Currently, humanity is amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a devastating issue, it affects every level of human activity. While some businesses had to close for safety reasons, essential facilities like schools and universities resumed their work after the transition to online learning. Although this solution allows both professors and students to continue their educational attainment, the development had drastic effects on psychological readiness to learn, technological competencies, and the overall quality of education. Professors as essential workers have to face difficulties in engaging students in the learning process, while students themselves suffer from a decline in motivation.
The need to quickly adapt to new circumstances and form solutions to emerging issues also proves to be problematic for the education system. Furthermore, the institutions appear to be unprepared for sustaining the distance learning approach. On the other hand, some people argue that the current difficulties experienced within the educational system are caused by the specifics of the online teaching model rather than the crisis itself. They propose that the disease does not play as big a role as others might estimate. However, underrepresenting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is ineffective and can lead to perpetuating the existing issues. Although the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is complex and multidisciplinary, its effect on online learning educational attainment, students, and instructors should be examined to mediate the effect of the crisis. The main purpose of this paper is to explore the effects COVID-19 and the transition to online learning have had on the education system.
The issues of transition to online learning must be discussed first, in order to form a basic understanding of the topic. Due to the contagious nature of the disease, the education institutions have no other choice but to adopt various distance learning programs, with varying degrees of success. For every individual institution, this process presents unique challenges and needs, and not all of them can be addressed in a timely manner. Some problems arise from the lack of technical equipment or a good internet connection, others from poor management skills, or some individual’s technological incompetence. The human factor plays a large role, as one teacher’s inability to operate a computer can lead to problems for the whole institution.
Furthermore, many of today’s teaching methods are not applicable or do not transition well to a digital format. Some disciplines may require using various equipment not found at home, which makes it impossible for students to receive practical training. These circumstances make many educational institutions ill-prepared in adapting to the current social climate and the challenges it presents. According to Almarzooq et al. (2020), medical education has been disrupted greatly by compromising “a traditional model of person-to-person educational didactics, lectures, sense of community, and chalk talks” (p. 3). The distance learning experience also makes the students less likely to cooperate and form a sense of community, leading to a fragmentation of interpersonal relationships between pupils. The inability to interact in person and the need to adapt to the new form of teaching and learning is having a negative effect on the educational sphere as a whole.
This assessment showcases the difficulties traditional education-based approach has when faced with the need to adapt to changing circumstances. Schools and colleges that did not rely on innovation previously have no choice but to catch up with the more progressive ones in short amounts of time. In the case of many institutions that heavily rely on physical participation, the changed environment can greatly hinder the learning experience. Many places similar to medical schools have trouble adjusting their usual routines and finding alternatives. A need in transition and unclear solutions leads to issues like the loss of community, perpetuating the problem of education quality decline.
Another important effect the pandemic has had on the current learning environment is the difficulties in integrating and adapting the new learning strategies to ensure knowledge attainment. In learning, it is crucial to not only acquire information but to be able to keep it for prolonged periods of time. One of the most integral parts of a teacher’s job is to ensure the knowledge retention in their pupils, which becomes much more complicated without close interaction. When a teacher has no way to directly influence their students, they have a lesser incentive to study and pay attention. A teacher of an online course does not have a proper way to check if the students are taking notes, or even paying attention to the presented information. Furthermore, an online learning environment is full of distractions that reduce the pupil’s attention span and promote an unorganized learning experience. This particular problem best displays the problems that become most apparent in online education
The peculiarities of online learning are not easy to understand, and developing effective strategies for distance teaching takes time. The workflow is also often difficult to control, as the supervisor often does not have a fast and reliable way to check the student’s progress. The instructors and teachers, as a result, are having trouble encouraging autonomous learning and checking the work of the students in an online format. For example, Chang and Fang (2020) discovered that universities and college instructors find it difficult “to monitor and change the students’ learning behaviors in such a short term” (p. 12). When thinking about the effect of online education, only the student’s perspective is often considered, although it is evident that teachers also have their own setbacks in that regard. The research showcases that teachers experience difficulties in integrating the new learning strategy and effectively utilizing the new work environment to deliver knowledge. It appears that even grading the students’ work has become more difficult with online teaching. As it stands, the faculty members find themselves unsure of what approaches to take and how to handle the nuanced situations, and the unstable environment of the world only worsens the situation. People are unsure of how long the anti-pandemic measures are going to be in place, and are more reluctant to adopt new habits. Overall, the continuously changing epidemic situation makes it hard for students to accept and adopt long-term change.
