E-learning tools provide educators and students with access to resources they couldn’t have had otherwise, no matter their status or location. A philosophy student in England can learn from the top professor a continent away, and can do so in their own time while balancing a full-time job and a family at home.
But even though e-learning has become an education equalizer, it’s still not a replacement for the traditional classroom. Sure, the technology is advancing, but it’s not flawless. Just like any new, burgeoning innovation, e-learning faces its own challenges.
This, to me, is where e-learning and the traditional classroom will one day form a union: compensating for one where the other lacks.
Here’s what I mean.
In a traditional classroom, educators will tell you they need to be on their toes, trying to engage their students at every moment. But students don’t always cooperate — maybe they’re bored, zoned out, or too focused on the sun outside to pay attention to math.
That lack of engagement is a challenge for the student as well. They can’t hit pause on a teacher and rewind back to the part where they stopped paying attention, which means they’re going to miss out.
Accounting for a student’s individual attention span is also an issue in traditional classrooms.
Some students fatigue after 50 minutes, others after 15, and there’s no way to adjust for that in a real-time environment.
Despite these problems, once the teacher and the student meet in the middle and find that engagement, it’s magic. Being surrounded by like-minded people, actively participating with peers, and seeing students come alive once things click is a social energy you can’t replace — even with AI.
One of the ways e-learning has tried to mimic the social aspects of a classroom is with tools like messaging boards, Facebook groups, and yes, sometimes chatbots. They give students the sense they aren’t just staring at an empty message board, but they are talking with real people about their homework.
Of course, this doesn’t replace talking with peers or having a teacher know your name.
Students naturally learn from one another while solving problems and working collaboratively in a traditional classroom.
They’re validated and encouraged by face-to-face time with a teacher that doesn’t come from a pre-recorded video.
E-learning has yet to find a way to truly imitate that.
From the teacher’s perspective, e-learning tools give them precise, clear-cut feedback on how a student is engaging with material. They can see where students get lost in a lesson and grade assignments with the click of a button.
A reduced workload allows teachers to flex their skills in other ways — ways that are more beneficial to the students and the classroom. Less hours spent grading workbooks means more time spent engaging each student on an individual level.
It’s this combination of customized content and resource management that will allow teachers to lead our classrooms into the future.
These days, more and more students are being driven to self-instruction — either because they can’t afford tuition or are simply excited about a topic. This is where e-learning comes in.
If a platform could actually cater content and interaction around the individual user — their speed, their interests, their location — then e-learning could give them the ability to learn whatever they want, from wherever they want.
If a student wants to attend Harvard business lectures but lives halfway across the country, then e-learning puts them in the room.
True mobility and access to education is the future. But that doesn’t mean we stop empowering our classrooms and teachers.
While e-learning won’t replace traditional classrooms, it will change the way we know them today.
With improved resources and reduced teacher workloads, classrooms can shift to co-learning spaces. Students can arrive, learn, engage — all at their own pace in a collaborative environment.
And that’s the true goal of education: to create the best environment for students to learn.