Strengths and Weaknesses of Online Learning

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Any place
  • Any time or pace
  • Synergy
  • High quality dialogue
  • Student centered
  • Level playing field
  • Access to resources
  • Creative teaching
  • Accessibility
  • Computer literacy
  • Limitations of technology
  • Requires self-directed learners
  • Limitations for hands-on learning
  • Limitations for "lectures"

Strengths. There are many strengths of online learning, which is why it is becoming so popular. The most obvious are that it allows people to take classes regardless of where they live or what their schedules may be (often called "anytime, anyplace"). The asynchronous nature of the class allows students time for reflection and research and to compose their messages with more thought. Unlike face-to-face classes, there is time and space for everyone to respond to the question to be discussed or the problem to be solved. The interactions of the participants creates a synergistic effect and results in high quality dialogue. The asynchronicity along with the anonymous (faceless) nature of the medium tends to level the playing field. There are no preconceptions based on visual cues therefore students learn about each other from the inside out. Without the traditional role of the teacher standing up in the front of the class, the learning experience tends to become more student centered, resulting in students being for active participants and taking on more of the responsibility for learning. Teachers become more creative with their teaching as old paradigms are challenged with this delivery method.

Weaknesses. Every delivery method has its strengths and weaknesses. The trick is to match the delivery method to the learning objectives and try to minimize the weaknesses. Many of the weaknesses are the flip side of the strengths. Online education is a response to the need for more accessibility to campus courses. While it does make courses availability to a wide variety of people living in very diverse places, there is still an accessibility issue. Students must have access to a computer and an internet provider. They also need to be computer literate enough to navigate the internet, read and send email, and create and attach documents. And because of the asynchronous nature of the class it takes an independent, self-directed learner to be successful - one who will do the work without seeing the instructor at class every week. Internet-based learning is great for delivering content for independent learning and for group work, such as discussions, debates, cases, and sharing and critiquing of papers. However, it is not too good for feeling the sponginess of a lung or the hardness of a lesion in the lung. It also can't help you smell the breath of a patient with ketosis or identify a bacterial culture by its sweet smell (yet!). And you don't get to hear and see the great lecturers teach. (Nor do you have to sit through a lecture on something you've been doing for the last five years.)

Online education is not for everyone. If, for you, the advantages and strengths outweigh the disadvantages and weaknesses then it is probably right for you.