Updated: Feb 16
Because of COVID-19, some areas of life have seen innovation in order to keep people safe. Services like grocery delivery, contactless payment, and online teleconferencing applications aren’t new, but they have been massively improved upon in recent years due to the pandemic. In the same vein, online learning has exploded in the higher education scene in response to COVID-19. Looking forward to a post-pandemic world, online courses are here to stay due to the benefits it provides for students.
One such benefit is flexibility. The added flexibility of online learning allows students to learn at their own pace and sometimes even asynchronously—which is impossible in an in-person learning environment. Let’s dive into how flexibility positively impacts the lives of students in higher education.
How Online Learning Gives Students More Flexibility
Accommodates more learners
An online learning or blended learning environment gives students more flexibility than a traditional classroom. In a physical classroom, you are typically expected to attend class and take tests at a specific time and location. Online class gives students the opportunity to attend a lecture from their dorm room and complete a test by a certain deadline removing the need for both a location and time restriction. Because both can be done asynchronously, students can complete the course material on their own time so they can have more time for other classes, jobs, clubs, and hanging out with friends.
Different lifestyles can receive an education
A problem that higher education has had for a while is allowing people with lifestyles different from typical students access to a traditional education. Working a full time job can make it very difficult to go to school unless you live near a university and have zero commitments after work—which is a problem for many people seeking higher education.
For example, it can be almost impossible for some parents to pursue a college degree because they simply do not have the time to spend commuting to a college campus at night while balancing caring for children. Even if you don't have children to care for, it can be physically and mentally taxing to seek a college degree if you work a full time position. Many teachers seek a second degree for higher pay and upward mobility in their careers, and many benefit by enrolling in online learning programs. Online education changes the game for full time workers by giving them the flexibility to learn and earn their degree at home.
Improved mental health
For some, having a flexible learning schedule aids in maintaining a good mental health. It can be stressful to attend an in-person class when life gets in the way—especially if attendance is part of the grade. An asynchronous online course can allow the student to learn when they want to instead of having the pressure to learn at a scheduled time, which can in turn improve the mental health of students.
You may be thinking, "Should higher education institutions be responsible for their students' mental health?" To answer that, let's first refer to a survey conducted by the American College Health Association that discusses the percentage of students that stated mental factors that led to lower academic performance:
Stress - 30%
Anxiety - 21.9%
Depression - 13.8%
It's clear that mental factors play a part in the academic performance of students. Universities should be partially responsible for their student's mental health because better grades lead to higher graduation rates and better learning experience, which not only looks good for the school but also ensures we are producing a well-educated workforce.
Because students have many obligations, such as homework, clubs, and attending classes, virtual classes can help by saving the students time. Instead of commuting or walking to class from their dorm, students can open their laptops a minute or two before their class starts giving them valuable time to work on their assignments or get a few extra minutes of sleep.
Online learning also allows students to learn at their own pace. Instead of sitting through an hour-long lecture, students may be able to learn the material in half the time or can watch parts of a recorded lecture that they need. Having the option of fully online learning is critical because it can save time for the already busy college student.
Students should always be at the center of education; every decision educators make should benefit their students. Giving students the option and flexibility of an online education can have a positive impact on their education and wellbeing, so it’s a no-brainer that higher education should continue offering online learning opportunities to give our students the flexibility they want.