By: Jenna Piotrowicz
October 7th, 2022
This article is part of our Summer 2022 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
Many people debate the pros and cons of online schooling. Some believe their academics and lifestyle have improved with online education while others dislike it, seeing dropping grades and worsening mental health. And right in between, many have a love-hate relationship with online education, feeling lost between the benefits and drawbacks, finding a happy medium in the hybrid form of classes.
Michigan State University student Anna Ackerman finds wishes for the full return of in person classes.
“Right now I have all online classes, and I thought I would enjoy that more, but to be honest, it’s very boring, and it creates gaps in my day where I don’t do anything,” Ackerman said. “ I do really miss being in person, and I would prefer that because I think it gives us a sense of normalcy and creates good habits for future work and career situations.”
A big argument against online classes coincides with Ackerman’s thoughts. Often, people worry the education provided online is not correctly and adequately preparing students for the work force and their future careers. Many feel online classes result in significantly less information retention versus that of the traditional classroom setting.
“It was really hard to motivate yourself to want to do school and keep up because there were a lot of assignments and not a whole lot of structure,” Ackerman said. “Now I would say it has had some positive impacts because it’s helped me learn how to develop a schedule and manage my time in a more productive way than I was used to.”
Many would argue that despite the negatives, there are positive outcomes from online learning. Working from home and paying attention is purely on one’s own time and discretion. Without the monitoring and face to face interaction with a teacher, the way people learn and the amount they learn is fully up to them.
If a student chooses to turn off their web camera and scroll on their phone during a class meeting, they can. But their grades and understanding of material can be affected. What one gets out of an online class varies from student to student. If they are highly motivated and engaged with the course content, they are more likely to achieve the learning objectives. This type of online school works very well for some, thanks to its flexibility and accessibility.
“I’d say I have less of an attention span,” Ackerman said about the impact of being in online classes. “I noticed when we first went back in person last semester, I had a really hard time focusing for an hour and 20 minutes. It was hard for me to not check my phone or an email, so I think my attention span was a lot lower. I also think that I do spend more time on my phone.”
Students’ attention spans have changed dramatically, and many find it hard to return to in-person class where a full hour and a half of focus is required with no ability to pause content. Being able to use a phone or click onto other sites on a computer during class may have cured the boredom of a Zoom lecture then, but now it has affected the way students learn.
Jason Lodge and William Harrison of the Queensland Brain Institute noted the harmful nature of online multitasking and screen inferiority. However, they note some research also shows technology can enhance learning in a positive way overall but may not be the most effective. Although studies have been done on the effects of online learning and device multitasking, many do not lead to a conclusive answer due to the difficulty of isolating necessary factors. According to Lodge and Harrison, the research demonstrates “both benefits and harms in the use of technology on learning, attention, and memory.”
Ackerman also noted online school has affected her in aspects beyond school. “I used to be a ‘Yeah, let’s go out, let’s do things,’ kind of person, but I’d definitely say I’m more of a homebody now and just want to hang out with the people that I know and am comfortable with. It’s hard to make small talk now. It’s made me have more introverted qualities.”
These changes can lead to a decline in mental health for some. Lack of in-person interaction can lead to loneliness and a loss of motivation and inspiration. According to Heather Springer, writer for the American Psychological Association, “Research shows that the school environment is critical for fostering academic motivation and social development.”
Online schooling is not for everyone. But for some, it is their lifeline. Michigan State student Hailey Peguero explained that online school supported her through hard times in her life.
“Online school made it possible for me to still be present in my education, even when I could barely leave my apartment,” Peguero said. “Dealing with the struggles of my future and graduation in sight, online school has allowed me to get through these insanely busy times in my life. I learn really well online, but I know that a lot of people don’t. I guess it really just depends on the person.”
Another positive aspect of online learning is that for some, the learning style is better paced and easier to focus on.
“Online classes went at a much better pace than in person classes, in my opinion,” Peguero said. “I feel like I had more time to digest and understand everything that was going on. I also feel like I had more time for myself and was able to really focus on doing well both in and outside of school.”
Stephanie Riegg Cellini, a fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy, notes the issue with these standpoints and research on online school and its effects is that “…differences in the characteristics of students themselves may drive differences in the outcome measures we observe that are unrelated to the mode of instruction.”
Every student learns and excels in different ways; therefore, it is hard to make a definite stand on what mode of education is best for all students. Although there are many arguments on both sides, the answer may not just involve one or the other. Ultimately, the pandemic highlighted the flaws in education accessibility and has created a new conversation about learning styles and what successful education means.
Jenna Piotrowicz is a junior majoring in Professional and Public Writing, aspiring to be a writer or editor in her future. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, TV shows and working on her own screenplays, hoping to create the next big feature film.