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Online teaching and learning presents a number of advantages and disadvantages that go beyond the individual strengths and weaknesses of the instructors. Students face challenges with instructor differences, but the inherent characteristics of the online environment present advantages afforded by the flexibility, location, and access to the instructor that make it a far superior choice to traditional classroom instruction. However, some of the drawbacks must be addressed in order to assure that students have a positive experience.
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Advantages of Online Learning
Advantages to online teaching and learning include flexibility to attend classes, study, and interact when it is convenient. This flexibility is often a necessity rather than a luxury for adult students who are often managing a job, a marriage, and raising children. The flexibility makes it possible for many adults to attend class that would otherwise be unable to do so. Another important advantage results from the fact that the classes take place in cyberspace. Students can attend during their lunch hour, at night, or virtually any other time without worrying about needing to park or make it to a specific location in bad weather. This is a tremendous advantage that is important for both the instructor and the student.
One of the most important advantages comes as a result of class structures. Online learning can be impersonal, but, unlike auditorium classes, the student has the ability to interact directly with the instructor. Students read and react to comments made by the instructor and pose questions directly to the instructor. This means that the quality of instruction necessarily increases as students are able to get their specific questions answered.
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Disadvantages of Online Learning
Disadvantages to online teaching and learning include factors that result from the impersonal nature that is afforded by a class that exists only in cyberspace. This can cause students to feel disconnected from the rest of the students and from the instructor. Without the traditional human to human interaction, the technology can impose a barrier that has an inhibitory effect on the learning process.
Another issue that I have seen on many occasions is the need for personal motivation that many students lack. It is difficult to get some students to read the required material, and getting students to read supplemental material takes a leviathan effort. Students that lack the personal motivation to get into class each required day and participate at the levels required by the school often have a less than positive experience.
One other significant issue that I see is a sense of insecurity that manifests itself in students who refuse to participate in class discussions. Many students are unsure of their writing abilities and feel embarrassed sharing their thoughts with the class. This has a deleterious impact on the learning process because the online learning model relies on the ability of students to interact and learn from one another.
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Overcoming Online Learning Challenges
To overcome the challenges and make the most out of the advantages, online instructors should be visible in the classroom and let students know that they are aware of what the students are doing. Students that are not participating should be contacted by the instructor to help reestablish a sense of personal connection. When students are missing assignments, an effort should be made on the part of the instructor to find out why and to offer assistance. Instructors should remember why the student signed up in the first place and work to help the student achieve his/her goals.