Students missed their peers and found it hard to adjust to online learning, ultimately leading to a loss of motivation.
Students missed their peers and found it hard to adjust to online learning, ultimately leading to a loss of motivation.

Non-contact learning is challenging for students, survey reveals

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Jan 26, 2021

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The pandemic has forced students all over the world to live life out of the norm and in the “new normal” of things with no social interaction with peers, finding new ways to communicate and online learning.

An in-depth survey, conducted by the Independent Institute of Education (IIE), shows that the lack of peer contact and motivation are two key challenges higher education students have to endure after institutions took teaching online in response to the pandemic and lockdowns.

The survey provides a quantitative and qualitative look at how public universities and private institutions responded to last year’s challenges, as well as the impact of various strategies and approaches on students.

“As we prepare to launch into a new academic year this March, lessons learned from last year will provide a valuable roadmap for the future, given that we will continue for the foreseeable future to face many of the same challenges we encountered last year,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, director at the IIE.

Coughlan says one of the survey findings revealed that students did not cite access to data or hardware as their primary struggles.

“The number one issue, cited by more than 40% of respondents, was that students missed their peers and found it hard to adjust to online learning, which led to a loss of motivation on the part of many.

“By comparison, less than 24% of university students in the study cited fees as a barrier experienced under lockdown, and 29% mentioned data struggles.”

The survey was conducted using the sentiments of students across 22 institutions – eight private institutions and 14 public universities across South Africa – about their lockdown learning experience.

The survey looked at student perceptions of the responsiveness of institutions to the Covid-19 crisis, and the extent to which they felt they were being prepared for the working world.

According to Coughlan, many respondents rated the standard of online teaching and engagement as “good” or “excellent”, more than 27% of students from universities cited lack of support as an issue under lockdown. Even within faculties in the same institution, inconsistency was experienced as contained in student comments.

“Some were good and some were bad,” said an engineering student.

“I don’t like how things are being done now,” said another, “I feel a lack of enthusiasm coming from everyone.”

The survey further highlighted the differences in the experiences and expectations of students, with 65% of university students saying that their online learning experience was preparing them to be successful in the future workplace. Although many respondents believe studying from home prepares students for a new age of working from home, others were despondent.

“Online does not equal better,” said one respondent, with another adding: “I am just worried about how this mess will translate by the time we start working”. “It’s making me too anxious to even think about my future workplace,” said a commerce student.

“The focus for Higher Education Institutions this year must be on two fronts,” says Coughlan.

“Ensuring consistency and effectiveness of teaching and learning, as well as providing the crucial support students need. Students expressed a need for safety, consistency, security and predictability, and as we head into another uncertain academic year, effort must be made to address these concerns.

“When teaching face-to-face, there will usually be a measure of consistency of delivery across modules. However in the online space, there may be a huge variation in terms of how lecturers manage the development of knowledge and skills. It is this varied nature that may have made students hold less positive perceptions, because of the aforementioned lack of predictability and consistency.”

She says going forward and while the current pandemic-crisis continues, higher education institutions must make an extra effort to introduce measures that will support students and assist with maintaining their emotional well-being.

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