When journalism major Anna Flannery’s husband was transferred to El Paso, Texas, Flannery moved too. This left her learning in the same format she started during the COVID-19 pandemic: virtual.
She says online learning helps with her mental health and keeps her daily routines flexible.
"Sometimes I just feel like sleeping in longer, baking, or having a 'me' day before logging on my computer and starting my school stuff,” said Flannery, 21, who is currently earning her degree via UofM Global, the online degree program offered by the University of Memphis.
Flannery, originally from Crossville, Tennessee, moved to Texas after her husband was relocated because of the military.
“I can travel while going to school without having to transfer to a bunch of different universities and risk losing my credits,” she said. “I never know when or where I’m going to move.”
Flannery is not the only student that has chosen to remain online even though most other students have returned in person.
The University of Memphis resumed in-person learning in August and many students have chosen to continue their studies online for safety and convenience.
Several of them say that online courses provide flexibility, safety and opportunity not available with in-person learning, issues particularly important to many students during a global pandemic.
“Why should we have to sit in small, poorly ventilated classrooms and possibly become sick and die ourselves?” said Caitlyn Dawson, 19, a native Memphian residing on campus.
Outside of keeping students safe, online learning can benefit students’ mental health.
According to a study from Psychological Research on Urban Society, an academic research journal at the University of Indonesia, students found they experienced less stress and more satisfaction during the pandemic with online learning.
While students at the U of M have seen benefits from online learning, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all learners, especially children, should be taught through a screen.
“For those in elementary, middle and high school, the vast majority need to be in person. Online learning was not built for the way kids learn,” said Trish Lange, an instructional designer for UM3D, the team responsible for designing the university’s online courses.
“In general, I think online learning suits a mature student.”
Last year, the University had over 3,000 exclusively online students and over 6,000 taking some online courses, according to UnivStats.
She said the biggest benefit of online learning is that it supports non-traditional students.
“It makes it mainstream to seek degrees and additional learning once you’ve passed the traditional age for college.”
She added that because of online learning, college is now something that can be completed in a different time frame than the traditional four-year sequential format.
“It’s made college degrees more attainable for more people.”