The pandemic has changed many things about modern life – and some of those changes have brought real opportunities for college students. While online classes are not for everyone – and certainly are not a full facsimile of the dynamic learning environment of a dynamic lecture hall or in-person discussion – online classes can provide a few critical advantages over traditional and in-person classes.
- Online classes offer the opportunity for asynchronous learning. This means that curriculum is designed to be digested at a learner’s pace – and is not limited to certain times of the day. This flexibility means that students can access lectures, notes, readings, and other material on the go, and can go back and re-review critical information. This is a great advantage for autodidacts (self-taught learners) and others who have the motivation to engage with the curriculum on their own time.
- Just the facts. By removing the interactive (and therefore inherently socially-biased) elements of a traditional classroom, students are able to exclusively focus on course content, rather than have to balance both learning and navigating the social landscape. This cognitive freedom can be especially valuable for students with aspergers or autism, for students with social anxiety, or for any student who finds the social and interactive part of college classes an unwelcome distraction or hurdle.
- Many online classes are offered Pass/Fail, which can make passing a critical course somewhat easier, without jeopardizing overall GPA. While policies vary from school to school, many colleges are offering a growing number of online courses in a pass/fail model which allows students to accrue critical credits and meet minimum degree requirements, without having to worry about a slightly lower grade changing their overall GPA, since most Pass/Fail courses do not factor into overall GPA – which is something to consider if the goal is to protect a target GPA for graduate school applications down the road.
- While it is certainly true that the shift to online coursework has created a bottleneck of challenges in traditional Student Services offices, it is worth noting that some academic accommodations are actually easier to obtain and utilize in an online learning environment. When all lectures are recorded, all class notes are already given in advance, and all work is done with access to a keyboard there are some accommodations which are simply built right into the content delivery. Students with learning differences and disabilities are still encouraged to register with their Student Services office, but students may find that some courses are already meeting all of their learning needs.
- More seats may be available for online courses than professors could reasonably expect to offer or manage in person – which can open up new opportunities for learners. Additionally, with online learning becoming more normalized and it becoming somewhat easier to import credits from additional institutions, students may find particular courses or professors, located at partner or affiliated institutions, with open online seats. This can be a great way to add courses and credits without having to change schools.
While the move to adding online learning to all colleges and universities in 2020 has come with some challenges, it has also added learning options for all kinds of students. College is a collection of opportunities, and the most successful college students actively survey the entire learning environment and take advantage of the best options available. While being a full-time online or remote college student is not for everyone, it does offer some incredibly attractive options for students.