I had no idea when I started taking my master’s back in 2016 that my courses were going to be predominantly online. My assumption, based on conversations that I had with colleagues that had taken their masters was that most classes would be in-person+seminar style with a heavy class-discussion component. Yet, of the 6 graduate studies courses that I’ve taken, 5 have been predominantly online and that has made me one happy student.
There are numerous factors that have influenced my opinion on online courses. For starters, I’m a fairly busy guy. Like we all know, juggling classes, a job and family is tough. The flexibility that online courses provide is the #1 gamechanger for me. I love the freedom of being able to work at my own pace while not necessarily having to be in class for an entire evening. As a new dad, this has proven to be especially beneficial because who knows what a 6-month old baby is going to do next. One minute they’re sleeping quietly in their crib, the next? Screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs. Online courses allow me to work around my baby’s “schedule”.
Another reason why I’ve enjoyed online courses is that they’re better suited to my learning style. Going all the way back to elementary school, I’ve never been much of a vocal participant in class discussions. I can remember several instances in grade school where I bumbled and stumbled my way through a discussion prompt. Fortunately, aside from one, all of my master’s courses have been of the blended variety with an emphasis on either weekly forum postings via URCourses or the blogging/twitter component of EC&I833. Being able to actually sit and think about what I want to say rather than having to provide an immediate and thought-provoking response is something that is better suited to my strengths. Going forward, I could see myself incorporating tools such as WordPress and Twitter into my classes for that very reason – not everyone wants to be a vocal contributor to class discussions.
That’s not to say that online learning is perfect – there are certainly some limitations present. The most obvious is one that we’ve already encountered a couple of times in this class – technology doesn’t always work! Aside from YouTube videos not working properly, simply having to rely on the stability of an internet connection is worrisome. During this class’s first two synchronous sessions, I kept on getting a “your connection is unstable” message from Zoom so I missed a bit of the content during those classes. Fortunately, I have since opted for the hardwired ethernet connection vs wifi and that has solved the problem. This, however, speaks to another limitation – access to appropriate technology. If I didn’t have my work laptop, the hardwired route wouldn’t work because my home computer is a Chromebook that doesn’t have a port for an ethernet cable. Also, not many people have a spare 50-foot ethernet cable lying around.
The lack of relationships is also a limitation of the online learning experience. As stated by Appana (2008), online learning “appears to be an impersonal exercise, which leads students to feel “eSolated” from instructional staff and classmates” (p. 15). This might not be as big an issue in a master’s class (it certainly doesn’t bother me – I’ve felt adequately supported in every class that I’ve taken) but I would echo Brooke’s sentiment that “for young children the face-to-face learning and connection with their teacher is invaluable”. There is also a high level of independence required which is why online courses might be better suited to a university-aged student’s needs.
Overall, while online learning has its limitations, the pros for me easily outweigh the cons. Being able to work at my own pace, around my child’s schedule, from the comfort of my own home is a tremendous perk and has made my graduate studies experience a good one. If my courses were of the “traditional” variety, I would cope but I would have to take a step back from some of my extracurricular commitments at work because I would be losing yet another evening in order to attend class.