Classroom vs. Online: 3 College Students Share their Struggles Between Learning Experiences

All over the world, college students have been forced to trade lecture halls for Zoom sessions and chemistry labs for online modules. Not surprisingly, many students are having trouble adapting to this new normal. 

To find out what it’s like to transition from in-person college classes to a completely virtual learning environment, we spoke with three students about the biggest differences between the two.

Otto | Sophomore Studying Economics and Political Science

The Zoom Atmosphere

“One big difference I’ve found is that it’s more difficult to have challenging, thought-provoking discussions over Zoom.

“There’s something about sitting in a classroom and looking someone in the eye that makes learning more personal. Another difference is the level of engagement on Zoom. I often find myself replying to emails, reading articles, or doing other things that aren’t related to class.

“Students have done that during in-person classes for a long time, too, but it just feels easier since we’re on our computers all the time.

Tech Learning Curve for Professors 

“My experience for the last six weeks of the spring semester was not positive, and I really dreaded taking online classes. I attribute this to the fact that professors only had 10 days to learn about Zoom and transition their lesson plans to an online format.

“So far this semester, I’ve found that professors have grown more technologically able, and have better formatted classes to incorporate both synchronous and asynchronous aspects.” 

Different Assessments

“Some professors are assigning more work since we don’t meet face-to-face, and the assessments have changed dramatically.

“Most of my classes have moved from a few big assessments (tests) to smaller, weekly assignments (often quizzes) that will make up our grade. I like this, but I also have a lot of friends who would rather have a small number of tests than a bunch of quizzes.” 

Advice for Other Students Stuck at Home

“In the spring, most of my classes were asynchronous, which made it easier to fall behind and not watch lecture videos. If students have asynchronous classes, I’d say the most important thing is to stay on top of videos and keep up with the work – watching all of the lectures and reading half of a textbook before the test doesn’t work!

“I also recommend taking frequent breaks. Go for a walk. Bike a few miles!” 

Kiara | Sophomore Studying Biochemistry 

Less Interaction

“A major difference I’ve experienced is a disconnect between teacher and student interactions. In fact, some of my teachers have stopped teaching all together, and just started assigning more assignments. For example, during one class last semester, the teacher never did virtual lectures. They went from lecturing in-person to only uploading PowerPoints, assigning reading assignments, and having us watch simulations that didn’t prove helpful. 

“Some of my teachers did conduct pre-recorded lectures, which were more condensed than the 90 minute lectures I normally had to sit through. However, you couldn’t ask the teacher questions in real time. Some of my other professors did live Zoom lectures, but as someone with ADHD, it was hard to focus. The atmosphere of being in the classroom is what made in-person lectures engaging. But when it’s online, I feel restless and distracted, like I always have the option to walk away.

“However, there was some student to student interaction, and I think my classes this semester will be encouraging more of that. I’m actually excited to interact via forums, which are beneficial because they allow people to reflect, and enable the quiet people to speak up in a large group.” 

Less Hands-On Experience

“Some of my classes are labs, and all labs basically went from doing actual experiments to reading the experiments, then doing notes or calculations for the experiment we never performed. This was very confusing for me, and it was hard for me to ask specific questions to my TA through emails. 

“I am somebody who learns by seeing, doing, or listening, so reading about a procedure doesn’t really do anything for me. One of my labs had online simulations, which did help, but another lab didn’t even show demonstrations. It only gave us the data that we then used to do math calculations. My physics class gave us videos of demonstrations, which was helpful, but I still missed out on doing actual experiments. 

“As of today, I still have the option to perform some experiments in person, but I’ve seen the crowds of unmasked people at my university and I do not want to risk my health to be in a lab for an hour once a week.”

“The atmosphere of being in the classroom is what made in-person lectures engaging. But when it’s online, I feel restless and distracted, like I always have the option to walk away.”

Kiara, studying Biochemistry

More Flexible, Less Disciplined

“A big pro and con about moving online is that online school is more flexible. This is good for someone who is highly motivated and disciplined, but not good for someone like me, who has depression and ADHD. With online learning, it was hard to stay focused and motivated, so I procrastinated everything, my depression worsened, and I got very behind very quickly. 

“Before COVID-19, I commuted to school, and was able to study for 8 to 10 hours a day because I would arrive very early and didn’t leave until I finished my classes and studying. All this discipline diminished when we switched to online school.” 

Advice for Other Students Stuck at Home

Have a schedule. Wake up at a certain time, start studying at a certain time, finish your day at a certain time, and go to bed at the same time.

“Start early and make sure you take frequent breaks. Also, make a quiet space with a desk to study; don’t study in your bed.

“And go to virtual office hours! You’ll be able to ask specific questions that may not have been covered elsewhere. Plus, interacting with someone in real time is so much more engaging.”  

Vivi | Junior Studying Architecture 

More Homework 

“In my online classes, they’re giving me more homework than usual, to the point where you’re only thinking about passing and submitting your requirements on time rather than actually studying and learning something. I think the reason they’re assigning more homework is because the asynchronous class structure is making it difficult for the professors to conduct as many lectures as they would normally.

“But even if there is a set schedule, the professors are still not conducting as many lectures. Instead, they usually give us the module, which we’re supposed to learn on our own somehow, and then do the subsequent tasks and homework. But the homework load is really heavy and it eats all your time.”

Less Guidance

“Since our learning is asynchronous, no one is actually here to guide me, and though we are given the modules, that’s not enough for me to learn everything. I need real time discussions to learn the lessons.

“Being able to ask questions and get answers immediately helps me understand the topic much more easily. During these discussions, the professors can actually guide you; they are actually teaching. But in online class, most professors just give us a lot of tasks and homework assignments. It feels like online class is primarily self studying, and my learning style just doesn’t fit this.”

Tech Trouble

“With in-person classes, we were never worried about stuff like having a bad internet connection, but now, each of us needs a good one at home. The thing is, not everyone is able to have one.

“It’s the same with having enough gadgets for online class. Laptops and tablets are pricey for us, so it’s really a struggle to find ways to keep up when you don’t have enough money to buy your school essentials for online class.”  

Advice for Other Students Stuck at Home

“So far, the advice that I can give is to try your best to not procrastinate, and do your requirements for online classes as soon as they’re given so that your school work will not pile up.

“There are times when I succeed at this and pass everything on time. It makes me feel really proud, but then I feel drained and burnt out afterwards.”

For Customized Help with College

Fully remote learning of advanced subject material without access to campus support resources is a tall order. If flexibility, efficacy, and convenience are all important factors in planning your remote college journey, you’ll get why 1-on-1 tutoring is the best way to stay connected to your classes.

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