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Should Online-only Education Be The Norm?

In the digital age, it can be easy to fall into the illusion that technology is the only part of our lives. Humans around the world collectively spend millions and billions of hours using some kind of technological device in a lifetime. What could become of the human race is that we feel more connected to the technology we create than we each other, effectively losing human autonomy and control over our own lives while lacking the socialization and human touch that we desperately need to sustain our species. As an example of the technological divide between the use of technology and the humans who implement and interact with them, let’s examine the digitalization of a fundamental human experience; learning. Colleges and universities around the world have begun to offer online degree programs for students who don’t have the time for in- person learning, who have the digital skills and knowledge to navigate online courses, and who would simply prefer to learn online rather than in-person. While there are several advantages to both students and society, the disadvantages of online degree programs, I will argue, prove to be more concerning in the long-run. Online degree programs are an attractive option for students who need a more flexible schedule to work with, allowing them to work full-time while getting their degree, caring for loved ones, or attending to other commitments. Most online degree programs offer access to all course materials at once so that students can not only work around their schedule, but also work at their own pace. This allows for even greater flexibility and convenience for students. Online programs eliminate travel time and the stress of rushing to class on time. By avoiding travel interferences beyond the student’s control, such as running into traffic or weather interferences, students can take charge of their own time. Students can also enroll in any online degree program offered by virtually any college or university in the world, giving students the option of learning from other countries' curriculums. Despite the benefits for students in receiving an online education, the disadvantages of online programs impacts students on a fundamentally human level. Students lose the in-person social interactions with humans. Although social interaction does occur in online courses, it’s incredibly easy for each individual student and the college to treat other students as numbers and names on a screen rather than as real human beings with real thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Face-to-face interactions allows students to recognize the humanity in their peers, and for instructors to see the humanity in their students. Students also learn in various ways, whether that may be auditory, visually, or kinesthetically. Online courses are not compatible with students who learn kinesthetically, and looking at a screen for too long can negatively affect both visual and auditory learning. As such, it is easier for students to lose focus on the learning process of education and instead redirect their focus on simply meeting objectives of the class. Simply meeting objectives of a class does not engage students with the learning process, and may be more prone to forget everything the courses covered by the time they get their degree. The advantages of online programs to a society at large are influential to colleges and universities who wish to offer online degree programs. Online programs allow universities to expand their target markets by recruiting students from virtually all over the world. This includes marketing their programs to international students, who pay the largest amount of money to attend college non-domestically which puts more money in the pockets of universities. This allows colleges to expand their programs even further and in more diverse ways which ultimately benefits students who go on to influence society. Online programs also influence working professionals to keep their jobs while continuing their education. More active jobs in society means progress for the companies they work for, money in the pockets of students, and taxes for local and national governments. Younger students today are also more inclined to enroll in online degree programs because they have grown up in the digital era knowing the language of technology. These students may not be inclined to attend college in-person due to lack of, or a depreciation of, social interaction that may motivate them to prefer pursuing an online education over an in-person education. Increasing demand for online programs for these students increases student enrollment in those programs. The disadvantages of online programs for society seem to outweigh the advantages by anticipating the potential for a doomsday scenario if we allow online programs to be the only form of education in the world. In such a scenario, physical schools would surely go out of business. K-12 schools would be more inclined to offer an online education, which would severely impact the intellectual learning and socialization of students at a critical time in their lives. Students of all ages would feel less connected to each other, and more connected to the technology. Educators would potentially lose their jobs because all the information to be taught is already readily available online and/or provided by the school. Businesses would be more inclined to hire graduates to work virtually given their experience with online education. If that were the case, we could be looking at a future where all human interaction is severely depreciated, and people spend the majority of their lives studying and working behind a screen. Is this really what humanity was destined for? Is this how humanity will perish? It’s not too late though. The choices we make today about how to use the technology will determine the future of humanity. Humans are the creators of technological innovations, therefore we have control over them. We can either choose to work with technology, or work for it. I, for one, will choose to work with it.

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