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How Has COVID Impacted Learning?

Widespread Online Learning as a Product of the COVID-19 Pandemic


Due to the pandemic, many teachers and educators of different levels were forcibly removed from teaching in traditional settings to COVID-safe environments, most often online. As current projections of infections continue, resumption of traditional in-person learning may still be improbable or pose significant risks/challenges compared to virtual learning. It is necessary to protect everyone within the education system, from teachers to students and those they come into contact with.


Photo is courtesy of Irvine Standard.


Benefits


Learning online is accessible to more groups that traditionally may have less access to education. Cheaper because it eliminates the need for transportation, accommodation, etc. Easier for learners to have flexible schedules around their education. According to Sage Journals, any different factors may change how education is delivered while remaining under the umbrella term of "online learning":


Such factors include:

  • Live/recorded lectures

  • Ability to give/receive instant feedback

  • Opportunities for students to create a positive, social learning environment

  • Evaluation of students by administering tests or assignments

As the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic necessitated this shift, educators were not necessarily prepared to deliver lessons virtually; the transition of in-person to virtual learning was abrupt.

Many may have lacked the necessary resources:

  • Knowledge of how to use online tools for learning effectively

  • Physical resources to teach such as a reliable internet connection

Therefore, less focus was placed on the quality of the education than on ensuring that education continued despite the circumstances.


Photo is courtesy of SmartBrief.


Problems with online/virtual learning


A variety of problems arise when considering the short duration of time that teachers were forced to shift to online learning, along with the inherent flaws that virtual learning brings.


These problems include:

  • The abundance of freedom and flexibility to learn whenever students desire can lead to the natural development of poor time management, procrastination, etc

  • Lectures delivered online are often critiqued as "boring" or "non-engaging" because students feel removed from the typical environment that they learn in

  • Students who only learn and are assessed online are prone to learning about and practicing merely theoretical knowledge - there is little to no opportunity for practical application of what is taught online

  • Feedback from teachers/educators may be lacking due to a tendency for more flawed communication while in a virtual learning environment

Possible solutions to problems presented. The majority of the issues raised may be resolved or addressed as teachers become more adept with teaching online.


Some solutions include:

  • A more significant role for teachers to set fixed schedules and reminders for students to combat lack of time management and to keep a class on the same pace while learning virtually

  • The utilization of a wider variety of online tools and platforms that engage students, rather than simple recordings of slide show presentations - also, more opportunities during lectures to practice and apply concepts or ideas being taught

  • Active awareness by educators that practical application of knowledge may be an absent or limited presence within the curricula as it has been adapted to be taught online - attempts by teachers to address this limitation of virtual learning to bridge potential gaps in the knowledge base of students

  • Clear establishment of platforms where students can communicate with other students or request information from teachers - prevent the often present issue of poor communication by setting out modes of communication early on in a class or course


Photo is courtesy of Bradman University.


Comparison of COVID-19 to other crises that may necessitate a rapid transition to online learning


According to World Vision, "100 million children and young people are affected by natural disasters every year". Natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, cyclones, avalanches, landslides, sinkholes, volcanic eruptions, meteoric collisions, tsunamis, hailstorms, heat waves, cold waves, droughts, thunderstorms, tornadoes, solar flare, wildfires. Crises like the current pandemic affect students negatively. Not only are students deterred from learning due to extraneous situations, such as the forced closure of educational institutions, but the negative mental health effects of such disasters/crises also negatively impact learning—psychological problems like stress, fear, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.


While the younger population's education should be considered, it is also important to remember that individuals across many professional vocations must continue to learn about the newest developments in their profession. For example, the Archives of Dermatological Research says that physicians must continue to be educated in the latest advances in medicine. Any learning, due to the current circumstances, must also be virtual. Opportunity for professionals to connect virtually to share unique or rare situations - educate one another by utilizing online platforms.


Online learning also has the hidden benefit of reduced carbon emissions. Air pollution from vehicle travel, for example.


Advantages as reported in a survey conducted of Polish medical students:

  • Ability to stay at home

  • Continuous access to line materials

  • Opportunity to learn at your own pace

  • Comfortable surroundings

Disadvantages as reported in a survey conducted of Polish medical students:

  • Lack of interactions with patients

  • Technical problems with IT equipment


Photo is courtesy of AAMC.

Key takeaways:


E-learning is convenient and beneficial in terms of being able to choose when and where to study. A significant disadvantage is "learning from real patients in a clinical setting… cannot be fully replaced with distance learning."


Featured image is courtesy of Wix.



Article Author: Mina Chong

Article Editors: Maria Giroux, Sherilyn Wen