Josh Chiarello, Architectural Technician student at Algonquin College. More courses now are "hybrid," with some in-class and some online learning. Photo credit: Tyler Beauchesne

In March 2020, almost everything closed down and everyone was advised to quarantine at home. Post-secondary students had to suddenly shift from the on-campus classroom to remote learning. Even with quarantining over, online classes are still a popular option among some students, and some in-person courses have turned into hybrids, with an online session one day and in-person the next.

“We saw a little uptick in people attending online programs during the pandemic,” said Julie Eaves, an administrator for online programs at Algonquin College. “Students who want different experiences when it comes to their learning will always choose what is best for them. The choice of online learning is more to do with how it fits them as a person over what has happened with the pandemic.”

A recent American study shows that 46 per cent of U.S. students prefer to take fully online courses, and 68 per cent who take in-person classes think that technology should have a greater use.

“I would say hybrid and online classes would be a more common option for students in the future,” said Isabelle St-Pierre, an associate professor for the Department of Nursing at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. “For example, I am a registered nurse and I teach nursing. I do not believe that you can teach students how to become nurses without an in-person component to the learning,” she added.

“I teach both at the undergraduate and graduate level. At the graduate levels, the course I teach (epistemology and nursing theory) is always offered online, regardless of being in a pandemic or not,” said St. Pierre. “One of the advantages of having the course online during the pandemic was that sick students or students who needed to quarantine were still able to attend class; whereas if it was in person, they would have had to miss class. Therefore, in my case, the fact that the course was online improved attendance.”

Rachael Wise is a certified student psychologist and licensed behavioral therapist at Education and Behavior, a website dedicated to providing research-based strategies to help students learn more effectively. She writes about the advantages and disadvantages of online learning and the effects it can have on students.

“Online classes can be more comfortable for some students because they can do independent assignments outside of class hours, which allows for more flexibility,” writes Wise. “Students can also take more breaks when needed and learn with less fear and anxiety about others judging them.”

Wise also notes how some students are visual learners and need to be shown how to do something with a demonstration, which may be challenging through a screen. Many students learn more effectively in a classroom, and some courses, such as nursing, need an in-class component.

Because of the pandemic, online courses are becoming more normalized as an option for learning and even preferred by a good number of students. Post-secondary institutions are realizing that some forms of online learning are here to stay, pandemic or not.