Effectiveness of Online Learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Effectiveness of Online Learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic

INTRODUCTION

Online learning, also called e-learning, is a method of academic learning through electronic technologies and the internet to gain access to the educational curriculum away from the traditional classroom environment (Shalev-Shwartz, S. 2011). Shalev, in his study, also uses other terms such as distance learning, e-learning to describe online learning. Online has two main components that enable it to be performed outside the classroom; one uses a computer and the internet. Online learning has gained popularity in the recent past due to its flexibility in learning (Tanis C, 2020). The concept of flexibility in online learning is preferred by many students, especially those engaging in other activities, such as jobs. It gives them flexibility and the need to attend to all their commitments. According to Tanis C, online-learning has increasingly been adopted as a way of offering training by corporations.

Despite its advantage, the growth and advancement in technology have contributed greatly to its popularity (Siemens, G et al. 2015). According to a review in online learning conducted by Siemen, improvement in technology, growth in network and internet penetration, increased computer literacy, among other factors, have contributed to the growth of online learning. Online learning, however, is not embraced by many institutions. Scholars argue that it eliminates the importance of both student’s and teachers’ physical presence, which affects the social development of students (Kenney, M. 2010). This claim might be true, but it may not be used solely to rule out the importance of online learning. In early 2020, during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many institutions all over the world tried to put in place measures to ensure continuity of education, despite lockdowns and other containment measures put in place by the government. The process of shifting from the traditional method of teaching to online learning is not easy. The process of shifting from traditional teaching styles to an online environment has not been easy since many students have been locked out of accessing the learning process. This research will investigate the effectiveness of online learning, which has been necessitated by the Covid 19 pandemic outbreak.

Problem Statement

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, many institutions have tried to shift their learning process from traditional classroom environments to online learning. However, the process of changing the learning environment is faced with many challenges, which include inaccessibility of internet in some areas, poor network coverage, and inadequate resources for both schools and learners to fully meet the requirements of online learning. These challenges have affected the potential effectiveness of the learning process. This study is conducted with the primary purpose of reviewing the level of effectiveness of online learning during this pandemic period. The research is necessary for it intends to point out areas of weaknesses and the gaps of online learning; later, it will recommend some of the appropriate measures that can be put in place to improve the effectiveness of online learning.

Purpose of the Study

This study’s main goal is to assess the level of effectiveness of online learning during the pandemic period. It will also focus on the gaps in online learning, which was accustomed to the onset of the pandemic. By conducting this study, I will be able to know how well online learning is as far as delivering the content to students is concerned. The study will also identify areas of weaknesses in online learning. With that knowledge, the stakeholders can formulate proper recommendations to ensure that online learning meets its objectives. The study’s outcome will also point out regions or groups of people that might be disadvantaged if online learning is fully rolled out in all learning institutions. This information will also help formulate policies that will ensure inclusivity in the online learning process.

Research Questions

This study will seek to address various questions related to the quality of online learning during the pandemic period. Among those questions include;

i. What was the status of online learning before the Covid-19 pandemic?

ii. What are the accessibility issues related to online learning?

iii. What are the challenges associated with online learning?

iv. How can the challenges be dealt with to improve the efficiency of online learning?

Research Hypothesis

This study will seek to test the following;

i. Online learning is not accessible to a significant number of students in the country.

ii. Some regions are more marginalized, whereby online learning is more challenging than others.

The Scope of the Study

The scope of this study is limited to studying the effectiveness of online learning in Canada. However, several examples will be cited on research done in the United States due to the similarities of the two nations as far as the Education system and online learning are concerned

LITERATURE REVIEW

thought so old in Canada, the concept of online learning has attracted a lot of attention, with many scholars conducting research and studies in the same field. In this chapter, this research will seek to review other scholars who have researched online learning. The literature review will only be limited to the studies that answer or research questions or discuss issues related to the question of discussion.

Online Learning Before the Covid-19 Pandemic

Online learning has been in existence for several decades in Canada (Bates, T. 2018). However, there have not been elaborate or comprehensive data on enrollment and online learning popularity until 2017. According to the report by Bates on the popularity of online learning in Canada, the popularity of online learning was not well known up until 2017 when a group of researchers conducted a study on the popularity of online learning in post-secondary school education. The research was focused on identifying the number of students enrolled in online learning through questionnaires sent to a post-secondary school educational institution. One of the significant findings of the study, according to Bates, is that there are over 1.3 Million online courses enrolled in Canada each semester. The study also indicated that over 80% of the institutions offer online courses in Canada. The study also revealed that approximately 12%-16% of the students in Canada are engaged in online courses. This study is important in drawing a clear path to show how Covid-19 pandemic has influenced online learning’s popularity.

