eLearning has been a growing trend. There are many often cited advantages. The first claim has been eLearning accommodates varying needs. Online lectures could be delivered anytime. Of course, there is no travel need. As a result, access to quality learning resources is democratized, and the cost is reduced. There are also claims that eLearning improves the effectiveness and efficiencies of lecture delivery. There is also an equal number of often-cited disadvantages. Some of them are limited feedback, social isolation, soft skill development, and many more. In fact, the debate is non-conclusive. Moreover, eLearning has been evolving, consequentially making progress in addressing limitations. On the other hand, the disadvantages are also getting increasingly visible. Pertinent issues should be carefully investigated to estimate the advantages of eLearning.
Here are seven major issues to take into consideration. They are affecting the advantages of eLearning or online education. These issues are quite important to compare the advantages and disadvantages of the emerging trend of online education.
What is the effect on knowledge retention level?
In fact, the effect of eLearning on knowledge retention is a key issue. But it’s not limited to online education only. Once scientists conducted a study to assess how subjects recall and retain information after studying textbooks. Results are startling indeed. Knowledge retention showed an exponential decaying pattern. It fell from a peak of 54 percent after a day to paltry 18 percent after 21 days. A recent study compares the knowledge retention in three types of course delivery—face-to-face, interactive television (iTV), and purely online delivery. In the final analysis, the study reveals that knowledge retention was greater in the face-to-face and iTV sections online delivery of lectures. Of course, there are means to increase knowledge retention in eLearning. For example, Gamification through adding badges, levels, leaderboards, and other game mechanics, has been useful for improving knowledge retention in eLearning.
Is it expanding the desire and knowledge absorption capacity?
The effect of eLearning on students’ motivation in the field of learning is an important issue. Creating the motivation to learn is often far more challenging than making learning materials and lectures easily accessible. There appears to be a lack of relevant studies about the effect of eLearning. Some tools which are useful for increasing motivation appear to be quite eLearning friendly. For example, visual varieties, simulation, and gamification grow motivation. Due to lack of face to face interaction, teachers have limited scope to establish bonding with students. In fact, such bonding often plays a vital role in stimulating motivation.
Moreover, limited group work also impedes motivation. On the other hand, exposure to high-end lecture delivery from globally reputed faculty members increases motivation. Therefore, it is not unfair to say that eLearning has both strengths and drawbacks having effects on motivation and knowledge absorption capacity.
How is distraction affecting learning outputs?
In a physical classroom, teachers are keeping an eye on students. Teachers can point to students if the distraction is noticed. But, in online classes, the scope is minimal. There are multiple causes of distractions. It varies from having a casual conversation to playing with mobile phones. By switching off the microphone, if some of the students are on the phone, how will the teacher figure out? Particularly, smartphone addiction has been a growing cause of distractions, even in physical classrooms. In fact, it has raised at an alarming level. Hence, some countries are taking regulatory measures.
For example, France had to impose a ban on the usage of mobile phones in schools. This ban proceeded with the understanding that “students are becoming too dependent on and distracted by their phones.” How shall we address this issue during the online lecture delivery? As a matter of fact, if mobile phone usages during online lecture delivery are not restricted, this single issue may eat up all the advantages of eLearning.
What is its effect on collaborative learning?
It’s about learning from the ideas, skill sets, and experience of others enrolled in the course. Engagement in a shared task offers students the opportunity to learn a variety of skills, such as group analysis and collaborative teamwork building skills. eLearning appears to be very suitable for availing of this opportunity. Students can collaborate far more easily than ever before over the net. Moreover, some software tools are also making this collaboration quite effective as well as efficient. Among them, virtual whiteboard, online forums, message boards, and various posting sites are notable. Among others, MOOCs delivery platforms like EDx and Coursera make good use of these tools to offer high-level collaboration among learners. To leverage it, collaborative learning in online education should focus on sound pedagogy, motivation, and proficiency in technology usages. Moreover, students, instructors, and technology’s continued progress will contribute to the benefits of collaborative learning activities further.
How are power and internet failures limiting the utilization level?
Electricity and internet connections may not be big issue in advanced countries, and also in cities of developing ones. Unfortunately, the situation in rural communities in developing countries is not often encouraging. In fact, this is often a barrier to offer equal access to eLearning opportunities. For example, a study finds that as high as 90 percent of Bangladeshi students were reluctant to attend online classes. Primary causes are technology-related. For example, poor or no internet connection and the inability to buy costly internet packages hinder online education in Bangladesh. On the other hand, a study finds that poor smartphone penetration is limiting the scope of eLearning in India. For instance, a survey in UP (Uttar Pradesh) showed that 94.7% of families had mobile phones, but only 48% had smartphones. The weak technology infrastructure runs the risk of increasing the education divide due to the uprising of eLearning.
Moreover, many students in developing countries cannot afford to upgrade their laptop computers and smartphone. Hence, they cannot effectively participate in online classes. This technology situation is raising questions about whether online education will support greater access to and success in higher education. On top of it, classes get disturbed due to intermittent Internet issues. Moreover, screen time, which is inevitable in online education, is growing concerns among both students and teachers. This concern gets worse with the finding in an investigation on thousands of children ages 9 to 11 and their parents. The analysis shows that there are strong associations between electronic media use and mental health. Such findings raise an alarm bell. How far this issue is eating up the advantages of eLearning silently.
How is it smartphone addiction affecting eLearning?
Smartphone addiction is a growing concern. On the other hand, the smartphone is growing as a preferred platform for delivering online education. Hence, there is a need to understand better how this technology can be harnessed to make a genuine contribution to student learning. Depending on the situation, like how the teacher is engaging students, we may discover conditions where learning is enhanced by having the cell phone on. In other situations, we may find that cellphone has been a major cause of distraction, particularly in eLearning. A study finds that students who do not use mobile phones during lecture time are far more productive than others. They wrote down 62% more information in their notes than those who were using mobile phones during the lecture delivery. In addition to it, they took more detailed notes and were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture.
The question could be: how deep the addiction level? A study in Iran among medical college students find that 71.3% of the students were mobile phone addicts.
How to ensure fair and effective assessment in online education?
Fair, as well as effective assessment, appears to be a major issue facing eLearning. A recent study on 2,000 college professors and 175 administrators of online programs in the USA finds that, “Sixty percent of faculty members believe that academic fraud is more common in online courses than in face-to-face courses.” Nonetheless, there has been increasing enrollment in online education. Among many burning issues, cheating is highly toxic. For obvious reason, many instructors are hesitant to include exams because of the potential of compromising academic integrity. Nevertheless, we need to find effective means for administering exams within the online learning environment. Virtual live proctoring technologies may offer light. But it has multidimensional limitations. In addition to technical limitations, there is also concern that it runs the risk of distracting students’ attention.
In addition to technology, we should look into other means to ensure a fair assessment. For instance, using variety and create questions that require higher-order thinking might help. Restriction on time window and showing one question at a time could also help.
To sum up
Constructivism, interpretivism, and computing technology have opened the opportunity of redesigning educational service delivery. Despite limitations, eLearning offers us the opportunity to address quality and access to the same quality education. Nonetheless, these issues to be addressed for maximizing the advantages of eLearning.
The advantages and disadvantages of eLearning is neither static nor is free from variations. Net benefits depend on an array of issues, including technology, the cultural and social background of students, methods used to engage students, and teachers. Among many other matters, these seven issues appear to be vital to focus on improvement and compare the advantages and disadvantages of eLearning. Despite advances, will eLearning will be the preferred option for School students to attend classes, 6 hours per day, over Zoom from Monday to Friday?