July 28, 2023

“Is It Right For Me?” Understanding the Benefits of Online Learning

By Olivia Condlln-Wilby

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world had their lives turned upside down as entire countries went into months-long quarantines. Students had to adapt quickly to remote classes, which saw them logging into Zoom or Brightspace for lessons rather than walking across campus to a lecture hall. As a student myself, I experienced this massive shift first-hand and personally witnessed its impact on my peers and colleagues. Many people will tell you it was a difficult adjustment, but students reflecting on the spring semester of 2021 reported that online learning was a mostly positive experience. Even now, after students have returned to in-person instruction, research shows that online courses remain popular, as 73 percent of university students still prefer to take at least some of their courses remotely. At Virtual Film School Canada (VFSC), every course is delivered online. So what are the benefits of this type of learning, and why do students continue choosing it when in-person options are available?

Online Learning is Flexible.

One of the main benefits of online learning is that it provides increased flexibility for students. At traditional colleges and universities, you have to take courses on specific days, at specific times, and in specific places. Students are forced to arrange their entire lives around their academic schedules, with commitments to work, family, and friends taking the backseat. It can be stressful and exhausting for students to get everything done and still have time to relax and enjoy themselves at the end of the day. I know that it was for me, as I worked up to 30 hours a week during the last year of my undergraduate degree. Some of my classmates worked full-time jobs while balancing a full course load. Indeed, across Canada, roughly 56 percent of undergraduate students balance their studies with a part-time or full-time job, and nearly one-fifth work more than 30 hours per week. It’s easy to understand why many Canadian students report experiencing stress, anxiety, and sleeping difficulties as they struggle to navigate this post-secondary landscape.

With online courses, you have a lot more control over your schedule. Most of them are asynchronous, meaning you can choose when to do your schoolwork, when to take breaks, and for how long. If you’re a night owl, you can sleep late and start working after dinner; early birds can study first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee. Research shows that many people who take their courses online enjoy a better work-life balance. If you have a lot of responsibilities outside of school - such as a job on the side or a family at home - online learning could provide the flexibility you need to thrive at the post-secondary level.

Online Learning is Accessible.

In addition to having more control over your schedule, online learning gives you the opportunity to decide where you prefer to study. Some students find that conventional lecture halls have too many distractions, with papers rustling, keyboards clicking, and people whispering to each other during lessons. With online courses, you can study in a quiet space by yourself - whether at the library or in the comfort of your own home. You can also repeatedly revisit course materials rather than relying on your ability to follow a lecture and take good notes in the moment. This can be helpful for students who have trouble processing information quickly. Working in student services, I came across many people who were relieved that they could go back and review materials whenever they wanted, especially if they had classes with speed-talking professors.

Online courses can also be more accessible for students with limited physical mobility. Students don’t have to worry about commuting to campus, finding accessible parking, or navigating cramped hallways and lecture halls.

Overall, research shows that giving students more control over their learning environment can improve focus and boost academic engagement. If you have struggled to succeed in a traditional school setting, online learning may be a good alternative for you.

Online Learning is Personalized.

In remote classes, you can explore topics of interest and create a schedule that suits your unique academic and professional needs. This starkly contrasts traditional colleges and universities, where students must conform to standardized degree structures and meet specific course requirements to graduate successfully. At VFSC, you can choose which courses to take and focus on developing knowledge and skills that are relevant to you rather than wasting time and money on general education courses that don’t have anything to do with your chosen career path. Maybe you’ve already gained some knowledge and industry experience and are now looking to specialize in a particular area - such as social media content or brand development. It doesn’t make sense to invest in a 4-year film degree that will cover a lot of information you already know. Instead, you can register for a few online courses on the specific topics you want to brush up on - thus saving time, money, and energy without sacrificing your professional advancement.

Online Learning is Way Less Expensive.

Another reason that people prefer online learning is that it tends to be more affordable than a traditional post-secondary education. Canadian undergraduate students can pay up to $11,000 per semester, totalling roughly $88,000 for a 4-year degree program. In addition to paying for tuition and textbooks, those studying in person typically spend money on housing, transportation, and auxiliary fees unrelated to their actual degree. With online programs like those offered by VFSC, you pay only for what really counts, allowing you to graduate with valuable knowledge and practical skills - without breaking the bank.

Online Learning is an Opportunity for Growth.

It’s true that not everyone thrives in an online environment. With virtual learning, you must hold yourself accountable for finishing coursework and meeting deadlines - even when you don’t have to attend a scheduled class or face your professors in person. You must be comfortable working alone and directing your own learning (rather than relying on an instructor to walk you through every concept). At the same time, online courses can help students develop these skills, so if you're trying to get better at managing time and working independently, online learning may still be a good choice. By the end of your program, you may have gained a new ability to focus, prioritize, multitask, and execute projects on schedule without the same oversight you needed before. If you want to succeed as a filmmaker, these skills will be essential for seeing your films through to completion.

On a Personal Note…

I understand the benefits and challenges of online learning. When I was an undergraduate student, the COVID-19 pandemic forced my entire cohort to shift to a remote classroom for roughly two years before the campus opened again. Some of my classmates struggled with the adjustment, and I understand why it wasn’t ideal for everyone. But for me, online learning was a great fit. As an introvert, it was nice to be able to attend and participate in classes without having to raise my hand or speak in front of a large group. I could work in my own space and at my own pace, which allowed me to be more productive. Perhaps the best perk of all was that I could attend class from the comfort of my own living room, drinking coffee or lounging in sweats, without feeling self-conscious. Overall, the entire process just felt easier when classes were online.

If you want to know whether online learning is the right choice, I recommend starting with one of VFSC’s 4-week courses in film and media studies. With a minimal time commitment, you can experiment with the online format and decide whether to continue with it in the future. You may find that it is your new favourite way to learn.

About Olivia

Olivia Condlln-Wilby is a freelance content writer with a background in social work and education. She writes articles for secondary and post-secondary students across Canada, focusing on academic and professional development. After completing her Master of Education at the University of Toronto, she hopes to leverage her background in student services and career consulting to help young people identify the right pathway for them and thrive in their post-secondary environment. For more information, check out her LinkedIn profile.

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