Recently, the world has had a chance to experience online learning at its best. For the first time in history, if you wanted to take part in further education, your only option was to learn online. We’ve learned the pros and the cons, and we can now truly weigh up its benefits compared to the traditional classroom – even when we return to some kind of “new normal”. So, in today’s blog, we ask, what’s better, online learning or classroom learning for adult education?
Before we get started, here are our credentials. Code Institute has trained more than 50,000 people in software development. We have done this through our university credit-rated Full-Stack Software Development programme and our free 5 Day Coding Challenge. Until 2018, we operated both online and in the classroom and by the end of that year, we decided that the best way for us to teach our programme was to go 100% online. Code Institute made this decision based on feedback from both our in-class and online students.
Naturally, we favour higher education through online learning – however, we only favour online education when delivered correctly. While many universities and colleges had to shut their doors through various lockdowns, many of them turned to the likes of Zoom. Don’t get me wrong, Zoom is an excellent form of communication, but it’s only suited to education as a stop-gap – or as a complementary learning tool. Using this as your sole teaching method does not cut the mustard – especially when you consider the fantastic edtech available to ensure students are staying on track.
Further Education on Zoom
The biggest problem with teaching through video apps is that many further education providers did not adapt correctly. Instead, they proceeded to teach as if they were in a classroom. The problem here is that teaching through a video camera that captures you in 2-D in a frame size of 1920 x 1080 entirely moves the goalposts. Visual clues and actions are hindered, and reading the room is so much more difficult. How do you gauge that the room is with you? How do you know if Sammy in the corner understands you? What if a student is shy and is lost? While they may not be brave enough to ask a question of you in a physical classroom, at the very least, a teacher can read the room and assess comprehension based on visual clues.
Tried and tested LMS
Here’s where the benefits of a proper Learning Management System (LMS) kicks in. We at Code Institute believe that we have revolutionised online learning. So much so that we can safely say that it is the best form of education if used correctly.
We’re not shy about it. We have built the best LMS in the world. We have taken MIT and Harvard’s Edx and have adapted all of our systems to ensure that we are teaching in the best possible way. Yes, we use video – of course we do, but it is certainly not solely video-based. Instead, we have created interactive content that keeps our students interested and on track. Our video content is essentially the lectures, but the rest of our LMS holds our interactive challenges, lessons and much more.
Unsurprisingly, with the rush to move online, many other education providers switched to whatever came easiest, teaching their programmes solely based on video and sharing pdfs or Word files. However, these educators put no long term beneficial structure in place to ensure that learners were receiving the best education possible.
In-class support or online support?
Picture the scene. You’re in a classroom, or as it was during lockdowns, a Zoom class, along with, let’s say, twenty other students. Your lecturer is explaining an intricate part of software development, and you don’t understand. What do you do? Some people put up their hands and say, “sorry, I don’t get it”. Others are not as brave. Others stay quiet and work up the courage to ask the lecturer at the end of class – where if they’re lucky, they get three minutes before the lecturer says – “right, I have to get dinner”.
One of the significant flaws of classroom learning, and Zoom learning, is the access that students have to support. In a classroom, one-on-one time with a tutor is short. If you’re lucky, then you might get a couple of minutes at the end of class – and if you’re brave, you can ask a question in class. Still, even if you don’t fully understand the answer, the teacher will have to move on for the benefit of the rest of the class. The same can be said for Zoom classes. Also, it’s rare that a teacher volunteers their phone number or email and says – “hey, if you don’t get it, give me a call, and I’ll answer your questions”.
A properly formed online programme will have ample support available for its students. For example, at Code Institute, we have a team of global tutors available 24-hours a day, five days a week. They even offer support between 9 am and 5 pm (GMT) over the weekends. Similarly, our students receive ample time with mentors, and our Student Care Team is always on hand to help when needed.
Monitoring Student Progression
In a classroom, how is a student’s progress monitored? Tests are generally the answer here. The methods used are continual assessment, seasonal assessment or annual assessment. Unfortunately, this has proven to be not good enough for many students. These methods are why many people fail exams. They are not intuitive enough and often don’t catch a problem before it is too late.
Online education has the power to do so much more. Code Institute has developed a solution to ensure that our student’s progress is constantly monitored. We have developed proprietary software that tracks where a student is excelling and where they are struggling. When we see that a student is struggling, our support teams receive a notification and extra support kicks in to play. Software like this helps us to assist our students in succeeding in the programme.
When it comes to classroom or video-only learning, a student’s risk of falling behind is very high. This is because the entire classroom has to move at the pace of the teacher. Often this pace is fast because it has to be finished at an allotted time within a short period – so everyone has to study at the same rate.
Online learning offers a lot more flexibility. Flexibility like this is essential for adult education. After all, we live in a fast world where work takes up a lot of our time. It can be a struggle to work from 9 to 5 and then be expected to get into the middle of our nearest town or city and take a class for an hour or two surrounded by twenty other people who also want to get home for their dinner.
With online courses, there is a lot more flexibility. With our full-stack programme, for example, the course has to be completed within 52 weeks. However, the student can choose when to study. Our students need to do a minimum of circa twelve hours per week to finish within 52 weeks. But, if a learner wants to progress faster, they can. The same can not be said about students in a classroom.
Blended learning is a new method of learning that mixes both classroom and online education. Often, it can be a suitable method. However, it takes away some of the flexibility mentioned above available to today’s batch of adult learners.
However, when done right, blended learning can suit some people. For example, Code Institute works with various state bodies that offer education through local training boards. We also work with a selection of universities and colleges to provide blended learning. Their method of blended learning allows some of the best things about the classroom experience, mixed with the LMS and support of the online structure.
One thing that governments around the world are promoting is skills that are relevant to today’s workforce – especially when it comes to technology. Here’s the thing: technology advances very quickly and therefore courses need to adapt. For the most part, universities follow a set curriculum that can only be changed after timely reviews, and more. Because we teach software development, we want to ensure that we are teaching the most up to date technologies, and our LMS is built in such a way that we can update different modules as the topics advance.
The new normal
If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t know what the new normal is yet. But one thing that is certain since this pandemic landed is that we are now more reliant than ever on technology. As a result, businesses worldwide are identifying massive skills gaps. These reported gaps are echoed through the World Economic Forum report on the future of jobs. They estimate that between now and 2025, 85 million existing roles will be displaced by 96 million new, more tech-focused positions.
Upskilling is vital, and online education can deliver skills more reliably and faster than traditional education. However, it is critically important that these skills are delivered in the right way.
When choosing a delivery model for further education, decide what’s right for you. Know what you want and how you want it. Online learning has grown in reputation over the last ten years. Still, since the arrival of COVID-19, it has seen a meteoric rise. If you’re choosing to learn the skills needed for the future of work, opt for a tried and trusted provider and a Learning Management System that ensures you the best that education can offer.
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