By Jesse Stilwell, October 17, 2017 —
When I signed up for an online French class, I thought it was the perfect way to earn some credits while I worked out of town for the summer. However, the superficial understanding that I gained from my course changed my opinion of online learning.
Completing some elective classes online is a great way for busy students to earn credits while fulfilling other obligations. These classes make post-secondary education more accessible for students who have to work full time or take care of dependents. This doesn’t mean that universities should prepare to offer all classes online, though.
It’s incredibly easy to get through an online course without really understanding the material. Since no one is forcing you to go through the material slowly and methodically, students merely have to learn enough to complete the assignments. If the midterms or final are offered online, then no one will know if someone writes the tests using their textbooks and notes. Even if the final is written with a supervisor, it’s not hard to pass with only a superficial understanding of the material.
An important aspect of higher education is developing skills to be used in the workforce. If students are skimming their way through classes online without really absorbing the material they aren’t able to meaningfully leverage the knowledge or skills it would’ve otherwise provided. It’s up to students to be responsible for their own learning — employers would be right to be wary about hiring someone who did a large portion of their classes online. Especially when the candidate doesn’t have a good reason to forgo putting in the hours in class and really engaging with the material.
Most people know that employers are looking to hire those who have gained practical experience because of post-secondary education. Knowing how to operate complicated computer programs, speak foreign languages or conduct hands-on scientific experiments are things employers look for on resumés. These skills are nearly impossible to learn online. To know the pronunciation of foreign words, maintain safety in the lab and master complex tasks, having a professor or TA around to support students is crucial. Expecting education to operate entirely online is a very distant goal that universities should be skeptical of.
A student taking an online course or two because they have obligations outside of school is not a problem. But if a student makes the conscious choice to try and skim through their education without gaining a deep understanding of the material or concrete skills, they may have trouble once out on the job market.
Obtaining an education isn’t supposed to be easy. Students should expect to work hard for good marks. Online classes are often considered easy options that don’t take nearly the same amount of effort as traditional lectures. In a society where having a degree is often not enough to get a job, students should be wary of anything that seems to offer an easy path to higher learning.