The Coronavirus pandemic has necessitated an abrupt shift to digital working and until recently, for students this meant learning in a virtual classroom. But the sad reality is that e-learning is not an effective and sustainable means of education.


To begin with, students receive less intellectual stimulation online. During assignments and tests, when the mind should be working hardest, it’s all too easy to scan the internet for quick answers. This discourages independent thought as students are given answers instantaneously with no time to generate their own insights or access long-term memory.  Further, combined with the reality that the teacher cannot monitor the students, there is no way to identify whether real learning is happening.


Note-taking online is also very problematic. Storing information online – to a seemingly infinite database - leads students not to internalize material as they can depend on it being there the next time they need it.  A study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that areas of the brain concerned with memory and the processing of new information were considerably more active when students were writing by hand, as opposed to typing.  Remote learning, while not precluding handwritten notes, causes most students to opt for the convenience of note-taking online, if even, they feel a need to take notes at all.


Lastly, the key to online learning is, of course, online teaching which unfortunately, also presents many challenges.  When students do not share a physical space with the teacher, their minds often struggle to concentrate on what’s being said.  What’s more, learning on devices with frequent notifications provides an incessant opportunity for distraction. The limited engagement students have with teachers can also make them feel less accountable for their work, which in turn leads to reduced effort.  Moreover, there is also the difficulty of teachers understanding which students require additional support. While schools and teachers have done much to facilitate online learning, it is simply impossible for children to receive the same education online as they would in school.


Fortunately the current situation in the UK means that only a small percentage of students must learn away from school; however with the ever evolving coronavirus crisis, the prospect of a second lockdown is always looming. Such a shutdown would threaten to erase the academic progress already made since September. For this reason, the government shutting down schools a second time could greatly impair the educational progress of British students and should be avoided at all costs.