Opinion: Online learning should not replace in-person learning

Brandon Wu, Staff Writer

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools nationwide have entered a phase of online learning, requiring students to continue their academic school year at home.

It has been over a month since the start of the hiatus, with no certainty of when students can safely return to their normal lives. The plan for the final quarter of this school is set and underway, but what about next year? What should happen when school campuses reopen? Is in-person learning actually necessary?

While the most obvious approach would be to compare the differences in workload and difficulty between online and in-person learning, these points alone cannot help us form a conclusion. Arguments like “I spend a lot more time on online class” are too anecdotal, since each teacher has a different way of teaching and each student works at a different pace. Keep in mind that both students and teachers are adapting to the new online experience, so everyone has a personal opinion, but we have to consider the majority in order to make a decision. 

Let’s take a look at the routine differences with online learning.

Students no longer have to wake up to catch their first period classes, but instead wake up in accordance with their own schedules. The district has also decided to forego fully-structured class schedules to follow its asynchronous learning policy. Furthermore, without a teacher present, students aren’t readily monitored to stay on task.

What do all of these differences have in common? 

On top of the active learning processes like participation and note-taking for students to achieve success normally in face-to-face classes, online learning requires students to have more motivation, discipline, and time management skills. Why do we wake up early in the morning? Why do we have a schedule? Why do we have supervision? These are all good habits that keep us focused on the task at hand in order to progress, benefiting us now and more so later in life. 

Rather than select which option is better, online learning is first dependent on the personality of an individual. If anything, a successful online learning environment requires a utopia of self-disciplined students that seems too ideal. 

A utopia requires absolute perfection, but this possibly can’t be the case. The world always consists of procrastinators and amateurs at time management and focus. Without proper discipline, we aren’t motivated to learn the same way in school. Thus, if we cannot copy our regular academic routines, then we also cannot keep up with its pace, making us fall behind. 

Logically, online learning can help us practice these skills, but in fact, it’s the other way around. A lack of these skills causes the downfall, preventing students from focusing on their work. As a result, the less disciplined a student, the more he/she will suffer. 

That said, certain individuals who manage to stay on task may have success with online learning. Can they create a schedule they can follow for all school days? Will they make sure to self-supervise and never get distracted? Unfortunately, it’s extremely doubtful that all people would be able to meet these criteria.

Professor of psychology Joseph Ferrari, PhD, on an interview with the American Psychological Association, says, “Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.” We all put tasks off, but my research has found that 20 percent of U.S. men and women are chronic procrastinators. They delay at home, work, school and in relationships. These 20 percent make procrastination their way of life, so of course they procrastinate when filing their income taxes. We are a nation of “doers” but we are also, like people from other industrialized nations, a people of “waiters.”

Applying this to the student spectrum, we are assuming that 20 percent are procrastinating normally even without online learning. If we then take motivation, discipline and supervision out of the picture, no one can control how high that percentage may rise. In-person learning forces us to eliminate these bad habits, but online learning only makes them worse.

Another aspect to consider is the social effect of asynchronous learning. By learning on our own, we lack any personal interaction with fellow classmates, which includes live collaboration or real-time activities. For example, some hands-on activities like science labs have been completely eliminated from the learning spectrum. Moreover, our future depends on our abilities to share ideas and work with one another to achieve a goal, especially as part of a workforce. Without any communication or feedback from others, we feel isolated and less motivated to continue any further.

Some might argue that Zoom meetings solve this issue by providing synchronous learning, where a class can meet at an exact time. We like to think that a virtual class is legitimate, but in reality, face-to-face is still far more effective. 

Body language is more thoroughly expressed in an actual meeting than virtually, allowing the audience to fully receive the speaker’s message.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Paul Axtell, corporate trainer and author of the book “Meetings Matter”, says, “In-person meetings provide a sense of intimacy, connection and empathy that is difficult to replicate via video. It’s much easier to ask for attentive listening and presence, which creates the psychological safety that people need to sense in order to engage and participate fully.”

Then we have the technical issues. We can never fully trust technology and it can be especially frustrating when connection or microphone issues arise. Some students also lack the technology for the strong internet connection that virtual learning requires. If in-person learning is replaced, these students will suffer the most without any way of accessing education. While this may not apply to many, we are talking about a national issue that encompasses all students. 

Most importantly, Zoom meetings do not solve the problem with supervision. Although there is an instructor, they have no control over what students are actually doing. They can’t control if students have their camera on or off, and of course, they can’t control what they are doing behind that camera. 

Likewise, the same can be applied to the adult world. People who support working from home don’t realize the application of the reasons above that make offices necessary. In-person meetings allow for a sense of intimacy that allow attentive listening and participation to fully take place. Some occupations are not even based off of technology, so working at home only decelerates the process. Finally, employees aren’t able to be monitored by their boss to stay on task, leading to procrastination and a lack of motivation. Therefore, we cannot trust online learning, be it asynchronous, or synchronous.

The final question to be asked comes down to: If online learning were to replace in-person learning, what would be its effects in the future?

Replacing in-person learning would be like replacing our schools with modern online courses. What do we lose? If we stayed at home for four years, would we really feel like a part of Palo Alto High School? If going to school was just for the essence of learning, so be it. But no, school is much bigger than that. We make friends, learn to communicate, accept mentorship, develop school spirit, and most importantly, get an introduction to the actual start of our lives. As high schoolers, we might already have these necessities, but imagine what it would be like for a kindergartner to go through 12 grade levels plus college years of online school, and go into the adult world without any experience. 

If online schools were to be implemented on a large scale, something huge would have to be done in order for students to receive another version of the school experience. But until it’s achievable, don’t even think about it.