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Combining virtual and in-person learning is the future of education, study finds

Experts say technological limitations and difficulties make it difficult to completely shift to online learning

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything from work meetings to doctors’ visits has shifted online. For parents, this has also meant adjusting to virtual school for their kids. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Dresden University of Technology explored what the future of schooling may look like. They explained that though there have been benefits linked to online learning, it’s not likely to be the sole form of education moving forward; instead, education professionals are likely to utilize a combination of both in-person and digital teaching. 

“Digital teaching should be seen as a complementary means to further improve the quality of teaching, and the importance of face-to-face teaching should not be forgotten,” said researcher Dr. Anne Gärtner. 

Students had early troubles with online learning

For the study, Gärtner pulled on her own experiences as an educator and her students’ experiences with both virtual and in-person learning over the last few years. She learned that there are positives and negatives tied to the virtual learning experience. 

From a student standpoint, it was difficult to stay on top of schoolwork while they were tuning into class from home. Finding the motivation to complete assignments and actively participate while not physically in the classroom were things that students struggled with -- especially when distance learning first started. 

Gärtner said she feared she wouldn’t get the same level of engagement or connection with her students on a virtual platform. 

“However, it turned out that my online seminars and lectures have been very well attended so far, and interaction and exchange have been possible, albeit in a somewhat different form,” she stated. 

Learning from home led to some benefits

Both teachers and students struggled with technology malfunctions during online learning. It can take some time to get the right equipment at home, and there is always a risk that an internet connection may not hold out for the duration of the class. 

However, there were positives to learning from home. Students and teachers appreciated the freedom it allowed them to complete work and attend class from any location. Students also said they enjoyed being able to do work on their own timelines and felt less stress because they could return to recordings of lectures as often as they needed to. 

“On the one hand, the flexibility in terms of time and space in work organization is one of the greatest advantages of digital teaching, as not only time but also costs can be saved, for example, by eliminating travel,” Gärtner said. “Lecturers have greater autonomy and can decide for themselves how to manage their time and organize their seminars and lectures. In addition, recording teaching materials can be reused.” 

Gärtner predicts that the future will include both in-person and virtual learning. By adopting both methods of teaching, students and teachers can make the most of their time in the classroom together while also taking advantage of the perks associated with online learning. 

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