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Student Perspective: 5 Things I Learned Taking Online Courses

Andy Budgell

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are moving to online-only classes or a hybrid approach, which consists of both traditional in-person and online courses. While the hybrid approach is not a new concept, it has certainly been in the news lately.

When I began my post-secondary education, a hybrid approach was beginning to grow in popularity, and I took full advantage of it. Back then, in 2005, students were sent their online lectures and all course material on a CD-ROM. (I’m sure many of you reading this are scratching your head, wondering just what the heck a CD-ROM is.) I quickly discovered that this approach to learning would help me thrive in my university career and beyond.

Here are a few of my takeaways.

1. A More Level Playing Field

As someone who identifies as an extraverted introvert, large classes were a daunting prospect. I’m particularly thinking back to Psych 101, which was held in a vast theatre on campus. I found it difficult to overcome my shyness when it came to raising my hand and answering a question, or even asking one. I felt more comfortable in smaller, more intimate classes, where I got to know my instructors and fellow students on a deeper level, which allowed me to feel more at ease in voicing my opinions.

A hybrid approach allowed me to continue to take these smaller classes in which I excelled, but also augment them with online courses where I could express myself and engage with the rest of the class through the written word via the online message board. This can be especially helpful for international students when English is their second language.

2. Flexibility

Of course, one of the biggest advantages of a hybrid learning approach is its flexibility. Traditional in-person classes require students to attend lectures at a predetermined time. Online courses often allow you to listen to your lectures when and where you want. But a combination of in-person and online courses allows students to have more freedom with their schedule, and perhaps to work a part-time job to help pay for tuition. International students beginning a program at a Canadian institution for the upcoming fall 2020 semester can take a fully online course load from abroad, which allows them to save money for their tuition and day-to-day living expenses for when they eventually come to Canada.

However, this flexibility poses challenges. Students must discipline themselves to stay on track of their studies and meet deadlines. It’s easy to fall behind, and tough to get back on track.

3. The Best of Both Worlds

A hybrid approach truly offers the best of both worlds. While I appreciated the flexibility that online courses offer as outlined above, the hybrid approach meant that I still got to enjoy the more traditional aspects of on-campus school life, including study sessions at the library, homecoming games, and meeting friends for coffee.

4. Removes Geographic Limitations

The post-secondary experience brings students face-to-face with experts in their respective fields. But, in the past, a traditional in-person learning approach meant that students could only be taught by instructors who could be in the same physical space as them. Online courses help to remove this geographic barrier. Instead, schools can attract top teaching talent, regardless of the instructor’s location, ensuring that students are taught by the brightest minds. In my post-secondary experience, I appreciated having the peace of mind knowing that, regardless of whether it was online via my laptop or in a traditional classroom, I was taught by the very best.

It also removes geographic barriers for international students, too, which is especially evident as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. International students have the peace of mind knowing that, even if borders don’t reopen before September, they can begin their studies online, something that wouldn’t have been possible even 10-15 years ago.

5. Preparation for Remote Work

In retrospect, I realize that perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this hybrid approach was its invaluable preparation for my future career and working remotely. Shortly after graduating, I landed a remote job at a startup, which was a novelty at the time. I was able to draw upon the first-hand experience I had communicating and collaborating with my fellow students and instructors, both online and in-person. For instance, working on online group projects was highly beneficial. It stressed the importance of clear and concise communication. It was also a reminder that misinterpretation is common when nonverbal cues aren’t present.

These lessons set me up for success in this type of working environment, one that forces you to sink or swim. Fast-forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of today’s workforce has shifted online, including the team here at ApplyBoard. Many students who use the ApplyBoard platform come from countries, such as India and China, where, prior to the pandemic, working from home was not part of workplace culture. When people in China began working from home at the beginning of February, for example, most were discovering what it was like for the very first time. Studying and collaborating online gives international students a leg up in the new world of remote work. There’s no telling the reverberations that COVID-19 will continue to have on our lives, but one thing is for certain. The landscape of work has changed forever, and it will continue to exist very much online.

 

Hybrid learning has continued to evolve since my time at university. Technology has rapidly improved, and the selection of courses is more extensive than ever before. Today’s students are in a unique position. Those who had never considered a hybrid approach are now juggling both online and in-person courses out of necessity. It’s an excellent opportunity to try it on for size and see how it works for you. And, best of all, no CD-ROMS!