The transition from physical classes to online platforms in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has been rapid, to say the least. Today, it's easy for educators to talk about all the advantages of online classes, but at the beginning of the transition, online classes were mostly chaotic. Most educators didn't know how to adequately deal with imposing routine on students, and software problems meant that it was difficult to find a reliable platform to deploy online learning on. These problems and a host of others marked a shaky start to the online classes’ era.
However, as time went on, educators became a lot more comfortable with educating through online platforms. And now, they are even teaching laboratory courses online, and are getting results.
How Much Practice Is Required for Online Learning?
The question of how much practice students need with online classes is one that many educators have tried to answer, but have failed to. The reason is simple; there's no objective answer. Just like with physical learners, online learners have different needs and capacities. Student A may be able to get a good grasp of the module by only practicing ten hours every week, and student B may have to spend 15 hours to reach the same level of understanding. This disparity makes it difficult to come up with an actual number concerning how much one should practice when it comes to online classes.
However, the key thing to understand is that online learning isn't a walk in the park. Many students have this misconception, and this could lead to a lackadaisical attitude towards learning. It's up to educators to teach online learners that online courses are just as challenging as the ones that would have been taught physically, and as such, they would have to put in just as much work as they would in a physical class.
The importance of Hands-on Labs and Exercises
First off, before discussing the importance of hands-on labs and exercises, it's important to have an understanding of what we mean when we use those terms. Hands-on labs and exercises generally refer to a sort of learning where students learn by doing. That is, these laboratory exercises will be carried out by the students themselves.
It's easy to ignore the importance of hands-on labs and exercises in online modules because it seems difficult to monitor. But that isn't true, and labs and exercises are still as important in online classes as they were in physical classes. Several studies have shown students who have high-quality laboratory experiences end up developing problem solving and critical thinking skills. So laboratory experience doesn't just give students technical knowledge, it also gives them general skills they can apply to other fields.
Aside from giving students general skills, laboratory experience and hands-on practical also inspire students to further their education and provide them with vital skills sought after by prospective employers.
Now, this isn't to say hands-on laboratory learning and exercises aren't difficult to deploy on online platforms. And in truth, it's near impossible to recreate the entire laboratory learning on an online platform. However, gifted educators can teach students other aspects of experiments and set different objectives. For example, students could learn how to propose new scientific experiments, learn how to review the literature and critically read peer-reviewed journals, and learn how to design complex research experiments. All these are ways for educators to ensure that their students are having hands-on lab experience without actually having to work in a physical lab.
Transitioning to online labs is definitely not a walk in the park and cannot replace physical interaction, but it will certainly help in delivering quality technical education to students.