The COVID-19 pandemic made distance learning part of our new normal. For many individuals with disabilities, this created unique opportunities as well as unique challenges. Whether you love learning from your couch or can’t wait to get back to meeting in-person, here are the benefits and challenges of online learning vs. in-person learning. We’ll also share some of our favorite tips for successful learning no matter where you are.
Advantages of Online Learning
One of the main advantages of online or distance learning is clear from the name. You can take a class or attend a meeting anywhere in the country – or even the world. With virtual classes, you can learn from anywhere as long as you have a reliable Internet connection. This can reduce transportation barriers.
If you’re taking a self-paced online class, you also have schedule flexibility. You can watch learning videos or read lessons whenever it’s convenient for you. Recordings and online content can also provide more options for using accessibility technology, such as captioning, transcripts, or screen readers. With self-paced classes, you can pause, rewind, or slow down recorded videos or screen readers as needed.
Disadvantages of Online Learning
It can be significantly more difficult to teach physical skills, such as knitting or cooking, when you aren’t able to see and feel the materials personally. The benefits of peer modeling or simply enjoying other people’s company while you learn are difficult to replicate on Zoom or a digital classroom. You may have to deal with technology failures, such as the Wi-Fi going down or certain software not working properly.
While you may gain flexibility when it comes to location and scheduling, those factors also provide much-needed structure. You may feel less motivated to show up to an online class or make time to learn on your own, compared to attending an in-person meeting with your friends or community members.
Success Tips for Online Learning
- Make a schedule for learning, even with self-paced courses.
- Ask your instructor for accessible materials, or for the standard materials ahead of time so you can apply the accessibility technology that you need.
- Set Set SMART goals for your learning and make a plan to reach them.
Advantages of In-Person Learning
There are many advantages to learning in-person. You can get immediate support from the instructor, which is particularly important if you’re learning a new skill. When you meet in-person, you can use all five senses to learn about something instead of just sight and sound.
Communication can also be easier in-person than over the Internet. It’s often easier to see and interpret nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and facial expressions, in-person. This gives students a way to ask for the support they need even if they don’t feel fully comfortable asking out loud.
In-person learning can adapt to more learning styles. Most people learn best by doing, rather than reading or watching content. During in-person learning, you can practice new skills with other people, do hands-on experiments, and learn from the experiences of others around you.
Disadvantages of In-Person Learning
The biggest limitation of in-person learning is the need to be at the physical location where the class or event is taking place. This means you can only access learning opportunities that are nearby. Or you will need to travel, which can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful.
You are also bound by the meeting schedule. You will need to show up at a set time for the class, even if you’re tired, hungry, or want to be somewhere else.
You and the instructor may need to put in more effort to make the class more accessible. It can be hard to generate captions or use a screen reader when someone is presenting live. You may need to work with an interpreter or other educational aide instead.
Success Tips for In-Person Learning
- Put the class meeting times in your phone calendar or planner.
- Prepare for class by completing your assignments and bringing the materials you will need.
- Ask the instructor and your support network for help understanding the content and completing assignments.
We are excited to be able to host our in-person classes again someday, but until then you can register for Spark 101, our starter online course about entrepreneurship.