Accessibility of Online Learning

Accessibility of online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has several perspectives. Accessibility issues that this study will consider include accessibility in terms of resources such as computers and the necessary skills and accessibility in terms of how the educational content is designed to cater to people living with disabilities. After the Covid-19 pandemic was confirmed in Canada, the authorities in Ontario’s province responded by closing all the learning institutions (Van Nuland, S. et al. 2020). As a result, many institutions, especially colleges and universities, were forced to face the alternative of offering online courses to the students. However, this process was faced with challenges, among them accessibility challenges. According to Van Nuland, the process of moving into an online learning environment required internet connections and online systems enabled computer devices. Due to its vastness in size (1.07 million sq. Km), Van Nuland reported that Ontario is not entirely served with reliable broadband and cellular service. As a result, approximately 600,000 students cannot access reliable and undisrupted connectivity to the online learning processes. According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) report, over 12% of the households in Ontario are located in rural areas, which are either underserved or unserved with cellular services. Ideal online learning, according to the report by the CRTC, should ensure that all the students achieve equal learning outcomes due to equal accessibility of classes and other learning resources and activities. The online learning processes, according to the CRTC this objective is not currently achieved.

Accessibility of online learning also entails issues experienced by people with special needs. As the institutions were in a hurry to convert the traditional classroom learning environment to an online learning environment, the issues of accessibility by the people with disabilities were not considered (Seale, J.K 2013). According to Seale, an ideal online learning environment should consider people living with disabilities, for it will ensure inclusivity and diversity. Seale proposed that the online learning environment should incorporate auditory and kinesthetic learning materials. This feature will ensure that learners who are blind can see and read the resources shared. In addition, Seale argued that the system should be designed in such a way that it incorporates sign language interpreters and CART. Sign language interpreters will help students who have a hearing impairment to be actively involved in the learning process. On the other hand, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) involves the translation of orally presented information (Chaiprasurt, C., & Esichaikul, V. 2013). The population in Ontario is mixed with immigrants who use English as their second language. To ensure the students from this group are considered, Seale proposed using CART for translation purposes. Another important consideration is the use of visual representations and activities. The research by Seale proposed that an online learning environment should support the visual format of representation. This style ensures that learners with different learning strengths and styles are included in the learning process. It is worth noting that the inclusion of information in both text and audio format will improve understanding of the content being taught through online learning. Studying accessibility of online learning in terms of accessibility through resources and accessibility for the people with disadvantage will help this study make appropriate recommendations on creating an inclusive system or adding the features that will ensure inclusivity and diversity in online learning.

Challenges of Online learning

Online learning is a relatively new concept in many institutions around the world. Many institutions had not thought of online learning as a tool that can be integrated into the learning process and fully replace the traditional learning style until the onset of the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for institutions’ need to integrate online learning in their teaching. Although there is an urgent need to ‘going online,’ the transition process is faced with several significant challenges and limitations (Appana, S. (2008). Among the limitations that Appana highlights in his research are the huge capital investment required. According to Appana, setting up an online learning platform is expensive and requires huge investment. In addition to the high start-up capital needed, online learning platforms are expensive in maintenance costs (Dhawan, S. 2020). According to Dhawan, institutions should be well prepared to incur the high cost of maintaining to ensure an effective learning process. Another limitation of online learning that has been accustomed by the pandemic is little interaction between instructors and students (Wang, C. H et al. 2013). Although online learning offers a better way of containing the spread of Covis-19 in schools, the method limits social interactions amongst teachers and students. Wang C argues that interaction between teachers and students has turned to be a monologue or one way directional instead of dialogue. Wang continues to suggest that a teacher-student bond that is created in a face-to-face classroom contributes to the overall performance and the quality of education offered to students. As presented by Wang, the result agrees with a study done by Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (2011). In their online learning review, one of the most outstanding limitations of this learning method is limited to teamwork. According to More and Kearsley, teamwork is an important aspect of learning. It ensures social interactions, sharing of ideas, and other benefits such as leadership skills growth. Moore and Kearsley argue that online learning limits teamwork due to limited physical contact as the students engage in learning in different geographical locations.

An effective online learning environment requires that both instructors and students be prepared in terms of resources and skills necessary in engaging in online learning. According to Hodges, C et al. 2020, students and instructors need to be computer literate to effectively be engaged in online learning. In addition, hardware such as computers or tablets is required for the learning process to be successful (Ma, J et al., 2015). Acquiring these resources, especially computer skills, requires time for training and familiarizing with the system. However, the Covid-19 pandemic limited the time that instructors had to be properly prepared, therefore, affecting the quality of education content delivered to students. The research by Ma, J concurs with the findings by Crawford-Ferre, G., & Wiest, L. R. (2012), which states that instructors’ training is of paramount importance for ensuring quality education. Crawford-Ferre and Wiest argue that most instructors start online teaching with little or no training to conduct the learning process, which reduces the online learning environment’s effectiveness. Studying the limitations of online learning will contribute to achieving one of the objectives of this research, which is to identify possible limitations of online learning to assess their effectiveness compared to the traditional face-to-face learning system.

