During the COVID-19 lockdowns, students didn’t have a choice but to study online rather than attend lectures and seminars in person. But many students actually choose online learning over classroom learning, for numerous reasons.
Students have been enrolling on web-based courses for decades, but there has been a substantial increase in uptake following the pandemic, especially considering some education providers have made the transition to online classes permanent.
With online education remaining the new normal, it’s critical that course providers ensure their programmes are as welcoming and inclusive as possible. But you might be wondering how this compares to classroom learning.
In this article, we’ll explain how online learning can be inclusive, give pointers on how course providers can be more inclusive and outline some of the other benefits of studying remotely.
Is online learning more inclusive?
Online courses can be more inclusive than lessons taught in a classroom because you have access to more support, there are more ways to interact, students come from a variety of backgrounds and it usually costs less.
Web-based course providers can be even more inclusive if they implement an inclusion policy, set clear expectations which consider any special needs students might have, be as accessible as possible, ensure that course content is diverse, give information on how to apply for financial aid and ask students for feedback to find out whether there’s anything else they can do.
Continue reading to find out more about inclusive learning in an online environment.
What is inclusive learning?
Inclusive learning refers to a teaching environment in which every student is respected.
It promotes diversity and inclusion, removing barriers and enabling all students to participate, regardless of their background or learning needs.
How can an online learning environment be inclusive?
You have access to more support
Online learning environments provide more opportunities for support. In a traditional classroom, time with tutors is limited, or even non-existent.
A well-designed online course gives students plenty of support, from direct contact with tutors via email, instant messaging or video-calling to forums and chatrooms which enable you to discuss issues and brainstorm with your peers.
A good tutor will be responsive and check in with their students regularly, to help them stay motivated and ensure they’re keeping up with their coursework.
With BARBRI, every student is assigned a learning coach who acts as a personal mentor and is in touch at least every two weeks. Learning coaches will also be available for queries and support during scheduled hours.
There are more ways to interact
Admittedly, classroom learning provides face-to-face interaction, however, this can be replicated online via video calls and webinars. What’s more, online learning is usually more set up for interaction via email, forums and instant messaging platforms too. Communication apps, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack allow students to discuss subject matter in-depth. Zoom Breakout Rooms are particularly useful for building a sense of community and helping students feel more connected to each other.
These different methods of communication can also encourage shyer students to feel more confident about participating than they would do in person. And having a variety of ways to communicate is also particularly beneficial for students with learning difficulties, as they can choose to interact in a way that suits them best.
Students have diverse backgrounds
Courses that are available to take remotely can usually be enrolled on by anyone in the world. This means students and teachers can connect with anyone, from anywhere.
Rather than learning with people from your hometown or those who have a similar background to you, online courses give you the opportunity to interact with people from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures. And this is something that course providers must take into consideration (we’ll expand on this in the next section).
Online learning costs less
Online learning is generally more cost-effective than classroom learning because you save money on travel costs, and – if you’re a parent – you don’t have to worry about arranging childcare.
You’ll also avoid paying library fees and online course fees are usually cheaper than traditional tuition fees.
This makes online learning more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford to enrol on a course.
How can online learning be more inclusive?
Online course providers can improve a student’s online learning experience by considering some of the below pointers.
Implement an inclusion policy
It’s important for education providers to implement an inclusion policy to demonstrate that they understand and support the needs of every person enrolling on a course.
BARBRI provides a confidential, accessible and professional service for disabled students or those who require adjustments for other reasons. We support all individuals, regardless of impairment, disability, medical condition or injury. This includes those with:
- Specific learning difficulties
- Physical or mobility impairments and injuries
- Sensory impairments
- Mental health difficulties
- Longstanding illnesses or health conditions
- Asperger’s syndrome and autism
- Temporary disabilities that last longer than three weeks, such as a broken limb or viral infections like glandular fever
It also includes pregnant students and individuals whose gender identity differs in some way from that which they were assigned at birth.
