Pros and Cons of Remote Learning Systems


Amy Liu, Staff Writer

Schools and universities across the country are closed in a nationwide effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 through social distancing and lockdown measures. As a result, educational institutions have been transitioning to remote learning, a form of teaching that centers around online communications via text, video, and audio.

In recent weeks, the videoconferencing app Zoom has risen to the forefront of educational alternatives in universities and K-12 schools across the world. Its versatility has extended far beyond its original purpose as an online workplace meeting tool, and has become the primary communication system for a broad variety of activities from orchestral rehearsals to therapy sessions. In schools across Long Island, teachers have started holding Zoom or other videoconferencing classes two to three times a week, where live instruction is given from the comfort and safety of one’s home.

However, asynchronous assignments — those that are completed on the students’ own time by a scheduled due date — have also grown popular. Google Classroom, the primary distance learning tool utilized at Ward Melville, has also stepped in to fill the gap that school closures have left behind in students’ academic progress.

Classroom allows teachers to post materials, organize assignments and provide an easy comment-based communication system  to answer questions. It’s also attached to several necessary applications, including spreadsheet, word document, and slides presentation software. Many schools have settled into a rhythm of combined asynchronous and synchronous learning as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, but where is the balance?

While live video instruction most nearly simulates in-school learning, it has several caveats. Meetings are less efficient and often plagued with technical difficulties, and scheduling classes is often irregular and difficult to accomplish. Additionally, videoconferencing apps often have privacy issues — Zoom itself has an FBI warning attached to it, and meetings on the app have been targets of hijacking and hacking in recent weeks — and step into a gray area of surveillance that can potentially infringe on participants’ rights. 

Asynchronous learning, though less affected by these concerns, have their own potential issues. An essential part of learning is asking questions, and asynchronous communication leads to several limitations: questions are answered after a delay, and written word doesn’t always come with the flow and understanding of spoken word. Assignments are largely independent with little teacher aid, and often build up over time, which can catch struggling students off-guard and create stress that adds onto the anxieties surrounding the pandemic. 

Ultimately, both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. While live learning can simulate an in-school environment and streamline necessary communication between teacher and student, videoconferencing apps are often fraught with privacy concerns and logistics impede consistency and efficiency. Asynchronous learning avoids those privacy concerns and is flexible, but stresses a significant amount of independent student work and can create a gap between teacher instruction and student learning. Additionally, both rely on consistent Internet access, which can be a struggle for households (millions of Americans still do not have Internet access, according to the Pew Research Center). However, the development of remote learning systems can benefit schools in the long-run by providing more effective replacements for in-school learning in the future.