Physical versus online class: Which one is better for you?

By Maryam Nasir and Ainina Hasnul

Being “students” makes us wonder, can we choose in what condition do we want to put ourselves in seeking knowledge? Wait! Before anything happens, first we need to know what our preferences are as learners which demand a lot of commitments by fair or foul mean that will haunt our everyday scenario. 

Only then, we can know whether a physical or online classroom is suitable with our very own vibes. Let’s start with the first platform!

Based on Cambridge Dictionary, a physical classroom is defined as a room in a school or college where groups of students are taught. 

It’s been a decade, where the learning process was so significant that physical classrooms allow students and teachers to interact face to face where it alludes to a classroom setup in which everyone can interact and speak with one another. Yet, known as traditional learning.

Parents are assured of the outcome when they send their children to the schools in hand to the teachers. This is where Malaysian parents have put their trusts since ages ago! 

Hence, a physical classroom has a variety of items and furniture which comprises projection screens, a whiteboard, teachers, and classroom monitors, among other things. 

Furthermore, many of the components in a physical classroom encourage students to be positive and focused in their studies as all of us know. 

It also aids in the reduction of distractions for the students due to the fact that they are surrounded by an academic environment.

At this point, we are very aware of what physical classrooms are all about!

Natch, those who were affected in this pandemic are missing the physical learning vibes, the feel to be there, talking to people and not invisible like online class might feel the difference here.

CBC News reported that parents and students organised a boycott of online learning in New Brunswick as they observed that their children are not doing well learning remotely. 

But bear in mind every student might have different perspectives and choices on how they want to perceive knowledge based on their situation. This is where we will enlighten what the pros and cons of a physical classroom are, will it benefit them or be at a disadvantage for them.

Physical Classroom – Advantages and Disadvantages 

Lecture Hall 1, KAHS , IIUM Kuantan

Physical classroom advantages

Obviously, nothing can compare with human face-to-face learning in a physical classroom, so here are the advantages you can get from it:

  • Makes students healthy

Beyond doubt, the physical classroom makes the students move around here and there as they are required to have various activities in order to make their learning fun. Learning is not about how much we gain but on how much we can apply it. Other than improving our concentration and ability to stay on-task in the classroom, it is also reducing disruptive behaviour, such as fidgeting, in the classroom. 

Simple behavior such as consistently writing down on the board as what the teacher has asked them to do can be a helpful gesture rather than staying still at one point being harmful to their back. Don’t take this effortless action for granted to what extent it has happened today caused by sitting too long in the online class. 

  • Builds students’ character

Good character is what it takes to point out if the student has potential. As we know, in the classroom we tend to socialize more with friends or even with the teachers. This builds our character to be more sociable, easy to approach, respect other people, etc. Improving their motivation and engagement in the learning process are also one of the big contributors. By that, it will develop the passion and curiosity for learning.

Natch, to be good in socializing or to have good characters, having excellent listening skills is one step closer to being a good learner as what physical classrooms have been offered for ages. Hence, it is not easy as it sounds, it takes a lot of concentration to get to the point. 

  • Discipline

Not every student can commit to one thing yet to say to be disciplined as it is the crucial part. But many studies show that through physical classroom students tend to be more disciplined as they stick to so-called routines. Self-discipline is a must-have for every student to be a good learner. For example, waking up early, getting ready, and being punctual to attend the class. All simple acts are what matter to build discipline that will convert to real-life scenarios in the future. 

When revising for exams and working full-time as an adult, discipline matters a lot. This can be taught through physical education in the classroom. All of an individual’s other skills go unrecognised if he or she lacks discipline where this ability enhances the brilliance of several abilities and areas of knowledge.

Furthermore, the discipline teaches individuals proper leadership skills and goal-setting in order to prepare them for their professional future. A person who is not disciplined will never be an effective leader or goal setter. Remember that!

Physical classroom disadvantages

If it has a good side, it might have bad sides. Here are several disadvantages from a physical classroom that you might experience: 

  • High expenses

In this economic challenge, we are definitely facing an economic burden as physical classrooms demand more money. Moreover, education institutions do not demand more money for no reason as they prepare such facilities for the students. However, not all students afford it. It caused some students to drop out of school or even worse, suffer in debt for a long period. This disadvantage is the main issue for students before they decide to go to schools that take a lot of financial commitment. 

  • Potential for bullying

Bullying is defined as unwelcome, aggressive behaviour among school-aged children or even in higher education in which a real or perceived power imbalance exists. Over time, the conduct is repeated or has the potential to be repeated. According to U-Report Malaysia’s statistics, 1 in 5 young people globally reported having skipped school due to cyberbullying and violence. 

Nevertheless, it happened from the physical classroom on several factors such as negative perception of school, unpleasant perceiving of schools, and normalisation of bullying. Thus, it is normal if the students feel insecure about this issue before deciding to pursue study through a physical classroom. 

  • Disabled children may be disadvantaged

Students with physical disabilities may face difficulty with movement, posture such as sitting, standing, gripping or manipulating items, communication, eating, perception, reflex movements, and/or automatic motricity in the physical classrooms if the educational institution does not provide any beneficial equipment for them. 

