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Real-time versus behind the screen

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By Amreen Pathan

Similarities and differences between online education and face-to-face learning

The nuts and bolts

First off, let’s start with the absolute basics.

What constitutes as online learning?

Online learning or remote learning is learning that takes place virtually using a computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Whatever the mode of transmission, learning takes place digitally in front of a screen.

What encompasses face-to-face learning?

It is as its terminology describes: an education that is transmitted person to person, face-to-face. Both pupil and teacher are present in the flesh in a classroom setting of some sort and the pupil’s learning takes place under the physical supervision of the teacher.

Why is this discussion important?

In order to make a fair comparison between the two, we need to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both. However, before we dive into that, why is this such a pertinent topic of discussion? 

The pandemic of 2020-21 forced workplaces, educational organisations and other communities globally to be adaptive, flexible and experimental. All these spaces were forced to shift from face-to-face settings to online ones, which revealed pleasant surprises and advantages as well as drawbacks of its own.

“The pandemic has shown that ways of working that previously seemed impossible are actually possible.” This is what a senior policy advisor for CIPD (a professional group for human resources staff) had to say about remote working.

This has also led to questions of the expendability of e-learning and remote learning in a post-pandemic world and thereby the nature of discussions like this one.

Advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face learning

Naturally, this is the one that is familiar to us and it is usually familiarity that presents its occupant as the favourable option.  But what are the actual pros and cons of face-to-face learning for pupils?

AdvantagesDisadvantages  
Teacher supervision The teacher has to be present to supervise all the children in the classroom
Engaging, accommodating classroom setting and fewer distractionsThe pupil must be present for the majority/all of the lessons to learn and progress
Combine different ways of learning including reading, writing, discussion, group work, presentations, demonstration and practiceLearning can become rigid and monotonous if the teacher is not innovative or does not take into account the different needs of pupils
Engage with pupils from different culturesDominant pupils may stifle other personalities
Richer understanding through interpretation of teacher and pupil body and languagePupils must generally work at the same pace
Instant answers and greater opportunities for instant interactionReserved pupils may not have the confidence to ask questions and/or approach the teacher
Access to physical resources and physical support networkSchools must have the funding to accommodate pupils and lessons

Pros and cons of remote learning

AdvantagesDisadvantages  
Opportunity to develop technical skillsNot every pupil has equal access to technology
Pupils can learn at their own pace. Studies suggest e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn because of this.High level of motivation required to work without supervision
Younger children use all their senses to learn which means audio-visual resources and games can be used to make the experience wholly interactiveReliable internet access required
Material is accessible at any timeLess opportunity for group work because of the management required (for younger children)
Emboldens shyer pupils to engage and interact (which my own pupils proved to me!)Formative assessment modes are restricted and difficult to gage full progress
Delivery methods can varyCreates a sense of self-isolation  
Greater autonomy over learningMore screen time required
Opportunity to flip the classroomThe harder balance between homework and school work

The verdict

Really, there is no right or wrong answer. What works for one individual may not for another and vice versa. I completed a large portion of my higher education online even before e-learning was truly a trend but I was only able to do so for two reasons: firstly, because I love education (thus any means necessary) and secondly because of my innately disciplined nature (in some capacity!)

At the same time, I know that the proposition of virtual learning was unfavourable to some of my acquaintances because they either preferred the classroom setting or simply couldn’t find the initiative required to meet deadlines and such.

Of course, this is at the university level and beyond. The variables influencing remote learning are vastly different for younger pupils and so the same arguments cannot be made.

Whilst composing the above lists, what I realised was that I really struggled to think of valid cons for face-to-face learning. What could this suggest?

  1. How traditionally ingrained this type of educational setting is within our societies.
  • Currently, face-to-face learning works better for a majority than online learning does for the same percentage based on the model of education the UK ‘strives’ for.

Regardless, the answer is not in settling for just one. A combination of both – also known as blended learning – could be the solution going forward in a world still uncertain about its future in the face of Covid.

Are you a traditionalist, technologist, or both? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

#OnlineLearning #Face-to-Face #Education #Schools #RemoteLearning

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