The last point that needs to be addressed is the effect the pandemic has on the learning environment and mental health of the students and teachers. The spread of Covid-19 has been a source of great worry for people all over the world, and the education sphere is not an exception. A new, highly contagious disease that has not been properly studied yet spreads the feelings of fear and paranoia, taking a toll on people’s physical and mental health. Even if a person is not directly affected by the disease it still instills them with worry about their close friends and relatives. This harmful atmosphere makes it hard for both students and teachers to concentrate and worsens the quality of education. Some people might recognize this issue and take appropriate measures to either take medication or visit a professional, but this solution can interfere with the learning process. The pupils require a special, institution-led approach and a system of support in the face of a crisis. In a standard situation, the educational institutions would want to involve their psychologists or similar specialists to solve this problem, but that is currently not a viable option. With schools and colleges closed for quarantine, the students are isolated from the systems of support and their friend circles, denying them the opportunity to seek help. The inability to better their mental condition leaves pupils with lower grades and no way to fully participate in the educational process. This point displays the combined effect the sudden shift to online education and the current social instability has on learning.
Although the current social climate and circumstance have played a largely negative role in the quality of education, it is important to consider other variables as well. Different sources say that factors unrelated to the pandemic have a bigger influence on the learning process than one might think. Some researchers argue that the current issues that students experience are greatly attributed to the specificities of online learning as a whole rather than the specific situation of COVID-19. For instance, Dumford and Miller (2018) found that online students are generally “less likely to engage in collaborative learning, student-faculty interactions, and discussions with diverse others, compared to their more traditional classroom counterparts” (p. 452). This attitude, facilitated by distance education, is believed to have a largely negative impact on the learning environment, student morale, and information retention. Another interesting point to consider is that social media pressure might be a higher threat to students than educational difficulties (Gao et al.). Some detractors also state that online education provides students with a sense of normalcy and comfort, acting as a source of stability. They argue that during the time when most people are forced to stay in their homes and adopt an unfamiliar routine, engagement in activities that are considered normal might prove helpful. While factors unrelated to the virus have undoubtedly influenced the learning process, one must also note that the pandemic has greatly accelerated and inflated all of the above issues and therefore warrants a discussion.
While it might be true that students who are taught online are generally subjected to less engagement due to fewer face-to-face interactions, one cannot undermine the role of the global crisis. The threat of a serious disease has a major part in the pupil’s desire to learn and work, as well as the general organization of the process. The sudden shift to online learning also gave many people no time to properly adjust, leading to many difficulties in learning. The pandemic also presents an unforeseen danger to mental health, with more people than ever experiencing anxiety over the uncertain nature of the world. The sheer impact of the current predicament on the students is too much for the educational system to handle. Golberstein et al. (2020) stated that “although educational institutions have served as de facto mental health support for their students,” they cannot cope with the overwhelming scope of psychological pressure that students experience today (p. 2). The existing systems of mental health support and crisis response in educational facilities are ill-equipped to deal with such a large amount of students that are faced with a sudden problem.
As concerns the social media pressure in comparison with educational pressure, the two are both equally important to access the situation. The two instances are constantly influenced by the current world events and can be a source of worry and stress for many. The difference is, pupils can disengage from social media at any time if they feel that it interferes with their mental health, with no harm to their personal development. The same cannot be said for education, as it is much more integral to one’s functioning in society. As an important part of growth, one does not have the ability to separate him or her -self from the process, even if it presents a danger to their well-being. Schools and colleges have played a significant part in establishing the daily routine for students, which has been replaced with the difficult uncertainty of online learning. The mental health support facilities that are a part of educational institutions are also unavailable, leaving students stressed and alone. Therefore, while distance studying might play a part in reducing the quality of student interactions, the decline in mental health and readiness to learn is mostly caused by the COVID -19.
The appearance and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic had an immense negative impact on the education and learning sphere, forcing people struggling to adapt to changing circumstances. The switch to online learning has presented a challenge to many educational institutions due to a combination of inexperience and unpreparedness. Some teachers are not adept at using technology or do not have the necessary tools for its effective operation. Furthermore, some schools and colleges use teaching methods that do not translate well to the digital space, considerably decreasing the quality of education. The pandemic also has had an impact on the student’s mental health, making many of them stressed and anxious. Uncertainty directed towards the future and personal health concerns are disruptive to the person’s flow of life. The negative feelings also decrease the effectiveness of online education, and the lockdown prevents the institutions from addressing the issue. On a similar note, the current atmosphere of online learning does not offer the same stability and order that traditional learning has, lowering the student’s performance and general attitude. While some of these issues are prominent even without the virus’s influence, it is important not to understate its impact. This assortment of factors influencing the state of online learning should be examined with the goal of faster resolution and the stabilization of the digital education process. If the education system is to adjust to this crisis, a thorough discussion of the above problems is necessary, and the appropriate measures are to be taken.
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