A Close Look at Online Classes

In the last year and a half, many students (including myself) were uncertain about in-person classes transitioning online. I attended six courses at BCIT during this period: one in-person course and five online courses. Three of these online courses were scheduled live lectures with the remaining two online but studying at your own pace. Having experienced a variety of class settings and teaching styles, I compiled a list of pros and cons for online vs in-person classes. 

Positives of Online and In-Person Classes

One of the first positives in attending online classes was not having to commute to campus. By being able to attend the online classes at any location that was convenient, I was able to put the commute hours to other aspects of my daily routine, such as cooking a fresh meal, participating in extracurricular activities, or simply having a nap before class. Not having to commute to class also gives you the ability to be out of town and still attend the class that you otherwise may have had to miss.

Another positive of attending online classes is that your communication skills are tested. Due to not being able to verbally interact with your classmates and teachers in-person, you may rely more on your virtual and written communication skills, which will hopefully improve during your online classes. These skills, such as writing more emails and getting comfortable with new technology, can then translate to the workforce. 

For positives of in-person classes, one is that there tends to be less distractions in the classroom due to the deliberate design of the environment. If you were to attend the class at home, you might have family members making distracting noises. Another positive aspect of in-person classes is it can allow you to participate more easily, since you are in the same space as your teacher and classmates. Being put together in groups for discussions, having debates, along with building professional relations with classmates can all lead to great networking opportunities. Attending in-person classes also means you get to use the amenities and services provided by the campus that you might not have heard or seen if you strictly did online classes. 

Lastly, The American Economic Review published a study in 2017 stating the following: 

“Taking a course online, instead of in-person, reduces student success and progress in college. […] The estimated effect of taking a course online is a 0.44 grade point drop in course grade, approximately a 0.33 standard deviation decline. Put differently, students taking the course in-person earned roughly a B- grade (2.8) on average while their peers in online classes earned a C (2.4).” 2

Negatives of Online and In-Person Classes

One of the first negative aspects of online classes is, if you are not a tech-savvy individual, there can be a few hiccups. You might have trouble logging in and/or be unable to navigate the correct path to attend the online class. You might also experience technical difficulties with your computer or the internet. During a rainstorm, the power went out for a couple of my classmates, and they had to attend class by using their phone data. 

Apart from the technical aspects, the format on how online classes are executed can make a big impact on a student’s learning experience. For classes where you study at your own pace, you must be self-disciplined to ensure you keep up. For classes where you attend a virtual live lecture, they can be a hit or miss depending on the lecture style. Two of the three live lecture classes I attended had a great format which ensured the students actively participated and helped emulate an in-person class: cameras were on, and frequent group discussions took place. When the format of the live lecture was mostly the teacher talking, my classmates turned their cameras off and there were next to zero group discussions. This made attending the class very stale and unmotivating, and I easily lost concentration.

Lastly, not all classes can be easily transferred to an online format, causing many students to delay their education. In a study posted by Statistics Canada on May 25, 2020, it found the following: 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many of these activities. According to the results of a recent crowdsourcing initiative, which measured the impact of the pandemic on the academic life of postsecondary students, about one-third (35%) of all participants reported that the pandemic resulted in the cancellation or postponement of their work-integrated learning.” 1

Implementing online-only classes also negatively affected many students in health care programs or service programs like hairdressing and cooking.  

For negative aspects to in-person classes, there could be a long and undesirable commute or an education style that does not meet the individual needs. In-person classes also do not provide the same flexibility online classes do. For example, if you are out of town, you will end up missing the in-person class. 

To conclude, while there are positives and negatives to online classes as well as for in-person classes, having the option to select what format best meets your needs for you to succeed should be your choice to make.

1 Government of Canada, S. C. (2020, May 25). Study: Work-integrated learning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200525/dq200525a-eng.htm.

2 Bettinger, Eric P., et al. “Virtual Classrooms: How Online College Courses Affect Student Success.” American Economic Review, vol. 107, no. 9, Sept. 2017, pp. 2855–2875, 10.1257/aer.20151193.