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Comparing the Merits of Online and In-Person Learning

Virtual communication became a lifeline the world over due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Established online learning trends were solidified and even accelerated due to the abrupt increase in demand. Schools and businesses that did not already provide access to online learning options worked to make them available, while those that did sought ways to expand these platforms’ use.

As in-person learning becomes an option again, many organizations are considering to what extent they will continue to lean on online learning. Educators are asking themselves a similar version of the same question. What do learners prefer? Impacting this decision is the need to reliably deliver education for the maximum benefit to learners.

In-person Learning vs. Online Learning

It is therefore important to examine the benefits of virtual (or online) learning versus in-person learning. Each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Below is a comparison of those strengths and weaknesses and how each learning type can help (or hurt) the learner.

Human Contact vs. At Your Own Pace

At the heart of the in-person vs virtual learning debate is the value of human contact in an individual’s learning process. Whether it’s a formal learning environment or acquiring knowledge through daily life, education has traditionally been one person teaching others. Human proctors are a key feature of education at any level including, continuing medical education (CME) and professional development.

But as anyone who remembers being in elementary school can tell you, no matter how interesting the material, attention spans are limited. And when you’re learning in a group setting, the proctor is unaware an individual student is struggling and unable to slow down. People learn in a variety of ways naturally, so this can be a weakness of the traditional learning model.

While this is dependent on the learning platform you are using, the accessibility of online learning helps better cater to those who want control their own learning schedule. Maybe they can recall more of the material when lessons are spread out or perhaps they are able to concentrate better in privacy and quiet. In any case, what virtual learning lacks in a human proctor, makes up for in flexibility for the learner.

Accessibility vs. Immediate Feedback

Few would argue that teaching is a noble profession, in part because teachers are required to not only share their knowledge in an accessible way but have the insight to improve a struggling learner’s performance. This takes tremendous sympathy and experience and therefore is a distinct advantage over a virtual learning system that can not respond in this way.

However, what virtual learning lacks in subjective human feedback, it can provide precise performance-based metrics to inform learners of their progress and areas that need improvement. While they may not be able to provide the direction a learner may need, online learning platforms can provide information to assist learners in modifying their own learning. Areas of weakness can be compensated for and addressed directly with additional time spent on a subject matter.

Combining Human Support and a Personalized Experience

Taken as a whole, online learning provides tremendous flexibility for the learner. As in the case of continuing medical education, many practitioners are having to contend with busy lives while also meeting annual CME requirements. Being able to choose less hectic times of the week or year to fit in learning with online learning can make the experience and outcomes more positive. For specialty practitioners who use CME to get the latest information on their medical domain, access to a variety of curricula in an on-demand online library is key.

Some medical learners are now choosing a hybrid CME schedule for themselves, incorporating in-person learning (in this case, travel CME seminars) that features a wealth of information about a highly-relevant topic, along with virtual learning. This way they can balance the benefits of both while optimizing their learning schedule. CME Seminars’ online courses come with supporting materials and are accessible anywhere, helping you to learn at your own pace and earn credits on your schedule.