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SWOT: An in-depth look at the pros and cons of distance learning

Distance learning has always been subject to some level of scrutiny. Even now that tens of millions of students worldwide have had to learn virtually due to the pandemic, the majority of people may still be skeptical or critical of virtual classes and virtual learning.

However, like all forms of education, online learning can be a boon for or the bane of student performance throughout the school year.

But a careful consideration of remote learning’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) can alleviate much of the concerns that teachers and faculty members have about online education.

This post will look at all four elements to determine whether we should worry as the learning experience moves to an online platform for high schools and colleges and universities.

Strengths of distance learning

Although the rapid shift to digital learning during the pandemic has been a cause for concern, the online classroom can benefit students and instructors. There are various advantages that distance learning has over physical education.

Strengths

  • 24/7 access to learning material: Students can decide when and how much time they spend engaging with learning materials, and they can access the material at any time. By opening accessibility, this allows students to schedule individual study sessions to fit their preferences.
  • Students can study at their own pace: A big concern that instructors have is that students enrolled in distance learning courses may get left behind. However, this may be untrue. Distance learning allows students to study at their own pace, a critical component for learning comprehension and retention. In-class lessons can widen learning gaps because teachers and students have to learn materials quickly, and teachers don’t have enough time to help them all catch-up.
  • Distance learning offers mobility: True, most students affected by pandemic lockdowns will spend most of their time at home. Nevertheless, distance learning allows students to access classroom materials anywhere they go (if they have to be somewhere else physically) as long as they have an internet connection and a computer.
  • Convenient for the teacher: Instructors shouldn’t always be looking to take shortcuts in their curriculum, but finding ways to streamline their workload and workflow is essential. By nature, distance learning allows teachers to lighten their workload because many of the resources they rely on are available in a centralized digital hub.
  • Distance education is cheaper: Let’s face it: the cost of schooling, especially for post-secondary students, is high. Commuting, accommodations, parking fees can easily strain a student’s already tight budget. Learning from home, however, eliminates many of these costs.

Weaknesses of distance learning

Of course, distance learning does come with some disadvantages. You may have even heard about some of them in discussions with your colleagues or elsewhere. Instructors can overcome these weaknesses, but they can still pose a challenge due to the nature of remote learning.

Weaknesses

  • Distance learning is challenging for unmotivated students: Some students can easily stay motivated when working from home; many others have difficulty staying on task. Without teacher supervision or in the absence of parental support, students can get sidetracked by other distractions at home.
  • Distance learning is not ideal for hands-on assignments: The nature of how instructors teach certain classes requires physical interaction, such as specific presentations or seminar courses in universities. That can be challenging when it comes to grading students.
  • Distance learning is challenging for communication skills: Students need to collaborate and communicate with each other. Face-to-face communication is the ideal method, but of course, the pandemic has restricted students from doing so freely and safely. Although messaging apps allow students to chat with each other easily, they don’t replace the real-time dynamics of a physical, in-person conversation.

Opportunities for distance learning

Distance learning isn’t an entirely new concept—it’s existed since the 19th century. Although it hasn’t replaced traditional in-class learning, it will undoubtedly become a mainstay in education long after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opportunities

  • Offers a cost-effective solution for low-income students: As we mentioned above, schooling costs can strain some students. However, working from home may allow a generation of students who deal with financial setbacks a chance to study without having to spend too much money on their education. After all, learning from home eliminates the costs of commuting, accommodations, and other expenses.
  • It can address learning gaps: Distance learning makes it possible for students to customize their learning and study at their own pace. Ultimately, students can then learn using methods not used inside a physical classroom. Once students use methods that are native to their learning preferences, they will likely perform better.

Threats of distance learning

There are some possible ways in which distance learning can negatively affect student performance and development. It may be too early to determine how much of a threat distance learning may be in some aspects, but it’s worth considering their risks.

Threats

  • It may widen learning gaps: While distance-learning may address learning gaps, it may be a double-edged sword. Students who thrive and learn better in a classroom environment (think kinesthetic and experiential learners) are now “confined” to a virtual classroom. Students may feel hindered by being thrust into this learning environment.
  • It may undermine social connections & development: Students need to bounce ideas off each other and exchange knowledge for better comprehension, even if it’s in small groups. This exchange is more effective in person than through online communication, and students can feel out of touch. If distance teaching and learning become more widespread, upcoming generations of students may not have the chance to develop their social skills in a real-time, physical setting.

Looking at the bigger picture of distance learning

Distance learning isn’t entirely new. However, students, instructors, state boards of education and higher education facilities have not been quick to adopt this standard form of education. The reason being is there is still a lot to learn and grapple with when it comes to teaching students remotely.

Nevertheless, it is here to stay, and despite its challenges, there are many advantages that distance learning will have for this generation of students and upcoming ones.

While students have learning management systems and portals to find their course work, instructors can also rely on platforms like Crowdmark to ease the gap between students, grades and visibility to students’ performance throughout the school year.

By integrating multiple choice to faster grading techniques through Crowdmark’s technology, students and instructors should get all they need, so there is no need to remain in the dark as education changes and evolves.

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