Learning activities were restricted to only virtual methods, which oftentimes made understanding the material difficult. Discussion sections have become mostly silent and unproductive which made it hard to meet new people and discuss class content. This led to a general lack of social interaction, causing many of us to feel alone in our struggles to learn. Organization and extracurricular board members tried their best to make activities and meetings as interactive as possible, but oftentimes the fatigue from being online all day made it hard to participate. Many of us experienced technical difficulties which seemed to never end – the awkwardness of having to repeat what you said because the internet cut out, having to rejoin Zoom meetings several times, and computers just flat out crashing. Another significant challenge was figuring out when to stop working – with working ahead and meeting deadlines, it became nearly impossible to tell when we deserved a break. There were endless to-do lists and not nearly enough energy to finish them. For most students, COVID-19 didn’t just disrupt our learning but our entire lives. This made it extremely difficult to focus on school when worries about finances, health, security, family, and friends were on our minds. As more of us take precautions, facilities start to open up, and the vaccine gets to more people, we can see hope for next year. Seeing “On Campus” next to classes in registration may make some of us a little nervous, but it is an indicator that we’ll be able to experience learning much differently in upcoming semesters.

While the cons may be easier to list for most of us, let’s also celebrate the pros of online learning. A lot of us didn’t have to worry about physically getting to class on time which sometimes saved us money on transport or allowed for an extra hour of sleep. Because we didn’t have to be on campus, many of us could stay close to our loved ones for emotional support during these tough times. We were able to create our own schedules and complete assignments at times that worked for us. Lecture videos allowed us to adjust content to our preferences and learning styles. For example, those who are auditory learners could replay videos to understand them more easily instead of having to figure out a way to clearly record the professor. Inclusivity is also a big step forward with online learning. Those with disabilities could use virtual tools to gain access and entrance to events and classes that were hard to get to before. Many organizations could invite speakers from around the world to encourage continued interest in certain topics and missions. They could also host events similar to in-person ones (like game nights) to help members relieve stress. Group chats helped in keeping up to date on assignments but also with feeling less alone in difficult classes. For some of us, it was easier to reach out to people through text and get to know each other. For others, online learning gave us more time to turn inwards and spend more time getting to know ourselves, whether through exploring new hobbies, revisiting old ones, or reconnecting with our aspirations.

Overall, it’s understated to say that it’s been a tough year. However, it is important to process the positives and negatives of our experiences so we can look back and appreciate how we pulled through.