Many students with physical limitations face the challenge of physically gaining access to the learning environment. Therefore, the inaccessibility of buildings and surroundings is an issue for many students with physical limitations.

Now, let us move on to the virtual classroom!

Virtual Classroom

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities in Malaysia to go fully online. The decision was made by the government in order to reduce the risk of exposure and spreading of the COVID-19 virus that is harmful especially in huge crowds. 

Though some may not be aware, virtual classrooms have long existed in universities, however rarely ever utilised fully. The online class is a learning method done over the internet, within a virtual classroom. 

Thus, the transition has changed the higher education landscape. Saifullah Baiduri, president of Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (Gamis) told Malay Mail that not only students, but academic staff also faced difficulties in adjusting to the new norms of teaching and learning. 

Feedbacks on the online class system are filled with mixed opinions. Some students enjoy the flexibility and convenience, while others experience severe stress, unable to cope with the changes. Hence, let us access the pros and cons of the virtual classroom. 

Virtual Classroom – Advantages and Disadvantages

A student takes online lessons in Shah Alam on 15 April 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Advantages of Virtual Classroom

  • Class flexibility

Firstly, classes are flexible. The flexibility of classes allows students to learn without the limitations of time, place, and content. It eliminates geographical barriers. Students can choose any settings they find most suitable or comfortable for them to study in. 

Especially during the pandemic where some students have to work part-time to support their family, having the option for a flexible schedule is helpful. The method of pre-recorded asynchronous class enables students to rewatch lectures. This helps the students revise and fully comprehend every chapter. 

As the delivery process of an online class is simpler than a physical class, tuition fees do not burn a big hole in the pocket. Fees on dorm rooms, course material, travel, and university facilities are cut down, reducing the overall tuition fee. In short, online classes are more cost-friendly. As long as you own a laptop and have access to a good wifi connection, you are good to go. 

  • Minimised discrimination

Secondly, discrimination is minimised. It has been a common issue in educational institutions that discrimination and bullying cases exist. Though we wish to fight these issues be it in a physical or online class, the virtual setting minimises the chances of discrimination occurring. 

Discriminations refer to prejudicial or unjust treatment towards and by different categories of people, oftentimes due to race, age, sex, or disability. Favouritism by lecturers can also be minimised as students are all seen as equal through the laptop screens of instructors. 

  • Early digital training

Third, online learning methods provide good training for students at an early age. It spurs creative teaching and learning, depending on the lecturer. The constraint within virtual classes forces students and lecturers to think outside of the box. 

It also equips students with digital skills and computer literacy, which will be beneficial as they enter their working world. Along with the basic digital skills, self-motivation is polished. 

The extra help provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the governments such as improvements of internet access and distribution of laptops strengthen the digital infrastructure in Malaysia. This will benefit future university students. 

Now, let’s access the cons.

Disadvantages of Virtual Classroom

  • Accessibility to technology

Though the virtual setting allows students to learn anywhere, not ‘everywhere’ has access to good technology. There are students who don’t own laptops, computers, or even smartphones that enable them to attend online lectures. 

There are households with only one laptop, and the whole family, including the working parents, had to take turns to use them for either work or classes. As a result, some members of the family had to sacrifice and miss some classes. In worst-case scenarios, others may have to drop some courses or even take a gap year to make room for other siblings. The technical problem costs time and money. This damps the virtual educational sphere.

The government has shown efforts to help students through the free 1GB internet quota daily that was proven helpful. However, there are still many households in Malaysia that need welfare.

  • Computer literacy

Next, it may be overlooked, but believe it, not every student is equipped with computer literacy. We must not be ignorant and ignore the fact that there are many rural areas in Malaysia where students lack access to technology. Even among those who do have access, not all are tech-savvy enough.

Computer literacy, here, is basically the ability and knowledge to utilise computers and other technologies efficiently. 

Gradually, more and more e-learning methods are introduced. Especially when classes are not centralised, it takes time to learn all the different platforms used for each class. While some are already comfortable with one platform, another is introduced. 

Have you heard of ClassDojo, Seesaw, and Edmodo? Neither have we. Well, maybe some of you have, but we found them listed as the top 10 popular online learning platforms for students in Malaysia, and we have no idea what they are. 

Students, already having to juggle with assignments, need to adapt to whichever platforms are chosen by the instructors of every course.

  • Incompetent teaching and learning methods 

Apart from that, some instructors may lack essential online qualities. Through years of experience in teaching, most instructors are set on a specific way of teaching. Unfortunately, the old ways do not always work in a virtual setting. 

It may be hard for some instructors to grasp the technology to conduct a cohesive online learning process. Furthermore, they must put in the extra work to give clearer and detailed instructions for every submission or even better, attend to every student who is having trouble adapting. 

So, what do you think? Did some of the compare and contrast above make any difference about how you perceived things before? Yet, to say we sure most of you must have experienced it at least once in your life.  After all, it all depends on you to decide what’s best for you! ***

(This is part 1 of the two-part series of special reports pair assignment on the topic “Online Teaching and Learning” for Feature Writing class)

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