With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting most areas of life worldwide, the toll on the education system as we know it was inevitable. To adapt to the new sanitary demands, the learning process was restructured for classes of secondary and tertiary education to be delivered online. This transformation influenced a modern generation of students in several ways, simultaneously making some forms of learning more accessible and highlighting the imperfections in the syllabus. This paper aims to compare and contrast the online and in person learning after the first full year of the pandemic-induced online education is over. It uses accessibility, material delivery and student-teacher interaction as points of comparison. Based on these points it would be possible to establish which of the education methods is overall preferable for the majority of students.
The biggest positive change with the introduction of the virtual learning lies in the increased accessibility of the education. Both secondary schools and, in particular, colleges, have a history of failing to accommodate their disabled students. Starting with classrooms planned in ways uncomfortable for a wheelchair user and up to the harsh attendance penalties, it is fair to say that in-person learning does not treat everyone equally. For a considerable time, disabled students have advocated for the increased number of online resources and assignment alternatives to very little effect. Yet, with the transformative impact of the pandemic, the education institutions were forced to rapidly adapt, and the virtual learning was implemented everywhere. Hence the traditional barriers to access for the in-person education were effectively removed with the digitalization of the learning materials and the vast majority of the assignments.
It is important to highlight that learning did not become universally accessible from every contributing perspective. The new barriers arose with students with troubled family situations or financial struggles not having access to the essential learning facilities. In the extreme cases students were unable to obtain the Internet connection for their classes either at all or at a consistent and feasible basis. However, from the standpoint of accommodating disabled and chronically ill learners, the introduction of a wide range of online educational resources is an enormous benefit. The impact of the virtual education on the accessibility issues might have been uneven, yet the system would absolutely benefit from further developing the new digital resources it has introduced.
The class material delivery fundamentally changes when the lesson is presented via online means instead of the classroom learning. Many teachers have reported difficulties in adjusting to their new Zoom tutorials and recorded lectures. In some subject areas the hands-on approach, greatly facilitated in in-person learning, is essential for the effective information understanding. Although the digital resources incorporated into the education have evolved considerably in recent years, there are still many areas in which at least some in-person training is required. This primarily applies to the disciplines in the medical field and applied sciences: an observation that manifested into the digitalization of the education, as the labs for science students were kept in-person when at all possible.
Some of the arts-focused subject, however, also benefit greatly from the in-person material delivery, even if it is not strictly essential. Theatre and drama students have reported struggling with their online exercises, as interpreting the subjective lesson material in a satisfactory way was almost impossible through the screen barrier. Thus, it is fair to say, that maintaining equally high quality of education when forced to adapt to the online learning is a great challenge for teachers. Within this point of comparison, in-person learning approach is superior to the virtual one, as delivering material up to the same standard virtually is extremely difficult, particularly for the beginners.
On a similar note, the wide introduction of the online learning highlighted the importance of communication and feedback in relationships between teachers and students. In-person classes are characterized by continuous information exchange, with pupils being able to request clarification for the class material almost at any given time. Furthermore, students are able to remain in the classroom for a short feedback session after the learning period is over to go over their questions or concerns.
Hypothetically speaking, online learning does not inherently take away these elements of learning. Multiple teachers have encouraged their students to not shy away from asking questions and reaching out to them via e-mail. However, the structure of online lessons themselves is significantly more impersonal, with both pupils and educators frequently communicating without even turning their camera on. As a result, feedback becomes more difficult to request, effectively interpret or process. Within the point C of comparison, in-person learning is preferable one again due to its inherent communication opportunities.
After comparing virtual and in-classroom learning on the basis of accessibility, material delivery and teacher-student contact it is clear that the benefits of the in-person learning are more numerous. It factors more naturally into one’s social environment, and education becomes more then familiarizing oneself with new information. During the in-person classes, students develop and maintain their social and communication skills, with online learning establishing barriers against it. However, the virtual education’s flexibility and potential for accommodating disabled people is undeniably impactful, and should not be abandoned after the pandemic’s end.