Effectiveness of Learning Online

The limits of digital learning

While online learning offers students a world of advantages, it does have its limitations, and there are certain things that you cannot (or should not) learn solely online. Certain subjects require hands-on training or direct interaction with a live instructor, while others can be taught just as well over the Internet as they can in a classroom.

Broadly speaking, online education is compatible with most if not all traditional academic disciplines. In addition, some types of career training can be completed entirely online. As a general rule of thumb, you can study any academic discipline or professional skill that does not require hands-on training in a virtual classroom. For example, consider the case of an accounting student and a welding student. The accounting student can learn and master all the concepts he or she will need in his or her new career in an online environment. On the other hand, the welding student can learn the theory, but not the practice required to master the trade.

Where Theory Ends and Practice Begins

Fields which require person-to-person interaction and the mastery of specific motor skills or physical skills are best studied in a traditional environment. While it is possible to leverage instructional videos as a way of teaching these concepts, there are severe limitations to such an approach and it is just not possible for a student to improve his or her proficiency with such skills without the benefit of in-person instruction and training. Person-to-person interaction is also an important feature of language training, and while it is possible to learn and master a new language without ever setting foot in a classroom, there is simply no substitute for the kind of spontaneous conversation that is only possible when student and teacher are face to face.

Interactivity and hands-on training are part and parcel of many academic disciplines and career training courses. Some subject areas where you may find the online environment limiting includes:

  • Medicine, healthcare, and emergency services training
  • Language studies
  • Skilled trades studies

To compensate for these limitations, it is becoming more and more common for schools to offer a combination of online and traditional learning. Theoretical concepts can be taken through online modules, but when it comes time for practical training and hands-on instruction, traditional classrooms take over. Thus, students can enjoy the best of both worlds by taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the virtual classroom and the person-to-person interactivity that defines the traditional classroom.

Consider Your Learning Style

In addition to the aforementioned practical considerations, you should also assess whether or not your personal learning style is conducive to the virtual classroom. Students who learn well independently generally find it easier to adapt to the online environment, whereas students who require more one-on-one interaction to grasp and master important concepts tend to have a harder time making the adjustment. The latter group is known as "dependent learners," and if you fall into that category, you should get your feet wet with online learning slowly, so to speak, or stick to traditional classroom environments.

Finally, consider not only your own strengths and weaknesses, but also your preferences. In some cases, it's not so much a matter of whether or not a specific subject or skill can be taught online, but rather whether you would prefer to learn it online or in a traditional classroom. Some people just prefer the experience of being in a classroom, and if you're one of them, don't feel like you have to go to school online just because the option is there. However, you should certainly take the many benefits of online education into consideration -- primarily its cost advantages and its superior flexibility.