Maria Homann

December 14, 2017

5 benefits of online learning

Over the course of the past few decades, so many of the tasks we carry out on a daily basis have been made available online.

We can talk to our friends and family online, we can order our groceries and meals online, most of us can carry out our work online, we can watch movies and read books online, heck, we can even get glitter bombs delivered to our enemies online (yes, it’s a thing), and the list goes on.

It’s probably no surprise that here at Labster, the thing we’re most excited about being made available online is education (although glitter bombs are pretty exciting too). Not only does it enable us to reach our goal of democratizing education, online learning also has a number of other benefits.

To be clear though, we’re not talking about traditional teaching that has been placed online. We’re talking about teaching that was born online.

Yes, we can read an e-book instead of a book or watch a video of a lecture instead of a lecture in person. But these aren’t really leveraging the full potential that technology has to offer.

Is this really innovating education?

 

The digitization of traditional teaching can’t really be described as innovative, and it doesn’t have all the same benefits that we’re about to list.

Instead, let’s focus on the educational tools that offer a whole new way of learning by fully leveraging the technology.

So here goes:

 

1. Learning from failure is effective

Letting students make mistakes and learn from them is more effective than bubble-wrapping them before sending them out into the real world.

Learning from failure, or Productive Failure, is about intentionally setting the students up for failure, so that they can experience what happens when they make mistakes, they can learn from their mistakes, and then they can avoid making the same mistakes again.

The process of failing, reflecting, and trying again lets the students understand and remember information better than traditional lecturing.

Virtual online learning trumps traditional teaching in this respect because it’s the perfect environment for Productive Failure. The reason why it's perfect is simply that, when it comes down to it, it’s more pleasant to fail in a simulation than it is in real life.

For example, getting acid in your eyes or having chemicals explode in front of you (see below) is something you would generally want to avoid in real life, but can actually be quite thrilling in a virtual world.

Chemical explosion in virtual lab

Which brings us to our next point...

 

2. Virtual environments are safe to fail in

There are countless scenarios in different learning situations that involve working in potentially dangerous environments. For example, landing an aircraft, learning to use dangerous machines in a factory, or working with dangerous bacteria, such as salmonella.

Despite the obvious safety hazards involved in these things, exposing students to them is important for them to learn and develop their skills.

Although students will inevitably have to face dangerous situations at some point, there is a way to prepare them well: virtual simulations.

The flight simulator is an excellent example of how upcoming pilots are enabled to practice their skills before setting foot in real plane with actual passengers. The virtual laboratories offer similar preparation, and are much like flight simulators for science students.

“Before they go into the real laboratories, let them practice and train using their own laptop (or lab-top if you will :)) in the same way as a pilot training in a flight simulator before going into the real plane”

- Michael Bodekaer, Co-founder and CTO at Labster

 

3. Students learn in different ways and at different speeds

Let’s face it - when it comes to learning, we weren’t created equal. We all have different ways of learning, be it visually, auditory or kinesthetic, and we all learn different things at different speeds.

Online virtual learning allows each individual student to learn in their own way and at their own pace, unlike in a lecture, where the students passively receive information in a given format and at a given pace.

Online learning in general has the option of catering to many more learning styles than traditional teaching ever did. Don’t feel like reading the book? No problem, you can listen to it. Or better yet, learn what’s in the book by playing your way through it in a virtual lab, where there are storylines with characters, 3D animations, gamified elements, quiz questions and a whole lot more that will help you understand and remember what you’re learning.

For example, the screenshot you see below is from our Plant Transcriptomics lab, where your mission starts in the Amazon rainforest, and a local tribe shows you a plant that they use to cure malaria.

Online virtual labs have the benefit over real labs of allowing students to work at the speed that suits them. Science students can repeat experiments as many times as they like, until they fully understand the subject. This is an advantage particularly to students who are struggling with the subject, and find it hard to keep up.

On top of that, because the technology provides the student with the option to choose the way they want to learn, it encourages students to reflect on how, when and where education takes place - ultimately encouraging and empowering the students to take their education into their own hands.

 

4. Virtual equipment is cheaper than real equipment

The cost of education is higher than ever, but the quality of the degrees isn’t increasing at the same exponential rate.

A part of the reason for this is the limited budget and investment in facilities and equipment that are necessary for practical learning. Access to this equipment is important for enabling students to progress in their education careers and qualify for a job once they graduate.

Online virtual learning can help solve that problem by providing access to million dollar labs. These can’t replace the real thing, but can certainly prepare students far better than a stack of books can.

 

5. Learning-by-doing beats learning-by-looking

There’s no doubt that a hands-on experience counts for much more than an eyes-on experience.

But as mentioned above, expensive lab equipment doesn’t grow on trees.

In science education, we experience quite the chicken and egg problem, whereby it’s difficult to get access to a lab if you’re too inexperienced, but you need to have access to a lab to get experience.

Virtual labs have the benefit of providing an extra step between the two, that prepares the students far better for the real lab than a book ever could.

In fact, a study has shown that Labster’s simulations provide a great tool for bridging the gap between theory and practice in medical education.

The results from the study show that the medical students involved had a significantly higher knowledge of the subject, as well as an increase in intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy.

More specifically, 90% of students said that they had a greater understanding of the subject.

In addition to that, 82% thought that medical genetics was more interesting than before, 93% said that they were more interested and motivated and felt more confident by having experienced working on a case story that resembled the real working situation of a doctor, and 78% said that they would now feel more confident counseling a real patient.

Try our online virtual lab

If you still haven’t tried online virtual learning, you can check it out in our free Lab Safety simulation, where you will experience the possibilities of working in a virtual lab. You’ll also learn how to navigate a lab safely, and perhaps even get exposed to a few chemical explosions along the way. Try it out!

Interested in using Labster at your institution?

Labster is trusted by professors and students at more than 150 institutions worldwide. If you're curious to hear about how Labster could work at your institution, learn more here.

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