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Student Satisfaction with Online Learning during COVID-19

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 1744 words Published: 10th Aug 2021

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While COVID-19 is not the first pandemic the world has faced, this pandemic has changed the world in unpresented ways. Post-secondary education has been profoundly impacted, like most facets of human life. Most universities have made the switch to online learning in response to the pandemic. There is considerable debate around the quality and efficacy of online learning for university students in the time of COVID-19. Research is needed to explore student satisfaction with the online learning now offered in place of traditional classroom methods.

Epidemics and pandemics have threatened the survival of the human race and killed millions through-out history. A defining characteristic of humanity’s survival is our ability to adapt to threats and continue on as a species despite the difficulty.

The bubonic plague in Europe brought about the practice of quarantines. Edward Jenner development of the smallpox vaccine brought the first widespread use of vaccines. The H1N1 influenza virus caused the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 had been used as a case study of sorts to formulate policy and practice in regards to the novel coronavirus pandemic. This pandemic has had and will continue to have a transformative effect on our lives.

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The speed with which COVID-19 spread across the world necessitated lockdowns and drastic changes in daily life. Regional and international borders have closed to stop the spread of COVID-19. Lives were saved by these sacrifices but COVID-19 remains an ongoing threat. The realities of human existence have required the world to push forward with work and school. Industry, governments, and educational institutions have been dependent upon technology to keep functioning where possible. Technology allowed post-secondary to pivot rapidly to the online delivery of courses.

Technology and education have a long and storied history. The Gutenberg printing press of 1440 changed the educational landscape and allowed for the widespread dissemination of the printed word. Likewise, the advent of the personal computer, the internet and mobile devices have forever changed our ability to access, learn, discover and disseminate knowledge.

COVID-19 has required universities and colleges the world over to adapt their teaching methods to the pandemic and move away from traditional face-to-face learning. Expensive and expansive college campuses are shuttered across the world. Online learning is a way forward for the delivery of post-secondary in the time of COVID and to keep the machinery of higher education moving.

Student satisfaction with the move to mass online learning is a matter of uncertainty and debate. Overall student satisfaction and student experience with online learning during COVID-19 should be an area of high priority and research. Current health restrictions have no end date in sight as the situation continues to evolve. Humanity awaits a solution to this existential threat as the world lumbers on as best it can.

Literature Review

Traditional education

The one-teacher one-classroom traditional method of education is the longstanding, preferred pedagogical method. From one-room schools to the lecture halls of universities this model has been used from kindergarten to graduate school. Face-to-face teaching is well-worn and time-tested.

Some online offerings at the post-secondary level are quite commonplace today. Athabasca University, and other institutions, proves there is a market for fully online undergraduate and graduate learning experiences.

Sun et al., contend that societal changes of modern life and technological advancements have online learning poised to overtake the traditional classroom as the modern method of education (2008). Dhawan contends that COVID likely accelerated the move to online learning (2020).

The status quo of educational delivery pre-pandemic provided more economic stability than current pandemic conditions. The costs of predominately online learning are difficult to ascertain at present. Universities were forced to rapidly pivot to online learning to remain viable and to bring in revenue (Ansari, 2020).

Pros to online education

Online education provides flexibility and adaptability for students to pursue their studies across time and space (Carey, 2020). Students can largely engage course material as best fits their individual schedule and needs. A study undertaken using surveys to explore critical elements needed for success in e-learning found that web-based learning allowed flexibility for students to utilize different learning methods to accomplish their desired learning outcomes (Sun et al., 2008).

A move to online education provides a measure of insurance for operations of a university in the event of a crises that would otherwise shutter the school. Dhawan proposes that online learning is a panacea to the uncertainty institutions of higher learning face due to COVID and varied other potential crises (2020).

Online learning allows a university to attract students globally which in-turn means higher enrollments and increased tuition (Ansari, 2020).

Cons to online learning

There is a common perception, perhaps true, that the current delivery of many online courses is of lesser quality than traditional methods (Ansari, 2020). The importance of labs and other hands-on learning experiences are difficult to replace online.

In a study of WebCT use amongst business students, students felt they were not equipped to balance the competing of demands of work, online-learning, social and family life (Johnson et al., 2008). Johnson et al. surveyed students and stakeholders to gauge student preparedness for online learning. The same study identified deficits in student preparedness to work online in groups. COVID-19 has forced online learning upon students who had little choice but to accept the change.

Social isolation is also a concern for web-based learning. A sort of social presence is possible through e-learning with effort which has a favorable impact on learning outcomes (Johnson et al., 2008). The social presence of an online course does not replace the organic and informal opportunities for social relationships of a typical university experience.

Students and online learning

University students of today are children of a digital age. Electronic internet equipped devices of varying kinds pervade our lives. Students of today are largely proficient in the use of technology with the possible exception of individual software unique to an institution. (Parkes et al., 2015). Students who have never used CourseLink or similar program will require training to develop the necessary competencies.

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Deficits in technological ability or availability correlates with lower learner satisfaction in online learning (Sun et al., 2008). Certain student populations will struggle with computer skills as a barrier to learning. Access to adequate digital devices and reliable internet are needed four online learning success. A lack of these resources may lead to adverse educational outcomes for disadvantaged students (Dhawan, 2020). As many as 20% of US students may have difficulty with adequate internet and computers (Carey, 2020). The lack of technological resources is more pronounced among low-income students and students of colour.

Parkes et al., addressed the importance of institutional aids for student to acquire academic skills such academic writing, time management or research skills (2015). Students were also found deficient in their ability to work in teams for online work in the Parkes et al., study.

Barriers to student satisfaction properly identified and addressed can be overcome. Resolving issues in course delivery does require time and money, two resources often in short supply in higher education.

Influence of the instructor

The dramatic and rapid change in teaching delivery was unexpected and wholly unplanned. As such, the importance of faculty commitment to quality online learning is essential. An instructor’s positive and proactive attitude toward online teaching influences learner satisfaction outcomes (Sun et al., 2008). Students need the support of instructors to adapt to the new online learning. In a study using learning analytics, the importance of both instructor preparation of a well-designed learning course and continued instructor guidance had a positive effect on student learning (Ma et al., 2015). The Ma et al. study stressed the role of an instructor to foster student engagement socially and academically in the course (2015).

Not all instructors are interested in or proficient at online instruction and some instructors do not have any interest in online education (Carey, 2020). Not all subjects are well suited to online delivery method.

Given the current educational reality, it is in the best interest of professors and institutions to produce high quality online learning. Dhawan highlighted that the responsiveness of universities and colleges will impact their respective reputations going forward (2020). High quality online learning needs to be a priority for institutions to as face-to-face learning is not possible in most places due to the pandemic. The outsourcing of online course creation to private companies in the United States is cause for concern across North America for the future of education (Carey, 2020). Universities who were already struggling with reduced funding, now have to contend with higher costs with the move to online education.

Further research

It is unclear if students are content with online learning. Notwithstanding negative press attention and petitions by some disgruntled students the overall quality of current online learning is opaque. It remains to be seen if current offerings of online courses are indeed high quality, innovative online learning or simply traditional face-to-face learning masquerading as something else. The answer is likely nuanced and complex and deserving of further research and analysis.


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