We’ve put together a Disability Support Agreement, which is a document specifying all the reasonable adjustments an individual student is entitled to while studying with us.
Set clear expectations
Inclusive teaching involves being mindful of the fact that not all students will be well-versed in the curriculum that is often taken for granted by lecturers and tutors.
Course providers should take care not to make assumptions about an individual’s awareness and capabilities, especially when it comes to online learning – which may well be a new concept for some students.
Some learners will struggle in an online learning environment, so teachers should be explicit about deadlines and what’s expected of them.
However, these deadlines and expectations should also be flexible, to consider students with diverse needs and those in different time zones.
This section is especially important for students who have:
- Physical impairments that may affect their reading, sight or hearing
- Psychological or learning difficulties, which means they require more time to complete assignments and sit exams
- Limited access to a computer or internet connection
In order to accommodate these students, course providers must ensure that all content is mobile-friendly, available 24 hours a day and is easily accessible; for example, including closed captioning in video clips and giving learners the ability to adjust the format themselves by increasing text size or altering the brightness.
Ensure course content is diverse
As mentioned above, online courses are more likely to have students from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures. And course content should reflect this. It should be filtered through a multicultural lens and be free of bias so that every student is able to relate.
Diversity takes many forms, from race, ethnicity, gender and disability to socioeconomic background and personality traits such as introversion – and all should be seen as assets.
Tutors should encourage inclusive language and respectful dialogue and be aware of how course material could have an impact on a specific individual or group. Material that incorporates stereotypes or is problematic in other ways should be either acknowledged with criticism or replaced.
Provide information on financial aid
While some education providers may be in a position to provide financial aid or scholarships, it’s not always possible. But to ensure students from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t excluded, they should give information on how to apply for state benefits and other types of funding, like charitable trusts and the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
BARBRI offers several scholarship options, including a Public Sector SQE Scholarship, which gives you £600 off course fees, an Essay Competition Scholarship, which offers partial or full funding of course fees and a 1st Class Honours SQE Scholarship, which gives 30 percent off course fees. Previous BARBRI students will also be entitled to a £200 discount.
Ask for feedback
To find out whether there are any other ways you can be more inclusive, it’s a good idea for education providers to speak to students about their concerns, needs and preferences for online learning. This allows instructors to be mindful of their students’ personal situations and makes them aware of any barriers which could be affecting their learning.
Some of the ways in which this can be done are via an anonymous Google form or live in Zoom, using the poll feature.
While conducting these surveys, tutors should take the opportunity to open up about how they themselves feel about online learning. This will help to break down barriers, build an honest relationship and find a solution that’s beneficial for both student and teacher.
What are some other benefits of online learning?
As well as being more inclusive, one of the biggest advantages of online teaching is that it’s more convenient. You choose where and when you study, so you can fit it around your life. You save time because you don’t have to travel anywhere and you can enrol on a course anywhere in the world, rather than being limited to what’s being taught locally.
It’s only natural that teachers have different teaching styles, but online course content is more consistent, so you have peace of mind that you’re being taught the right material at the right time.
It can also be more motivating as you need to direct your learning yourself, plus technologies like AI and algorithms can follow your specific journey to help you study more efficiently.
For more information on this, you can read our ‘Online learning versus classroom learning’ article.
Since COVID-19, more students have been enrolling on online courses. And with online education remaining the new normal, course providers must strive to create an inclusive learning environment.
Online courses can be more inclusive than lessons taught in a classroom because students have access to more support and can interact with tutors and peers in numerous ways. They also have the opportunity to mix with individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds and online courses are usually less expensive.
In order to become even more inclusive, web-based course providers should implement an inclusion policy, set clear expectations that consider any special needs students might have and be as accessible as possible. They should also ensure that course content is diverse, provide information on financial support and ask students for feedback to find out whether there’s anything they can improve on.
Some of the other benefits of online learning are that it’s more convenient, teaching methods are more consistent, it’s more motivating and new technologies can help with your learning.