The previous articles in the series discussed the various possibilities online learning offers to enhance the quality of education. However, is online learning as effective as it is supposed to be?
To find out, we talked to educators and students regarding their real-life experience participating in online learning.
“Working from home gives me the comfort of having my own personal space. This allows me to work according to my specific needs without bothering about other people but being home, I’m more prone to distractions, especially when my son starts craving for my attention. The easiest solution is to postpone but that would disrupt the learning process of my students.”, said Mrs. Leong, a teacher from Penang.
Interestingly, most interviewees with children stated similar experiences in our conversation. While some of them have alternatives to overcome the issue, those without are forced to postpone the class or carry on without face-to-face online learning, such as using Google Classroom to send in lecture notes and exercises for students to work on. Nevertheless, the learning process continues.
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“Being a college student, it is important for me to begin managing my finances thus I opted to support myself by committing to a part-time job. This also comes as a drawback as it limits the amount of time I have to attend classes physically. As a workaround, I began participating in online courses, providing me the flexibility to move at my own pace without losing touch on my education. The human touch may not be present but there are one-on-one teacher-student sessions which manages to maintain the communication between educators and students. Ever since, I have fully transitioned to online learning.”, said Azzizan, a student enrolled in Open University Malaysia (OUM).
This shows that online learning can be a solution to people who are multitasking – from educators handling classes and their own children, to students juggling between jobs and studies to maintain a stable cashflow, online learning can plot the way towards realising true, flexible learning.
However, some of them were sceptical at first, emphasising that the sudden change of learning environment and systems will disrupt the learning process, as there was not the luxury of time to fully develop, prepare, and simulate online learning systems.
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“At first, lecturers were figuring out various means to restructure the courses to cater to the online learning environment. There were plans to abolish exams and replace group-based assignments but as we began to familiarise ourselves with the online learning ecosystem, they realised various features were available to allow group communication and online exams to be expedited seamlessly, allowing courses to be conducted as usual, only difference being at the comfort of our own homes. That much said, I still believe not all courses or education programmes are structured to benefit from online platforms, especially programmes which involves lab experiments, machinery maintenance and so on.”, said Hasmah, a chemical engineering student from Curtin University.
Educators, on the other hand, said that if they have had time to familiarise themselves with the functionality and possibilities of learning online, courses could have been restructured to fully benefit from online learning tools and platforms, but that wasn’t the case.
Instead, some of them explained that this unexpected circumstance forced them to discover the potentials behind online learning.
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“The pandemic has forced the education industry to adopt digital tools and technologies to continue the dissemination of information while being at home. To transform current modules, courses, and subjects to suit online learning requires time as we had not much prior experience dealing with online learning. However, this pandemic is a blessing in disguise, allowing the education industry to leverage readily available tools, simultaneously exploring the possibilities of online learning for the betterment of the future.”, said a lecturer from University Malaysia Sabah (UMS).
She also explained that the infrastructure for enabling online learning needs to be expanded to enable access for all levels of the community.
She said, “The pandemic was an unexpected visitor that forced us to quickly make drastic changes so that we could resume the learning process as soon as possible. We witnessed the Government’s initiative of broadcasting educational television programmes to benefit those that do not have the privilege of an Internet connection. These are some of the efforts that were executed successfully, despite the challenges faced.”.
The COVID-19 phenomenon has forced a permanent change in society, hence the new normal of social distancing, contact tracing, and enhanced hygienic care. This has caused a change in the education system. Good or bad, is a question yet to be answered. Could the move to online learning form more effective methods of educating students? Or is there still a need for physical human interaction in teaching? What does the future hold for online learning?