Future for online learning


Learning curve: Teacher Thomas Rebmann communicating with his students during an online session at a school in Tuebingen, southern Germany, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. — AFP

WITH the vaccination programme under way, academic institutions are now opening their doors for students to come back to campus. The questions now are whether online teaching and learning will continue in the post-Covid-19 era and how such a shift would impact the global education market.

The mindset of students has changed drastically over the past one year. A recent global student survey by Chegg.org revealed that 78% of tertiary students in Malaysia would prefer online learning to conventional face-to-face sessions if it meant cheaper fees.

A similar trend is also observed in other countries. For example, preference for online learning is 83% in Canada and 78% in China.

There is evidence that learning online can be more effective in a number of ways. Research suggests that online learning increases retention of information and also takes less time. On average, students retain between 25% and 60% more material when learning online compared to only 8% to 10% in a classroom setting.

Generally, e-learning requires 40% to 60% less time to learn compared to a traditional classroom setting.

However, many challenges need to be overcome if online learning is to be sustained once the pandemic is over. Two are worthy of mention.

First, digital access relies on the availability of reliable connections to the Internet. In the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, a digital gap is predominantly seen across countries and between income brackets within countries.

Last year, we saw a student in Sabah climbing up a tree just to get Internet connection so that she could sit for an online examination.

An education ministry survey in 2020 revealed that 40% of about 900,000 students affected by school closures could not follow lessons as they did not have phones and home Internet with unlimited data.

Second, many institutions are not equipped with adequate IT facilities to conduct proper assessments. Additionally, there is lack of IT knowledge and training among educators.

The following are three ways for educational institutions to use to overcome the digital divide among students and educators so that they can stay relevant in the new normal of online teaching and learning.

First, academic institutions need to invest in improving their IT facilities. Purchasing online software, upgrading the existing hardware, and providing high-speed Internet access are imperative for effective online teaching. In 2018, researchers found that after four and a half months of using an Indian app called Mindspark, which tests basic language and Maths skills, children made more progress in these areas.

Second, academic and support staff should be trained to handle tech-savvy gadgets. Academic staff should also be encouraged to obtain online pedagogical knowledge to improve academic quality. The IT department in all educational institutions should ensure that online teaching proceeds without any problems.

Third, institutions need to redesign their existing curricula with different teaching approaches. They should introduce online teaching on various platforms. This will be in line with the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015–2025, where online learning is an integral component of higher education.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in teaching and learning, it has also had a salutary effect. It has pushed educational institutions to provide better holistic education to students.

ASSOC PROFESSOR DR SUNDRAM M. KARUPIAH

Deputy Dean (Postgraduate, Research and Administration)

Faculty of Pharmacy

AIMST University

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