01 Sep 2021 19:25 IST

Online learning works, but hurdles lie ahead

Virtual classes deprive students of opportunities to network and develop social skills

Covid forced B-schools to go online overnight. Online platforms such as MS Teams, Webex, Zoom, and Google meet, came to the rescue and helped students join online classes from anywhere, and maintain academic continuity. Though online learning has several benefits such as comfort and flexibility, we cannot dismiss the significance of on-campus learning. Now, after a year and a half, it is worth exploring the question of whether online learning fulfils the B-school purpose for its students or not.

Students join business schools to enhance their employability, improve upon their managerial skills, and bag top roles in the corporates and MNCs. B-schools also enhance competencies through industry visits, corporate internships, international business trips and student exchange programmes. With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, where borders are closed and corporates are working from home, these activities completely shut down, and online classes made it difficult for graduates to develop social skills and communication skills before entering the workforce.

Learning productivity

Online learning varies significantly from classroom learning, where students have better access to the latest technologies, library facilities, discussion rooms, and sports clubs. This is an integral part of a B-school student’s life. Social skills built on face-to-face interactions with peers and faculty enhances students’ communication and managerial skills, and shapes them into well-rounded individuals.

In contrast, the virtual environment isolates students in their homes. The only avenue to connect to the facilitators and other peers is only via laptops or mobiles. Many students even lack a proper study table set up in their homes. Further, sitting in front of a laptop or desktop for 7-8 hours a day severely affects learners’ physical health.

There is a caveat that B-school students need to balance their learning activities and the distractions present at home. Each time they login to attend the classes, they have to make a mental switch and avoid distractions from television, family members, and social media. If all goes well and they land a job, they begin working remotely. Even in a work from home set up, they are still expected to exhibit high levels of competence and productivity.

Reduced networking opportunities

Another crucial factor that shapes an individual’s growth is networking. Networking is about forming trust and helping one another toward goals. Students want to build a network that would help them in the future. A good network provides collaborative learning, knowledge sharing, career growth. Online classrooms may connect individuals together, but they still lack the more direct and real interactions among participants, teachers, guest speakers from industries, and managers from corporations. Moreover, students are also deprived of the feeling of face-to-face interactions and working closely with peers on crucial assignments and projects.

Learning must never stop, but we need to find newer ways of course delivery for the virtual mode.Virtual industrial visits, corporate internships, and e-talks, are a new trend among B-schools. Overall, it can be observed that online learning and virtual classrooms have their own advantages, but these benefits are not comparable to the benefits of on-campus learning.

The quality of learning seems to have suffered during the pandemic. The B-school promise of enhancing employability, improving managerial skills and personal growth, has a been a challenge to achieve in the online mode. This can be tough for students as well, as it requires a substantial amount of concentration and dedication towards academics, especially at home filled with countless distractions. The onus is on students now, to strike a balance, make the most of online learning, and keep sailing on.

(The writer is Professor, Finance and Accounting, FORE School of Management, New Delhi.)