This pandemic will end. It may not be today or even next month, but the end is coming. Already, some adult, arts, and community education programs have moved back to in-person courses. This shift presents yet another decision point for programs: Should online classes be continued after the pandemic?
It might seem like online classes were part of your emergency response strategy and a return to business as usual would mean bringing students back into the classroom. Yet, getting back to normal may not be the right goal. Instead of thinking about online vs in person learning, you might consider how each one supports your learners.
Here are five reasons you might want to keep online classes, plus how to decide whether online classes should be continued after the pandemic ends.
1. Online classes offer students flexibility
Even before the pandemic, some programs offered online classes. In those days, flexibility was often the number-one reason students chose digital learning. That advantage is just as valuable now that millions of students have experienced online education.
Looking at data from the many programs CourseStorm supports, we found that before the pandemic just 1% of registrations were for online courses. In 2020, that number jumped to 34%. Although online registration numbers have dropped slightly this year, down to 23%, they’re still significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Students prefer online classes when they need to go at their own pace, have challenging schedules, or simply can’t commit to traveling across town. Offering online, in-person, and blended learning options gives learners maximum flexibility.
2. Online classes increase accessibility for some students
The switch to online learning may have created teaching and learning challenges, but it also offered new opportunities. Some students with physical disabilities and mental health challenges suddenly found themselves on a more even playing field.
Consider the student with hearing impairments who relies on auto-captions to understand her classmates. What about the man whose anxiety sometimes makes it impossible for him to leave his home? Then there’s the woman with cataracts, who might be able to read a computer screen, but is excluded from in-person classes because your 6 p.m. start time means driving home in the dark.
The online learning experience may be the only way that some students can fully participate. By keeping some online classes, you make sure that every learner in your community has access to education.
3. Weather may not affect your classes
If you live in an area with extreme weather, the seasons may affect attendance at your in-person courses. For instance, people may be less likely to commit to a class that meets after dark on winter evenings when the roads may be slick. Online classes remove that potential barrier.
4. You already have the technology
Your program probably spent money and time to create and optimize online learning options. You may have purchased new technology and trained faculty and staff in how to use it. Getting rid of remote learning means not making the most of that investment.
5. Online classes widen your geographic reach
Most students register for classes that are local. That means they’re not likely to take a class in New York if they live in Ohio. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Offering classes online may help you to reach students outside your community.
Perhaps more importantly, online classes offer convenience for students who live just outside a comfortable travel range. They might be unable to drive in the winter or not have access to reliable transportation. In any of these cases, distance learning can be the solution.
Are Online Classes Worth it?
We can’t tell you whether online classes are worth keeping for your program and your students. What we can do is give you a few questions to ask that might help you decide.
Are people still enrolling?
As we mentioned earlier, about 23% of CourseStorm class registrations in 2022 were for online classes. So, it might be worth putting off any changes in your offerings. Many people are still cautious about large in-person gatherings. Even after the pandemic is passed, all of the reasons listed above will likely make online classes attractive to some learners.
Is the class profitable?
Obviously financial questions play a role in whether you keep online classes. Most likely, you’ve already made the big investments in new technology or training, but it’s worth considering whether splitting your students into two groups is really worth it in the long run.
Is an online class effective for this subject or audience?
In some areas and for some subjects, online learning may not be as effective as in-person programs. It’s much harder to run an improv class online, for example. If possible, try to decide between online vs in person learning on a case-by-case basis. Making a blanket decision for all classes might mean you miss opportunities.
Do you have the staff to support both in-person and online?
Offering both in-person and online classes is more difficult than doing just one or the other. With many programs understaffed, you may need to consider whether both online and in person classes are sustainable.
More questions to ask teachers and students
Do students and teachers prefer one type of class over another? Are students more likely to choose a particular modality or does it depend on the circumstances? Have instructors discovered new challenges or rewards in online classes? Gathering this information will help you make the right choice for your classes.
Here are a few sample surveys you can use or personalize to fit your program.
We created an Online Class Survey for Students and an Online Class Survey for Instructors with Google Forms. PDF versions of the Survey for Students and Survey for Instructors are also available to download.
You can use Google Forms, Typeform, or another form-building tool to format these questions. Some email platforms also offer survey tools built in.
So Should Online Classes Be Continued After the Pandemic?
We suspect that online vs in person learning is a false comparison. The real question is: how do we offer the right types of classes for our students? Most likely, you won’t have a blanket answer that applies to all students and all classes. Instead, you’ll look for the solution that fits most of your learners most of the time.
Take a look at some of the lessons our clients have learned about future-proofing their classes as a result of the pandemic.
Whether you’re offering classes in person or online, students want a simple registration system. That’s where CourseStorm can help. We provide impossibly simple class registration software for adult, community, and arts education programs. Contact us for details or start your free trial today.