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Online or In-person? Which is Better?

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, teachers and parents have worked to help students keep learning.  Within that period, we have experienced online learning more than in-person learning sessions.  As of this writing, schools in Hong Kong have been mostly closed to in-person learning, the same as bars, gyms, and beauty salons.  Before the pandemic hit in early 2020, most educators were optimistic about the benefits of online learning and many believed that it could replace all in-person learning. 

But experience in 2020 has shown us otherwise.  Today, evidence suggests that remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom.  In the US, many school districts have reported a drop in academic performance, failing grades, and teachers and parents stretched to the limit.  But knowing that something may not work as intended is not going to help us go forward in 2021.  We also need to understand why and whether it could be “salvaged.”  Turns out that the drawbacks that we have experienced in online learning are partly due to our own making.

To be sure, there are many advantages to online learning.  Since online learning can be done at home without going to the classroom, a lot of time can be saved.  The time saved can be used to provide more sleep for the students, which is sorely needed these days, and more time for learning and practicing.  However, many students have not made good use of the time saved.  Instead of using it on more productive activities, students simply spent more time on the screen watching videos or playing games.  If parents cannot control this time for their children, this advantage would simply go to waste.

However, there is little doubt that in-person learning offers a richer interaction than online learning.  And it is through these interactions that most students can learn best.  Therefore, it is quite obvious that this is a major weakness of online learning.  But the problem does not stop there.  Since students know that the level of interaction is low, they start to engage in other activities while they are having online lessons.  Knowing that the teacher cannot see them, they open up their laptops and start other windows to do whatever they want, be it chatting, videos, or computer games.  I have this experience every time in my Zoom lessons.  There are always students who are not on the same page as the others and whenever you ask them a question, they are at a loss and ask you to repeat the question.  This further impairs the learning experience and hampers progress of the whole class.

Another related drawback is that the teacher cannot see the students’ work and has a difficult time in assessing the learning of the students.  Since the teacher cannot walk over to the student’s desk and look at his work (which I always do in lessons), the teacher has little idea what difficulties the student may have and therefore, no plan for intervention and correction.  The student’s problem may lay hidden for a long time until it surfaces at the time of reckoning – during a test.

All in all, online and in-person learning are methods that we use to teach and learn.  These are nothing more than tools to help us.  This pandemic has taught us that we should pick and choose the right tool to do the right job.  If interaction is important for a certain learning activity, we should do it in-person.  If not, then we can go online.  The one-size-fits-all or one-tool-does-it-all approach in the past should be over.  As the pandemic approaches its second year, we should do what Dr. Fauci told the American people some time ago: “Close the bars and keep the schools open.”

Mr. Paul Lim

Mr. Paul Lim

Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer

MBA, National University of Singapore

B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College

TBE

TESOL

  • Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
  • Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
  • Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
  • Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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