My College:
Dear Adina

Do I Have to Support Their Preference for Online Classes?

Adina Glickman

Dear Adina,

What if your student wants to take web-based classes when in-person classes with a live professor are available and the parent would rather that they attend live, in-person classes?

Dear Parent,

This topic is deep and complicated, and warrants a conversation with your student that begins with your open, genuine curiosity and questions about why their preferences are what they are.

You have an opportunity here to be the parent with a flashlight as you and your student walk through the thicket of trees. Let them lead and, if they’re willing, shine a light where they’re headed.

Education and students are in the midst of an existential crisis, and how your student wants to proceed should be respected even though you may disagree with their choices. As I wrote recently, you can’t actually get your student to do anything, so try not to see this as a power struggle. Ask questions, listen to answers, and trust that your student will find their way, no matter how off course that may look to you. In short, respect your student’s decision and trust that it is informed by whatever wisdom they need to guide them through life.

I know that must feel like I’ve kicked you in the shins and told you you’re irrelevant, but bear with me! You have a super important role to play.

Your preference that your student attend classes in person is not wrong. You and I know that the human contact and socialization of the live classroom, along with the energizing discourse of in-person learning, can’t be replicated online. And we know that the way the brain functions when looking at a screen versus participating in a live experience has an impact on how we learn.

So, if in-person learning has all this going for it, why would someone choose anything else? There are several possibilities.

First, your student (like billions of other students) is not really getting the point of learning. Since human knowledge is doubling every twelve hours, many students are resigned to the fact that what they’re learning today will be obsolete by the time they graduate, or by the time the semester is over.

Second, lecture classes are equally useless in person as they are online, “so why get out of bed for a lecture that doesn’t really help me learn.?”

Third, the professor may be profoundly burnt out on teaching and wishes they were in Cancun instead of the classroom, and the lecture they’re delivering reflects their despair.

Fourth, the professor may have an accent and your student gets more from listening and re-playing the lecture on their own to really understand what’s being said.

Fifth, if your student is (like billions of other students) understanding that the point of going to school isn’t to learn but rather to get good grades, they may have discovered that they can get equally good grades without going to class in person.

Sixth, your student may (like billions of other students) feel listless and slightly agoraphobic after spending two years purposely avoiding human contact.

Seventh… really, I could go on.

As I said, education is having a bit of a crisis, and families are too. After experiencing “remote learning” during the height of Covid, students are questioning the whole educational institution. And they’re not wrong either. Try to be patient as their lives and their decisions unfold — and remember that your own youthful decisions and unfolding were likely as mysterious and worrisome to your elders.

We grown-ups create a world that eventually doesn’t make sense to us, and that’s when we turn it over to our children to lead the way. Get ready to hand over the flashlight.


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Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at
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