By Neasa Gorrell
Online learning is a relatively new phenomenon that was largely adopted by educational institutions all across the world as a means of teaching students remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. To most people, students, and educators alike, it was a new and foreign concept. Yet, today it is accepted as the new normal of education, teaching and learning.
In its infancy, online learning encountered many impracticalities and technological difficulties that had to be fine-tuned, upgraded, or removed. Although the technology could be improved quickly with someone tweaking the code of its platform, the same cannot be said for students’ ability to engage with this strange form of learning.
Each student learns differently, and this is something that should have been considered when establishing the methods of online teaching and learning. It can be difficult for students to focus or even engage with the learning material through online learning, as the methodologies of teaching differ between educators, making classes challenging to follow.
Another problem that is continually mentioned among young people nowadays in relation to online learning is screen burnout. Students have become so overwhelmed with the fact that their whole world has moved to an online platform that they genuinely cannot bring themselves to actively engage with the material on the screen before them.
All of this gives rise to the question, does online learning need to change to keep students engaged? And more importantly, how? On this issue, we heard from various students who shared different outlooks and perspectives on online learning.
The question of how should lectures be delivered is a very significant problem. As previously mentioned, all students learn differently, which leads to varying opinions, especially between the areas of study, whether it be medicine or language, psychology, or engineering.
Language students have said that they find it incredibly challenging to engage with pre-recorded lectures as this form of teaching is so foreign to how languages were typically taught before Covid-19.
Previously, when teaching was in person, language students would have had small class session tutorials with a language professor who could assist them with any questions they may have. Yet, now, they are not delivered in a similar fashion, and often don’t allow for a tutorial style class session.
With this lack of communication comes an inundation of emails to lecturers, with students looking for direction, many of which will overwhelm the educator and go unanswered. And so the cycle continues.
Not only does this occur with language students, but more often than not, the same situation will arise in several different areas of study over and over again. This is one of the major problems encountered by everyone in online learning – the lack of communication, a disconnect between the lecturer and students, and a degree of depersonalisation and disinterest in learning through a screen.
On the other hand, some students who have memory and concentration issues think that the pre-recorded lectures are hugely helpful as it means they can go back and re-watch everything, easing the stress of learning. It also allows for more inclusive learning as students with different learning or physical capabilities, who may have found it difficult to make it to classes on-campus for various reasons, are no longer at a disadvantage.
On the argument about tutorials, students who have had online tutorials often get overwhelmed when asked to speak, as they are made turn on their microphones and cameras. This can cause immense anxiety among students who are more aware of their appearance when constantly on camera and experiencing the severe effects of social isolation. Often, students are less inclined to make themselves presentable as they don’t feel up to it when they have nowhere to go. At other times, students are conscious of their home environments and are unwilling to keep a camera and microphone on.
Sometimes, the issues impacting a students’ ability to turn on a camera or microphone go beyond their control. The matter is simple when you consider that maybe they do not have the capabilities, environment, or technology to do so, all of which should not impact their overall grade.
So clearly, there are many sides to the same arguments, and these won’t be resolved in a day. None of the problems with online learning are simple, but they all could be corrected to a certain degree. Hopefully, with technology continuing to advance and more feedback from students, we will find a solution to making online learning engaging for every student.