Face off: Is online learning better than face-to-face learning?


Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

Joanne Ma |

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Can online learning ever truly replace the classroom?

Nicholas Ng, 17, South Island School

If we’ve learned anything from the past eight months of turmoil, it’s that online learning, done right, is now a legitimate substitute for face-to-face education. 

Learning has many definitions, but as a student I find successful education has three key elements: accessibility to high-quality resources, open and concise sharing of feedback and ideas, and the tailoring of knowledge to the individual. 

In these three areas, e-learning has proven itself to triumph over conventional education. 

The plethora of online resources that can be easily distributed, filled in, annotated and submitted through a range of platforms such as Google Classroom provides a much more efficient, faster, and more transparent form of making notes and handing in assignments (where you can’t claim that your work was eaten by your dog or some other ridiculous reason), with resource-sharing apps like Evernote making the flow of life-saving notes much easier.

Getting feedback is significantly faster and more detailed. Unlike a 10-minute rushed individual feedback session about an essay in class, apps like Kaizena specialise in making marking and understanding feedback a lot easier, especially with videoconferencing apps helping to follow up on any unanswered questions.

Meanwhile, communications tech such as Zoom is an invaluable tool in allowing meaningful class discussions outside the classroom. 

Traditional learning has long been more about uniform progress than the ability of the individual. 

Big data platforms use exam grades to narrow down specific aspects of the syllabus, or identify exam techniques that need to be worked on, something I’ve seen first-hand, resulting in more targeted time-saving learning, rather than a two-hour lecture on something that could be covered in five pages of a textbook. 

Historically, traditional learning might have had the upper hand. But the increasing need for e-learning as we live in an increasingly unstable and risky world means the way we learn online has evolved beyond the classroom – potentially allowing education itself to become truly borderless, and classless.

Face off: Should teachers share their political views with students outside class?

Charlotte Fong, 17, International Christian School

Since face-to-face classes were suspended due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, many schools have implemented e-learning so their students don’t fall behind. However, as I’m getting into the routine of online lessons, I look back fondly on my real-life lessons and would even argue that this new situation is only slightly better than no classes. 

Part of what makes going to school an irreplaceable part of a child’s development are the real and tangible connections that they form while learning. At school, I can have back-and-forth interactions with my teacher and be enriched by the diverse perspectives of my peers. The boring, laggy discussion board on my school’s online learning platform simply isn’t enough. 

Moreover, as a literature student, seminar-style discussions are vital to developing a complex understanding of a piece of literature. Under normal circumstances, our teacher would serve as a facilitator who directs the class through analysing different themes and literary devices. Students are free to chime in whenever and our lively discussions are often punctuated with laughter. Now, we are left to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and take notes on our own. It doesn’t feel too different from solo reading, where I’m only exposed to my own thoughts. 

As well as decreased classroom interaction, online learning also encourages procrastination. Even though my school requires all students to begin work at 9am, I wait until late afternoon (often preceded by a nice nap) before starting work. Spending two hours writing a paragraph, I’m also incredibly distracted by YouTube and Instagram while I work on assignments. Teachers are not present to keep me on task, nor are they there to provide instant feedback. I often wait hours for an ambiguous answer that does not clear up anything. 

While one could argue that video classes via Zoom can resemble normal learning, these sessions are incredibly limited. Teachers cannot enforce attendance, and students’ learning is sometimes impacted by an unstable connection. 

Moreover, a session of just 40 minutes is hardly enough to get anything done. Online learning was perhaps implemented to prevent our brains from decaying, but I strongly think that we can get more out of our tuition by going to school, in real life.