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Why Online Learning is the Best—and Worst—Thing

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

We all saw it coming. Or, maybe we didn’t.

But the writing was on the wall for quite a while: The fall semester at universities across the country (and world!) was not going to look at all like those of years past. 

Many colleges, including my own, went fully online in hopes of mitigating the effects of COVID-19. While this was heartbreaking news for me and many others, it wasn’t all bad. In the spirit of staying upbeat, here are the perks and some of the pitfalls I experienced during my fall semester done completely online.

The Perks

Staying Safe

The whole premise of “going away to college” involves actually being on campus and interacting with others. That’s what we all signed up for.

But, at this point, it was entirely understandable that many universities did not allow it. Colleges had a tough decision to make, knowing how much the in-person experience is valued by students. Some schools tried their best to hold in-person instruction, but then abandoned the effort after just weeks into the fall semester.

There was no way of knowing how much students would socialize irresponsibly or how effectively safety rules could be implemented.

Ultimately, we’re lucky that our universities took our health into consideration. Without their careful decision making, many more students may have lost their lives or faced long-lasting effects of the coronavirus.

And while we may have resented their decisions and mourned the year that would have been, this was the safe and responsible choice.

Sleeping In

So how many of us have rolled out of bed 30 seconds before our online class started?

…Or maybe not even get out of bed at all?

Jokes aside, this was a huge advantage.

Having early morning classes is a pain, and in-person instruction requires you to get up, get dressed, eat breakfast and walk to class. When all you have to do before class is simply wake up yourself—and then your laptop, there is more precious time to sleep in.

And that’s never a bad thing for a college student, especially toward the end of the semester when all the careful planning and time management starts to crumble. Thanks to the overwhelming number of assignments that keep us up painfully late hours.

A Comfy Environment

Many students stayed at home if their campus was not fully open.

And though this is disappointing, your own home tends to be more comfortable anyway. Think about it.

You can dress how you want without worrying about what anyone will think.

Snacks are never more than a few feet away. (You can even munch during your classes and calls if you’re bold enough.)

You have more control over the little pieces of downtime in your schedule. Between classes, you can finish an assignment or make some food, whereas on campus you would have to spend that time walking between your classes.

Staying home when your college is a far distance from your hometown also means that you get to spend some more valuable time with family and friends from high school. When you move away to college, it’s common to see those friendships slowly dissipate over the years, but this way it’s possible to continue cultivating friendships and creating new memories together.

Tips For Crushing Online Classes

The Pitfalls

No New Friends

When I imagined starting to college, the thing I was most excited for was the new people I would meet.

The people in my hometown tended to not be very relatable for me, and I knew the college where I ended up would have many more people whose opinions and interests aligned with my own. I couldn’t wait to get on campus.

Then, the pandemic and the ensuing closures and online learning limitations.

While I have made several meaningful relationships with classmates and cannot wait to finally meet each other person, it has been sad to not spend “real” time together right now. We talk about what we will do in the future and remind each other that this is only temporary. Still, meeting in person has the potential to be awkward despite how well we know each other already.

So for me, the less-than-stellar social scene has been the most disappointing part of my fall semester.

Awkward Video Calls

Zoom calls. So. Many. Zoom calls. Many of them plagued my some sort of technical glitch or social faux pas.

Nothing quite matches the awkward silence that accompanies a question from the professor that nobody wants to answer. Even when easy questions are asked, everyone is afraid to speak up because they are worried about talking over others and the uncomfortable chorus of “sorry” that follows before all the microphones go back to being muted and nobody wants to speak again.

Similar things happen in an in-person class, but in these, people tend to be more comfortable and hand raising is a thing, a thing that doesn’t  work well in video calls when half the students have such poor internet connections that they can hardly handle having their cameras on during the call.

Suffice it to say spotty internet connections make the experience painful for everyone.

A person may try talking and their speech comes through choppy and distorted, leaving everyone else present to attempt to decipher the words for ourselves.

Not to mention, the other people present in the household seem to be making the most noise at the most inopportune times, leading to more uncomfortable apologies to the class when you are finally brave enough to try an talk.

Online learning serves its purpose well enough, but its many disadvantages make the experience less than ideal for those yearning for a traditional freshman year (or any year, really) at college.

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Author: Heidi Temple

I am a first-generation student at Princeton University. I am currently planning to concentrate in Molecular Biology there. Then, I plan to go to grad school and eventually pursue a career in medical research.