Some businesses around the world have grappled with the realities of remote work for decades. They’ve operated across the globe through the internet, while utilizing various online platforms. It laid the foundation for the rise in remote work today, but there are still millions of employees working in office buildings. In the past few decades, we’ve also seen a prevalence of digital learning and online degrees, yet the majority of college students still choose to attend their courses on campus. 

Why is this? Why, in our technological age, do we still feel that remote learning and working are inadequate in comparison to what you receive and accomplish in person? The pandemic has us asking this question as more citizens make the switch into the virtual workspace. 

There are many arguments for both sides, and both contain valid points—which leads us to the question, “What will be technology’s role in education from now on?” That’s hard to delineate now, but by looking at both sides, we begin to see a path for online teaching moving forward.

The Push for Digital Learning

This argument for increasing the prevalence of online teaching and learning parallels the calls for more remote work in the corporate world. A high concentration of our populace lives in cities, largely due to the opportunities for better jobs and schools. For students, especially those entering the age of internships and first jobs, they’re limited to what is around them. Remote education provides an opportunity to level the playing field and to provide the same opportunities to every student, no matter where they live.

The argument continues with the growing realization that many students struggle with the traditional construct of education, that students thrive on flexibility, and that—when given more room for ownership of their learning—the depth of their learning expands. Bolstering the argument is the reality that children of today are what Zhang Zhi, Director of the Shanghai Educational Technology Center, calls “digital natives.” Although most adults today learned how to operate technology later in life, children today are learning to code in elementary school. They began their lives with technology in their hands, and education has yet to truly catch up.

Classrooms are predicated on the idea of cooperation and engagement. Cooperation is difficult to achieve when teachers receive only eight hours of classroom management instruction throughout their training. In the classroom, students can miss the lesson entirely if they are absent and unable to make up the work.

If that isn’t problematic enough, students also struggle with gaining an in-depth knowledge of subjects. Due to standardized testing, teachers have much to cover throughout the year. Each lesson is often crammed with information, and they are eager to move on due to the pressures of fulfilling the curriculum. Students often don’t have enough time to truly grasp the information before they’re asked to learn something new. 

Teaching online with numerous digital learning tools available today provides the means for students to learn a subject or concept in multiple dimensions. Some students may respond better to reading, while others respond better to audio, visual demonstrations, or gamification. It’s the recognition that each student has their own needs, and it’s having the ability to fulfill those needs. 

The Push for the Traditional Classroom

There is a reason that students choose to attend a physical college campus rather than take their education online. There is a reason many people would still prefer to work in an office than at home. In fact, there are many reasons. The first is the belief in teaching the whole child. When you teach the whole child, you’re concerning yourself with their emotions, their personal connections, and their hands-on experience. Learning isn’t just about the knowledge that you can put into your head. It’s about the experiences you have and the tangible moments between people. 

Though social media, forums, and a wealth of other platforms provide us with the belief that we can converse online the same way we do in person, there’s little proof this is the case. In fact, there’s a growing concern emerging over the last few years about the degradation of the in-person social sphere. 

Leora Lawton, Executive Director of the Berkeley Population Center at the University of California, Berkeley, had this say about students learning online:

“The long-term effects of children growing up with screen time are not well understood but early signs are not encouraging: poor attention spans, anxiety, depression and lack of in-person social connections are some of the correlations already seen, as well as the small number of teens who become addicts and non-functioning adults.” 

Schools are able to focus on social-emotional learning, which is the concept of teaching children how to have emotional intelligence. That is, teaching them to understand their emotions, those of others, and how to handle them. It’s essentially an education in how to handle the world and their place in it. This is vital for success as adults and students develop abilities to cope with overwhelming situations and to understand when to ask for help. 

Students also have a difficult time with accountability. While at school, they have teachers, counselors, principals, and other students around they—encouraging and reinforcing the idea of education itself. This is largely why students learning solely online are more likely to drop out of school or fail to earn a degree. In 2011, Columbia University conducted a study that showed the course completion rate for traditional college classes was 90 percent, while the online course completion rate rested at 82 percent. By 2017, education data collected showed the rate of dropout was 22 percent higher than students in traditional classes. 

We also know that schools provide other services not related to education, such as counseling, medical care, extracurriculars, lunches, and even breakfast in some cases. These are especially important services to students in need. 

Blending the Classroom with Technology

Both the traditional classroom and digital learning have their pros and cons. Although the impacts of digital education are still largely unknown, with very little data available to sway the populace in one direction or another, it’s not to be ruled out. That’s why today the traditional classroom is not obsolete, and it’s difficult to see how it ever will be. Perhaps the best solution is to blend the two. To allow some flexibility in the classroom and focus on teacher-student relationships, social-emotional learning, and the needs of the individual child with multiple learning options. We have a chance to reform education, and now is the best time to take action. 


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