Possible Solutions that will improve the efficiency of Online learning

Online learning in this period of Covid-19 pandemic is faced with various issues that need to be solved to improve the efficiency of this new learning environment. Among the common issues discussed are inaccessibility of learning resources, high cost of establishing and maintaining an online learning environment, unpreparedness for both instructors and students, and limited physical interactions. Different scholars have explored those challenges and put forth some possible solutions to these challenges.

Digital illiteracy is among the significant issues that affect online learning effectiveness (Prior, D et al. 2016). According to Prior, the quality of the learning process in online learning is dependent on the digital literacy skills of both teachers and learners. Instructors with little or no digital literacy experiences difficulties in delivering the educational content to the students. On the other hand, according to Prior, students with limited digital literacy are recorded to have difficulties in accessing classes and other learning materials. Improving digital literacy for both the instructor and the learner requires training activities to be done for both parties. Well-trained tutors will deliver quality work, while students with digital skills will be able to access all the instructor’s learning materials.

One of the challenges of online learning is the limited participation of learners in learning activities. Limited participation in learning activities results in poor performance, downgrades the online learning process’s effectiveness. Gamification is one of the methods incorporated in the learning process to enhance participation from students (O’Donovan, S et al., 2013). According to O’Donovan, Gamification is the process of presenting educational content in the form of a computer game. O’Donovan, S argues that when designed correctly, gamification not only improves the participation of the students in classes but also ensures a high percentage of class attendance and makes an understanding of the educational content easy. Antonaci et al. 2019 have done similar research. According to Antonaci, gamification provides a fun learning process, making the learning process enjoyable and effective. Institutions in their online learning platforms can use gamification during this pandemic to improve the online learning process’s effectiveness.

An ideal online learning system should be inclusive and embrace diversity. Inclusivity and diversity in this context should support learning activities for students from diverse cultures and with various disabilities. One of how the online learning environment should be inclusive is through voice-controlled personal assistants (Pradhan, A et al., 2018). According to Pradhan, a voice-controlled personal assistant improves speech interaction between the computer and the user. These assistive devices can do more than dictating and voice reading of the texts. Such a feature will ensure people with sight impairment participate fully in the learning activities. Similar research has been done by Cook, C. W et al. 2014. According to Cook C, the audio assistive device in online learning can improve physically impaired students’ academic performance. The application of these features in the online learning environment will ensure that this learning style’s effectiveness is high.

2.5 Literature Review Map

A literature review map is a graphical representation of the elements understudy in a literature review.

Effectiveness of Online Learning during Covid-19

History of Online Learning before Covid-19

· Number of enrollments before 2020

· Percentage of institutions offering online courses

Possible Solutions to Online learning Limitations

· Gamification

· Digital literacy training programs

· Accessibility through diversity and inclusivity supporting features

Accessibility of Online learning in Canada

· Internet and cellular network Coverage

· Accessibility for people with disabilities

Limitations of Online Learning

· Digital Illiteracy

· Inaccessibility

· The high cost of establishing and maintaining

· Limited interactions

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Research methodology in research is a part of the research report that specifies techniques or procedures used to identify, select, collect, analyze, and present data about a specific topic. Research methodology helps the reader to assess whether the research is valid and reliable (Kumar, R. 2018).

Qualitative research method

This study will conduct the use a qualitative research method in conducting the study. The qualitative type of research method involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (Hennink, M et al. 2020). The non-numerical data may include text and audio etc. The qualitative data collected is analyzed and used by the researcher to further understand the topic under study, experiences as well as get more insight into a topic or a problem. The main purpose of using the qualitative research method is to explore the quality of a given phenomenon. This study seeks to establish the effectiveness of the online-learning during this Covid-19 pandemic period. Using a qualitative research method will ensure that the quality and effectiveness of online learning are determined based on the data collected.

Database Search

Database search involves a systematic way of retrieving information from various research databases that relate to the topic of study. The research databases are well-structured and organized computerized information databases that consist of books, articles, journals, abstracts, etc., that are used in the qualitative research method (Jamshed, S. 2014). This study will involve a database search as the main method of data collection. This method is appropriate for this study because it reduces the cost of conducting the study, which has a very broad scope. In addition, database search provides the researchers with a broad range of articles, books, and other resources to choose from. The type of data collected is mainly government reports and statistics or various surveys conducted on online learning.

Alternative ways to gather information

The most appropriate method of information gathering, as stated earlier, is through database searches. This is because of the broad scope that this research will cover. However, there are other methods of data collection that can be used to gather information about online learning. Among those methods include the use of surveys and questionnaires administration. A survey as a data collection method involves collecting the information needed, such as opinions, behavior, and knowledge of a target group concerning a specific topic (Groves, R. M et al., 2011). Surveys can be conducted over the phone, face-to-face, or through online platforms. Surveys seek to collect primary data. On the other hand, questionnaire administration can generally be defined as a set of standardized questions asked for data collection about a particular topic.

Data Analysis Method

The research will use content analysis. This is a qualitative data analysis method that classifies the analyses of information through activities such as content classification (Neuendorf, K. A., & Kumar, A. 2015).

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