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In-Person or Virtual Learning? 3 Critical Considerations

On Left: Student does virtual learning On Right: Teacher facilitates in-person learning
Are we right to compare in-person learning with virtual learning? Although tempting, the side-by-side comparison of digital learning with brick-and-mortar schools is likely unfair, if at all useful, here’s why.

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We all have gripes to share over the COVID pandemic. No matter how big or small, we’ve each been affected in more ways than we can count. Of particular concern are school-age children, whose school year was abruptly (and perhaps poorly) moved online at a moment’s notice. Almost immediately, virtual learning horror stories became commonplace. Although unfortunate, the universality of our COVID strife, is, to some degree, a flaw in our thinking.

1. Our Rough Introduction

We’ve attended in-person brick-and-mortar schools for decades now, and we were already more than halfway done with our school year when things moved online. By no means had we planned for online learning, not the parents, nor the teachers, and not our students. For that reason, much of our initial time online was spent learning how to use completely new technologies, amidst the fear and anxiety of the pandemic. Our introduction was by no means ideal and was a recipe for headaches and anxiety. Funnily, we didn’t get to develop our opinion on virtual learning so much as we did last-minute-virtual-learning-amidst-other-chaos. By approaching this school year with a positive attitude, we’ll have a host of advantages on our digital playing field.

2. Online learning and in-person learning are apples and oranges

Consequently, it’s hardly fair to make a concrete deliberation on which education forum reigns supreme. Despite being nostalgic over the comforts of in-person learning, there are fantastic online learning tools we simply didn’t have while learning in-person. For instance, on Zoom, students can privately communicate with their teacher during lessons, and several students can simultaneously collaborate on “whiteboards” quickly. No less, there are certain peeves we have towards in-person learning we often forget. We’ve even forgotten the difficulty posed by traffic-congested school events, and the occasionally forgotten lunch debacle.

3. Online learning is in its most primitive form

Online learning is a relatively young practice, although its efficacy has been long proven. New technologies, from the internet to cars, never roll out without a hitch. For decades some of the most important inventions of our time were redesigned, innovated, overhauled, and redeveloped until we received the iteration we know and love. Online learning is, in a lot of ways, early on in its lifetime. Since we’ve moved online, all sorts of software developers and education professionals have advanced new ideas and tools to enhance the experience of virtual learning. As time goes on, virtual learning will only become increasingly accessible and sophisticated. For now, “independently muting and unmuting” remains a somewhat high bar for the youngest learners to aim for.

We’re in a period of mourning still. The disruption, or more candidly, derailment, of last school year, wounded us, and we haven’t healed quite yet. We miss in-person learning dearly, and in some sense, online-learning bears the brunt of our frustration with the situation at hand. If we take a step back, we can see that virtual learning and in-person learning both offer great utility to students. Moreover, they both offer unique challenges. 

We have good reason to think not of what virtual learning lacks, but rather all of the new learning tools and opportunities accessible to students in their virtual classes. For the optimal virtual learning experience, try to keep an open mind and remind yourself to take advantage of all the unique perks online school has to offer.  However, we’re best off not trying to compare the two, as they’re meant to offer completely different experiences.

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