My research paper aims to thoroughly analyze the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning compared to traditional in-person classes and discuss which format is most likely to prevail. One of the most significant debates among researchers and the public today is whether distance learning is the future of education. I believe that education is one of the major social barriers in Western countries, and thus equal educational opportunity is the key to innovation, social justice, and upward class mobility. Therefore, it is crucial for us to investigate new e-learning platforms to fully understand their social, psychological, and economic impact.
The social significance of the distance learning debate is best exemplified by the shift from traditional classrooms to online platforms during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Before that year, there was already some debate about the viability of the conventional tertiary education business model. As governments worldwide imposed quarantine measures to stop the virus spread, higher education institutions were pushed to adapt remote learning technology in a long overdue move. However, skeptics claim that virtual learning is ineffective and deprives students of essential human connection. Despite the fears of distance learning yielding worse student performance, I will argue that the ability to attend classes virtually from any location in the world at a discounted price will enhance equal educational opportunity. Furthermore, utilizing innovative teaching instruments specifically adapted to the online learning environment makes it possible to improve student engagement and collaboration.
I will devote the first two paragraphs to explaining why the equal educational opportunity is the key to democracy and overcoming social inequality in the postindustrial U.S. economy. Educational capital is the concept of education being a tool of social mobility, such as a higher education degree from a prestigious institution leading to a higher social status in society. It can either reproduce inequality or act as a leveling mechanism to promote equal opportunity. My argumentation will be based on Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of cultural capital as outlined in his 1986 essay “The Forms of Capital” and the 1996 book The State Nobility: Élite Schools in the Field of Power.
In the first two paragraphs of the main body of my research paper, I will provide a clear and thorough outline of the distance learning ecosystem before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. I will illustrate how, prior to 2020, opportunities for postsecondary digital learning had accumulated for over a decade and were limited to “massively open online courses” (MOOCs), industry-based certification programs, and programming boot camps. In the following paragraph, I will enumerate the reasons that the traditional on-campus, degree-focused tertiary education model is not suited to the current demands of equal opportunity and employability prospects. My timeline of the switch from traditional to remote learning formats will be based on the 2020 article published in Harvard Business Review by Sean Gallagher and Jason Palmer, “The Pandemic Pushed Universities Online. The Change Was Long Overdue.”
In the following three paragraphs, I will focus on the innovation potential distance learning carries for universities, students, and society at large. Firstly, I will examine how by taking advantage of new technology and providing online courses accessible from any point in the world at a discounted price, universities can attract a larger clientele, maximize their profits, and improve the quality of their services. This is outlined in the 2021 article by Ghada Refaat El Said “How Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Affect Higher Education Learning Experience? An Empirical Investigation of Learners’ Academic Performance at a University in a Developing Country.” Secondly, students can combine education programs that are more accessible and relevant to their chosen field, as mentioned in Gallagher and Palmer’s 2020 article. Thirdly, making tertiary education more accessible levels the playing field and promotes social equality. I still have difficulty identifying academic sources regarding the social impact of distance learning, but there is an abundance of non-academic articles.
The counterargument will be based on the idea that distance learning is less effective and results in worse student performance. It rests upon the fact that students attending in-person classes receive better grades and are less likely to withdraw from the course. Furthermore, online instructors are more likely to be lenient in both grading and enforcing academic integrity. The source I have identified is a peer-reviewed academic article published for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Is Online Education Working?”
I will attempt to respond to these claims by stating that tertiary institutions have adopted online teaching strategies that emulate face-to-face traditions, such as hosting lectures over Zoom. However, if the innovation potential of technology is utilized correctly, professors can increase engagement and improve student performance, as exemplified by the online learning platform Khan Academy. A study by Yulmaz Zengin, “Investigating the Use of the Khan Academy and Mathematics Software with a Flipped Classroom Approach in Mathematics Teaching,” was published on this topic. It found that using Khan Academy to teach mathematics enhanced students’ understanding, achievement, and retention by helping them visualize mathematics teaching.
The difficulties I may encounter while developing my research paper are finding more academic research regarding the social impact of distance learning and innovative teaching methods that can be utilized in online spaces. However, I will combine the relevancy of non-academic articles with the reliability of academic sources and utilize examples such as Khan Academy in my research.