Online Learning in the Time of COVID-19: What are the Pros and Cons? - Scholarship America

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Online Learning in the Time of COVID-19: What are the Pros and Cons?

By Scholarship America

By Nikki Eye, Scholarships and Communications Manager, National Society of High School Scholars

High school and college students are experiencing uncharted territory when it comes to their education: transitioning from in-person classroom and campus experiences to virtual ones. With a global pandemic affecting students of all grades, at times the situation can feel difficult to navigate. As more schools move towards virtual learning, there can be some growing pains students are feeling as the world adjusts. Here are a few pros and cons of virtual learning students can expect in the coming academic year.

Pro #1: Convenience and Comfortability

A major benefit of online education is the convenience of it all, allowing students to log on when they see fit. With the wide availability of Wi-Fi connections, students can be logged in from anywhere in the world. A recent article in the New York Times by an incoming high school freshman in New York City praised online learning due to it offering “more time on subjects that require greater effort and study.” As students are increasingly accessing the Internet anywhere and everywhere, so too can students access their classes and education, often from the comforts of their own home any time of the day.

Pro #2: Availability and Affordability

With online courses, the opportunities available to students are boundless. Online college courses and degree programs can be found through a myriad of sites, such as edX, a trusted platform from Harvard and MIT with more than 2,500 online courses offered from 140 institutions. While most traditional on-campus programs can range from $22,000 to $50,000 yearly, virtual opportunities can cut those costs in half. With the option to attend college from your living room, many students are saving on commuting and housing costs as well. An added boon on virtual learning is the flexibility of studying remotely, a talent that poises many students to be uniquely prepared for a professional marketplace where remote options are commonplace. As the coronavirus pandemic pushes students to alternative education routes, online learning provides the benefit of easing the financial burden of traditional college.

Con #1: Technology and Time

The biggest snafu of online learning deals primarily with time management and technology. For students prone to procrastination, online learning can be difficult to coordinate and motivation can prove to be a struggle. Since the majority of online learning is dependent upon a student’s ability to complete self-directed work, students who thrive on routine and direction could find online learning lacking. For those students who have the dedication and motivation to adapt to online learning, they can still struggle due to access. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), 14% of students, aged 3-18, do not have access to the Internet at home, roughly equating to 9 million students.

Con #2: Social Interaction and Stigma

Online learning loses appeal for students who have their hearts set on a traditional college experience. Without the on-campus interactions with educators, clubs and sports, and other students, many students can feel isolated. In a study from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, social isolation shows up as a main reason for students to withdraw from their studies. This diminished level of social interaction weakens the college experience for many students, which leads to online learning having a stigma around it. However, this stigma of online education not being on par with traditional education is slowly fading, as noted in a Northwestern University study citing that “a solid majority (61%) of HR leaders [believe] that credentials earned online are of generally equal quality to those completed in-person.”

Online learning can be difficult to navigate, and students are approaching their fall 2020 semesters with a mixture of anxiety and excitement of the unknown. In a recent survey from NSHSS, students were lukewarm about the prospects of online learning. When asked how they would feel if their schools were still all online in the fall, roughly half (53%) said they prefer in-person classes but could deal with e-learning. And despite the COVID-19 crisis, students remain optimistic and hopeful. Strikingly, more than 80% of the 2000 respondents stated being “Very hopeful” or “Pretty hopeful” about the health of their family and friends (82%) and their ability to achieve a college education (94%), graduate on time (86%), and secure a job (83%). 

Underneath the growing pains of virtual education, there are benefits that with a little research and dedication, students can reap as the world continues through the global pandemic.

The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) is a distinguished academic honor society, committed to recognizing and serving the highest-achieving student scholars in more than 26,000 high schools across 170 countries. Visit to learn more!