The number of undergraduate students partaking in online courses has significantly increased over the past few years. This growth in online learning has, however, led many to be concerned that the levels of student engagement and outcomes may be lower than what can be achieved in in-person settings. Such concern extends particularly to practical-based subjects like biology, where students have to physically engage in experimentation, lab processes, and teamwork in order to fully grasp the course material and learn how to work with lab equipment.

While the forced transition to online learning for these subjects during the hard lockdown of 2020 initially met with poorer results, much has been done in the interim to improve online offerings and promote practical learning even in home settings. Indeed, various courses now exist that enable students to take part in digital biology labs in a way that actively engages them in the coursework and results in similar outcomes to those achieved in person.

Through the inclusion of interactivities, multimedia, and both synchronous and asynchronous communication via recorded lessons and real-time video-calls, online students can effectively absorb given subject matter or undertake practical tasks and experiments.

Although there is still a need to provide students with real-world lab experience, many of the online offerings come with practical toolkits that are sufficient for students to learn the basics of using lab equipment. This combination of digital material and practical equipment means that students learn very similarly in an online setting as they would in in-person classes.

As digital teaching platforms continue to improve, and online learning outcomes continue to remain on par with in-person lessons, more avenues are likely to open up for students undertaking biology and other practical-based courses. Such improved access to education is good news for ensuring equitable and diverse learning opportunities.

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