Pros and Cons of Virtual Learning for Adults

Jul 27 2021 | Insights
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Ezra discusses the pros and cons of virtual learning as it pertains to adult educational development and professional or workplace training.

One of the few benefits to the COVID-19 crisis is that it’s provided more time for online learning. But most learning models cater to the academic process, not so much virtual learning for degree-holding adults who are a part of the workforce and are simply trying to enrich their skill sets. Because of this, most online learning studies focus on younger learners. But there are still some valuable insights that we can take from these studies to learn more about the state of virtual learning.

For example, despite online learning being hailed as the future of learning by former Republican governor Jeb Bush, there is plenty of research showing that students experience much higher levels of stress and anxiety as a result of their transition to online learning. In a series of Twitter polls, 84% of respondents felt less motivated to focus on schoolwork due to the drastic transformation. Many of the respondents felt that they would fail a class and many commented saying that the self-pacing of online classes creates a lot more stress than regular lessons.

Adult learners largely face the same problems. Discipline is something most of us struggle with, and the responsibility of taking full advantage of online learning can be a huge hurdle to overcome. There’s also the feeling of isolation that online learners find hard to avoid. But despite these glaring issues, there are definitely some online learning pros we should aim to take full advantage of.

So what exactly are the pros and cons of virtual learning and are there solutions to overcome those cons?

The pros of online learning

It's personal

Virtual learning is a much more personalized experience than a typical academic course, since students can learn in innovative styles that work for them. If new methods aren’t for them, students can revert back to more traditional learning processes if they choose to. Students get more control and autonomy in how they want to approach their studies. They can study materials on their own and do independent research, or they can communicate with their instructors and collaborate with colleagues to create a more community-focused approach to studying.

It's accessible

One major advantage of virtual learning for adults is that it’s more accessible than traditional learning. Whether it’s an online course provided by an independent service or an in-house learning management system for training employees, virtual learning is extremely accessible. This makes it very easy for employees to learn the skills they need to fit into new roles and advance their careers. They don’t need to invest time into going to a college or physical classes, and they can also learn at their own pace instead of being forced to study at specific times. This accessibility also breaks down geographical learning barriers, making it a great option for remote employees, staff in different countries or those away on a business trip.

It's more cost-effective

The cheaper cost of virtual learning is perhaps one of the most alluring aspects, both from the perspective of the business and the student. In 2017, the British-Dutch oil and gas multinational Shell cut the cost of its most expensive learning programs by 90% when they introduced interactive online learning platforms for the staff. Shell’s virtual learning techniques delivered over 12,000 virtual lessons and saved the business $200 million after development costs. From a business standpoint, this is a massive saving that could be redirected into other aspects of the business to promote growth.

But students can also take advantage of these benefits. The cost of education can be prohibitively expensive at times, since these fees need to pay for everything from resources to faculty member salaries. With online learning, lessons are much more scalable meaning that fewer resources are invested in order to make the courses accessible. This ultimately lowers the cost of entry and makes it far more accessible for everyone.

The cons of online learning

Technology-related issues

Who can’t relate to the dreaded virtual meeting crash? Online learning relies on technology, so software issues and accessibility are just a few of the virtual learning hurdles online students have to jump over. Internet connectivity is one of the biggest problems because not every region of the world has a stable and fast connection. This limits some students to only viewing text and pictures for their study materials, while others can access live webinars and video feeds to enhance their learning. 

We may see this fixed over time, with constant internet infrastructure upgrades. However, it can also be improved through effective use of transcription and creating alternative resources to remove the reliance on video and audio-based lessons. This also allows students to choose their preferred method of study.

The sense of isolation

Self-directed learning can be isolating. 22% of distance learning students mentioned a “risk of feeling isolated” as one of the biggest obstacles to their success. Since virtual learning is mostly carried out alone and involves minimal interaction with colleagues and instructors, it can hinder your ability to learn and may lead to developing feelings of anxiety, depression, or even total loss of motivation.

Thankfully, learners can solve this by taking a slightly different approach to online learning. For instance, instructors can encourage their students to participate in group learning activities, or they can keep communications open through online messaging apps or face-to-face video calls and meetings. This can help break the sense of isolation that learners might experience and also encourages a more community-focused form of study.

There’s good and bad to virtual learning for adults, but any issues can be worked out with the right approach. In the future, we may see virtual learning becoming the go-to option for adults that want to develop new skills and advance their careers with minimal downsides and maximum flexibility.

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