The pros and cons of online learning

by | Sep 13, 2021

Mother helps her elementary-school age daughter with her online learning classes.
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Like everything else, the pandemic really shook up how we learn. Students all over the globe were thrown into online learning or a hybrid learning mix of both in-person and online classes. But learning on a computer over Zoom is a lot different than being in a classroom with a teacher, and there’s a lot of debate about what works best.

The truth is that online and in-person learning offer different things for different people. There are advantages and disadvantages for both types of learning. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of online learning, as well as some tips for online learning.

Pros and cons of online learning

Online learning pros

Like the name suggests, online learning refers to online classes. You can learn languages, earn a master’s degree, or how to cook the perfect scrambled eggs. Professionals are used to online learning; webinars have been a mainstay in business settings for years. In fact, one of the biggest pros is that you can learn almost anything online, often for free. Others include:

Learn wherever you are

As long as you have an internet connection and an internet-connected device, you can get your online learning on. If you want to travel while you learn, you can do that. If you live in a rural area, you can still access high-quality education from some of the top universities and colleges in the country. You no longer have to relocate to a campus or even commute to get to school. Online learning cuts down on travel time, which can help you save money.

Learn whenever you want

In-person classes often operate on strict schedules. But online learning offers flexibility. If you want to sleep in and do course work at night, you usually can. Or if you have to work, you can catch the recorded lecture later and still keep up with your coursework. Learning can be self-paced and flexible, and it can ultimately lead to a better work-life-balance.

Learn how you want to learn

Do you like PDFs? Zoom calls? Reading the transcript of a lecture? Listening to a podcast of a lecture? Doing both at the same time? You can! Online learning accommodates a variety of learning styles and preferences.

Online learning is accessible

Taking all the above pros into consideration, online learning can be a helpful accommodation for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Not every campus is accessible for students with disabilities, and still other students may have to miss class if they’re ill or in the hospital. Online learning empowers students to keep up with their education.

Online learning offers real-world skills

Remote work isn’t going away any time soon. Even with hybrid offices, many people will have to adapt to videoconferencing and using online tools for work. Soft skills, like time management and being self-directed, can be learned in an online environment and applied to work.

Man takes notes during his online class.

Online learning cons

When it comes to the debate between online vs. in-person learning, it’s often related to school-age children. It’s hard enough for adults to sit in front of screen all day. And for small children, it can be nearly impossible. Kids need a broad range of stimuli and social interaction, which online learning can’t always provide. Other cons include:

 Technology isn’t accessible for everyone

Not everyone has access to the internet or to a computer, so they may not have access to online learning opportunities. It’s especially challenging for rural areas or for low-income students. A lack of access to technology means certain students will rely on in-person classes or on-campus computer labs to obtain their education.


All students, regardless of their age, may feel lonely studying by themselves in a remote setting. Social interaction is important for everyone, but especially for younger kids who are still developing mentally. While meaningful relationships can be made online, in-person socializing cannot be replaced on the internet.


Whether you’re learning at home, on the road, or from somewhere else, there are plenty of ways to distract yourself on the internet. We know this, and that’s part of what makes the internet so awesome. It’s full of cat videos, esports, social media, online shopping, and so much more. But those great things can make it challenging to focus on online lectures and classes or homework assignments.

Young woman takes an online class on her laptop.

Tips for online learning

If you or your child will be learning online this year, there are some tips that can help you make the most out of your experience. It’s always good to create routines and keep classwork organized. Here are some other things to try:

  • Take regular breaks for physical activity. Stretch between classes or pause the lecture and go play with the dog for five minutes. Kiddos may enjoy a dance break to their favorite song.
  • Create a special area for online learning. One of the major benefits of online learning is that you can do it wherever you are. That gives you an opportunity to create a learning space at home just for you or your student. Creating a defined area allows you to transition from schoolwork to the rest of life.
  • Make sure you have a strong internet connection, especially for any online classes that require videoconferencing. If your internet is unstable, you may want to upgrade to a super-reliable connection, like fiber internet. You can also download any materials you need ahead of time so that when you go to study, everything is ready to go.
  • Use online connections to your advantage. If you’re feeling isolated, a virtual study group can be helpful. You can try videoconferencing too. But even if you don’t have videos on, it can be nice to know that someone else is on the other side of the screen doing the work with you.
  • Avoid procrastination and distractions. Try the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break. After a few sessions, take a longer break. These bite-sized blocks of work will add up and help you get that learning done.
  • Practice digital mindfulness. Learn how to be mindful when you use technology, and how to switch off from it when you’re not. It can help online learners avoid digital fatigue.
  • Use positive reinforcement. A reward for staying focused on online learning can help motivate students to keep up their hard work.

One size does not fit all

We’ve explored the pros and cons of online learning and it’s clear that it offers major benefits for some. But it may not be the best learning experience for everyone, especially for young kids. In the future, we may see more interactive and immersive online learning experiences that can keep children and other students engaged and interested. But for now, we hope these tips will help.

Do you have any other tips for online learning? Share them with us in the comments!

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