What are the 7 things that make students prefer classroom courses over distance learning?

What if we sought to better understand what is "missing" in distance education in order to try to recreate it? A group of students from York University in Toronto identified seven things they miss most about face-to-face classes. We present them to you with some possible solutions.

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What if we wanted to better understand what “is missing” in distance education in order to try to recreate it? A group of students from York University in Toronto took the time to reflect on what distinguishes classroom instruction from online learning. They identified seven elements of classroom lessons that they miss the most. We present them to you with some possible solutions.

These students are in graduate school. On the other hand, the 7 elements they identified are easily found in the reality of younger students. We present to you a summary, accompanied by some possible solutions. Some tracks may be suitable for more than one element.

The full version is available on the University Affairs website.

1. Sense of belonging and friendly relations

The students noted that “being in class creates a sense of belonging to a community that online learning does not easily provide”. For example, they named that "most students rarely converse together during and after their distance learning lessons" and that "online lessons limit the ability for students to have peer support."

Possible solutions:

- Have the young people work in sub-groups;
- Provide virtual meeting rooms for informal discussions outside of school hours.

2. Social signs

According to the students (and they are right!), It is more difficult to perceive non-verbal signs through the screen. Thus, certain signals can go “unnoticed in the context of distance learning courses, causing a bad perception of people and situations”. In addition, students reported having difficulty "developing a sense of trust and familiarity" with their fellow students.

Possible solutions:

- Personally question certain learners to find out how they are doing (in private or in a large group, depending on the dynamic);
- Encourage young people to write in the chat room during certain periods;
- Think of icebreaker activities in sub-groups, as some companies do;
- Focus on activities where they are in action (quiz, discussion, etc.).

3. Motivation

Two elements are particularly lacking for learners to help them maintain their motivation:
- Have the opportunity to study in the library or in common areas while they are surrounded by other people who are also studying;
- Stay after class to chat with their teachers.

Seeing their peers studying allows everyone to see that they are not alone in their pain and pushes them to do their best.

Establishing a good relationship with a teacher prompts me to ask more questions, to seek more answers.

Possible solutions:

- Allow students to work in a team and even favor collaborative work;
- Think of thematic virtual rooms, offering special work or study contexts (eg: with soft, more rhythmic music, with the possibility of discussing, in total silence, etc.);
- Offer the students to stay after class to discuss;
- Offer time slots of availability at various times during the week;
- Plan individual meetings with the students.

4. Concentration

Some students report having difficulty concentrating during class and even refrain from asking questions. In addition, online courses are conducive to distractions of all kinds: notifications from other applications, surrounding noise or any other source of distraction within the home or neighborhood.

Possible solutions:

  • Plan individual meetings with students to validate everyone's morale and ensure that their questions are answered;
  • Do not hesitate to consult parents if in doubt about a situation;
  • Encourage teamwork since students will tend to ask their questions of their peers in small groups. They will help each other.
  • Advise students to put their electronic device in “do not disturb” mode for 30-60 minutes when they want to do a distraction-free study blitz;
  • When the home environment is noisy, students can put on headphones with instrumental music to create a bubble of concentration.

5. Confidentiality

For many students, studying at home “undermines their confidentiality”. On the one hand, their teachers and classmates can see their homes in the background. On the other hand, they feel less comfortable discussing certain topics with their teachers for fear that family members or roommates overhear the conversation.

Possible solutions:

- Encourage students to use the backgrounds of videoconferencing software (when the connection allows it) and to turn off their microphones when they are not speaking;
- Let the students close their cameras when you perceive that a family situation could be embarrassing for them on the screen;
- Offer students the opportunity to chat by chat, since this mode of communication promotes discretion in discussions.

6. Routine and discipline

No one wants to admit it, but everyone needs a routine. Without a real imposed routine, students admit losing motivation and procrastinating. In addition, the boundaries between home and school no longer exist and some students are literally locked in their rooms all day.

The absence of imposed schedules, of reminders by professors and of regular exchanges in class with their classmates almost certainly leads students to fall behind.

Possible solutions:

- Provide students with a standard schedule and stick to it (encourage them to do the same during non-school hours);
- Guide the students who need it most in the organization of their work (guided work plan, study strategies, etc.);
- Remind students of the importance of having a balanced lifestyle. Encourage them to go outdoors every day, for example.

7. Campus synergy

The students are adamant, “Just being on campus provides a positive educational and social experience. It allows a clear distinction to be made between work and home ”. They then have the feeling of forming a community with all the people who circulate in the school.

Possible solutions:

- Give priority to activities where the pupils are in action (quiz, discussion, etc.);
- Allow students to work in a team and even favor collaborative work;
- Plan moments for informal discussion;
- Name a totem animal for the class and invite the young students to obtain an item referring to it (photo, doggie, figurine, etc.), with the help of parents;
- Organize a virtual recreation with several groups of the same level;
- Organize an online competition where several groups compete to win a prize, or only victory.

York University students recognize "that distance learning has [not] only negative consequences"; however, they consider it important to name and recognize the challenges they pose for young people.

Since we are still grappling with some constraints, we might as well try to minimize them a bit. This is why the École branchée team found it important to name potential solutions to the issues identified in online education compared to classroom education. 

You surely have other possible solutions! Do not hesitate to share them with us by writing to me at or by commenting on this article! 

Photo credit: Photo by Taylor wilcox sure Unsplash

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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