Online Learning in Higher Education Institutes Post C-19 | Daily News

Online Learning in Higher Education Institutes Post C-19

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affected many industries over the past 18 months and a significant impact of Covid-19 pandemic was observed in the Higher Education sector.

Academics of Universities and higher education institutes came across a new challenge of teaching on-line instead of the normal physical face-to-face lecturing. The sudden move to virtual teaching and learning was initially considered as a stressful and impractical method by both the faculty staff and the students.

Many academics who already found it difficult to manage time for teaching, administrative work and research with their personal commitments found the newly introduced virtual mode as a struggle.

Everywhere around the world the schools were shut as a result of Covid-19 and 1.2 billion students of nearly 190 countries were at stuck at home. The only option remained as online learning where teaching was done on digital platforms mediated by the internet.

Similar mode was adopted by the higher education sector in order to ensure the ongoing curriculums of the tertiary students. Many of the academics had no prior experience with teaching virtually and the difficulties arose with holding practical or lab instructions, conducting assessments and organizing large classes.

Many students have claimed that online learning helps them with retaining subject matters more in comparison to normal learning mode. In spite of many unfavourable factors associated with virtual learning many students have admitted to the convenience and efficiency it has generated. Thus, many academics have come to believe that the online learning would be a continuing progression post-Covid-19.

Inception

The introduction of online learning goes all the way back to 1960 and therefore it is certainly not considered a novel theme. Even prior to C-19, many educational platforms and applications were developed and used by students and academics alike. Some of these include video conferencing software, virtual lecturing programmes, languages translating and online learning applications.

Many were skeptical about the virtual teaching at the beginning of Covid-19 as it was a sudden transition to a whole new mode of teaching and learning with no introduction or adjustment time for academics and students both. The technical issues faced with insufficient network coverage and bandwidth meant it was expected to provide a poor participation and unsatisfactory experience for both parties. In spite of that, some academics strongly believed that this new mode would be an inspiration to emerge a new hybrid model of education which will bring about remarkable benefits.

Many universities around the world have implemented the virtual teaching techniques and in London, the Imperial College started an inaugural course called ‘science of corona virus’, which became the most enrolled online class launched in the year 2020. Many academics have praised the online teaching mode and have claimed it has allowed them to connect with the students faster using various chat groups and video conferences.

Similarly students have said they have found it easier to communicate with their lecturers virtually and, many academics have decided to continue with traditional lecturing and online teaching in a hybrid mode in the future.

Challenges

Many challenges have been encountered with virtual teaching and learning. Main obstacle students have faced is the lack of reliable internet facilities. Digital learning and technology walks hand-in-hand and this means the students who struggle with the location, network or mere financial abilities will be put in a disadvantaged position.

In many developed countries 95% of their students possess a personal laptop but in South Asia not even 30% have access to a personal computer at home. Governments and schools of countries such as Australia and New Zealand provide digital equipment for under-privileged students to pursue their education but it is not a facility that can be afforded by the Sri Lankan government.

Benefits

If the accessibility and facilities are present, online learning can be far more effective than the traditional methods. Findings of a recent research has identified that tertiary students tend to recollect up to 60% of the information when taught online which is significantly higher to a normal class room memory retention of 10%.

The key reason would be that the new generation is more tech-savvy and enjoys the digital platform naturally, which makes virtual learning easier and faster for them. Most of the online courses provide the students the ability to re-listen to the lectures, skip or accelerate areas and read the materials in their own time which allows their learning speed to be their own individual pace.

Even though the primary and secondary students require a structured environment in learning, higher educational institutes possess the luxury of having older or adult students who can be educated in a flexible learning environment.

The responsibility lies up on the module coordinators and academic staff to recreate the structural classroom virtually, and with the use of technological tools such as teleconferencing replicate a physical lecture room atmosphere. Students absorb knowledge with the use of their sensory learning skills and especially during practical and experimental lessons the use of such technological tools are crucial to demonstrate the material.

Drawbacks

The disadvantages of online learning can be identified for both the students and the academics. The main complaint of the students is the lack of social life and human interaction. Many claim to even have a psychological effect from lack of socializing.

Students have also felt that the in-class encouragement and personal attention and assistance provided by the staff are missing during the online teaching. Most of the students feel only a very talkative and forward group of students benefit from the virtual discussions, as some students are uncomfortable with expressing ideas during the online classes.

A majority of the students complain about lack of access to internet and online facilities as well as the inadequacy of compute applications and hardware. Many students have observed that they depend up on power point presentations significantly more than taking notes which limits their learning skills. Similarly students admit to memorizing the virtually uploaded information than critical thinking and group discussions.

Students have also claimed to lose their concentration during lectures due to the repetitive nature of online learning. Students have also experienced less academic productivity due to the inadequate familiarity with using virtual libraries.

Academic staff has also listed many disadvantages. The main concern was the minimal experience the lecturers possessed in online teaching. The lack of technological knowledge and the ability to use new digital platforms and applications was considered as a main drawback.

Many lecturers found that the limited or alomost none existent training on virtual teaching was an obstacle especially when facing students via video conferencing and conducting lectures from home. Academics also claimed to have minimal control of maintaining student attention online and answering questions raised in various modes in the digital platforms.

Many academics found the virtual assessment system to be not as effective as the normal in person examinations and claimed the student performances were not objectively evaluated. Most of the lecturers were doubtful whether the knowledge sharing was effective and were mostly concerned about the effectiveness of the laboratory and practical sessions.

Some of the academics were pessimistic about adapting to a hybrid or a fully virtual teaching mode in the future. Almost all of the academics agreed that lack of physical interaction with the student and inability to socialise was a major diasadvantage of online teaching.

Way-forward

Virtual learning was a challenge to both students and the academics when it was suddenly implemented due to Covid-19 lock down. The positive approach of the lecturers and the quick adaptability of the students in response are highly commendable. One of the very few gains of Covid-19 is the transformation of traditional teaching from monotonous rote learning of students to encouraging them to become critical thinking and self-discovering individuals through virtual teaching. This will benefit students in determining their future success.

Post Covid-19 effects will bring many changes in the Higher Education sector and a major transformation will be on how the student learns. The traditional teaching will revolutionise in to empowering the student to practice proficiency-based learning which will impose many new skills and unique talents upon the student.

Virtual learning would encourage students to follow their passions and identify the fields of their competencies. Students will become more independent and start developing strong leadership traits.

The most beneficial change that will take place with online teaching is the ability for students to participate in many challenging courses irrespective of the location they are based in.

It is evident that hybrid form of teaching with a combination of traditional and virtual mode would develop eventually in higher education institutes. The digital divide has to be eliminated and all the students should be given equal access to internet and data facilities as well as computer and digital equipment.

Conclusion

Many academics around the globe have agreed that online teaching will evolve and generate the most effective methods of educating tertiary students in the future. Most universities have already executed the virtual learning as a part of the ‘new normal’ way of tertiary education.Many innovations have been originated post major world disasters. E-commerce is such an example which was instigated after SARS disease.

E-learning or online teaching can become one suchpost Covid-19 revolution we might experience. The pandemic has taught us the similarities we share as different nations in this borderless world. The most important common obstacle every country faced was the continuation of education and the requirement to teach students without disruptions.

If with the use of emerging technology a common platform and a mutual teaching approach can be created and adapted, that would bring unity, harmony and numerous opportunities for higher education sector worldwide.

The writer is Head of Department of Industrial Management, Director of Business Research Unit, University of Moratuwa and Executive Committee member – CMI


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