Recent reports in the media talk about the detrimental impact of Covid on learning - this UNICEF article on Education and Covid gives a good summary of current research on the topic.
Instutions have flocked to e-learning as a solution to ensure continuity of education during lockdowns. This has been dubbed 'Emergency Remote Education' by Shinn and Hickey.(3) This terminology is extremely useful to distinguish between planned e-learning, and the online learning implemented in response to school closures. Recognising the difference means being able to more effectively evaluate the succcess of e-learning during the pandemic.
E-learning is not new - in fact it dates back to the late 1990s. You can read about the history of it here. It's also referred to as Virtual Learning, and Online learning. I've held various posts in education where I have implemented e-learning modules and programmes for different topics, and even completed my entire Masters in Information Science without setting foot on campus, which convinced me that remote learning is possible. It is my learning preference, as I can learn at a time that suits me, and at my own speed.
So what are the issues faced by students and teachers using Emergency Remote Education?
Research conducted by Soni highlights some of the issues (1)
- lack of online teaching skills in educators, online preparation of lesson plans as it is very time-consuming
- lack of appropriate support from the technical teams, and traffic overload in online educational platforms.
- deficiency of proper learning attitude,
- lack of suitable materials for learning, more involvement in classroom learning,
- incapability of self- discipline, and the
- inadequate learning environment at some of their homes during self-isolation.
Research also indicates that the success of Emergency remote education is severely impacted by access to technology (the digital divide) - Unicef estimates 31% of children worldwide do not have the necessary technological assets.
This World Economic Forum article on how Covid has changed education discusses age as a factor: 'Nevertheless, the effectiveness of online learning varies amongst age groups. The general consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is required.'
Shinn & Hicky's research confirmed these factors, and concluded: 'Moreover, the findings highlighted that the participants' experiences relating to the quality of learning, academic interest, and performance seemed to vary significantly depending on respective course instructors. ... Previous research points out the quality of online learning and student success depend on proper instructor practice, instructor training and preparation to teach in an online environment, and carefully and effectively designed online courses (Andrade, 2015; Cherif et al. 2019; Sharp and Sharp 2016).'
Done well, e-learning can be more effective than traditional learning: 'For those who do have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in a number of ways. Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.' (Li & Lalani 2)
Switching to Emergency Remote Education meant teachers were suddenly faced with the challenge of providing e-learning materials, irrespective of whether they had the appropriate skills. This is in no way a criticism of teachers. Equally, learners were expected to adapt to learning remotely without adequate technology, support and preparation. (Shin and Hickey)
Traditional classroom methods and lesson plans do not always translate into a good online lesson. This article talks about 7 essential criteria for an online course, which include engaging and interactive content. Equally, the tools used to create courses are important for the success of e-learning. This article discusses the 'Key Elements of a Good E-Learning Authoring Tool' Part of the rationale behind this blog is to help teachers improve their digital skills.
One really useful trend for teachers to capitalise on is the exponential rise in the availability of free electronic teaching materials. We list some of our favourites here. We firmly believe in using and adapting good free resources, and only developing our own when nothing suitable is available. If you love a free tool, and we don't have it listed, please use our contact page to alert us to it.
One of the positive impacts of Covid on E-learning is the realisation that it is possible to learn remotely. For those that embrace this, there are no longer any geographical barriers. World renowned lecturers and teachers can reach a global audience, and learners can benefit from having access to exceptional thinkers.
Now that students are returning to classrooms, we can begin to evaluate the impact and learning gaps created during Covid-19.
"While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning - with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation - will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits. "I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education," says Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education.
I would argue that a lot of what was used for Emergency Remote Education should not be regarded as proper e-learning programmes, hence the preference for the term Emergency Remote Education. Therefore the negative impact of Covid on learning should not equate with a poor evaluation of e-learning. While clearly there are significant barriers to e-learning, such as the digital divide, and lack of suitability for all learners, in the right circumstances, with born digital teaching materials, E-learning can be a very effective and powerful tool.
Selected References (hyperlinks in text to others)
1) Soni, Vishal Dineshkumar, Global Impact of E-learning during COVID 19 (June 18, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3630073 or https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3630073 (accessed online 22/03/2022)
2) Li, Cathy and Lalani, Farah 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/ Accessed online 22/03/2022)
3) Minsun Shin & Kasey Hickey (2021) Needs a little TLC: examining college students' emergency remote teaching and learning experiences during COVID-19, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45:7, 973-986, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2020.1847261 Accessed online 22/03/2022)