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Coronavirus and distance learning: Challenges and benefits

  • By now, everyone living on planet earth must have heard of coronavirus pandemic – that’s a wild guess. But, to say the least, many people know and have been affected by the coronavirus. Ranging from the health sector to business and beyond, everyone is feeling the heat. Unfortunately, students are not left out. In fact, in the past weeks, virtually every school has experienced total lockdown, causing the students to vacate the school environment. While we hope the world heals soonest and life gets back to normal, what’s the hope of students across Africa and the world at large?

    Students in developed countries are making a quick switch to online learning. Of course, it has been part of their curriculum for years now, and they’re familiar with the processes. However, many students struggle to adapt to distance learning, as it’s entirely new to them. Imagine a scenario where you have to learn over a computer screen, while you’ve been accustomed to the whiteboard and marker learning process. It’s new, but students have to adapt if they must keep the learning spirit alive.

    Distance learning

    This should sound quite familiar to many students even though some might not know the true meaning. Distance learning isn’t new as some students have taken one or more international or local examinations via distance education. Distance learning is also known as e-learning, distance education, virtual classroom, distributed learning, or online education.

    However, there is no distance learning without certain tools. Unlike the “whiteboard and marker” lecturers you get regularly. Depending on your school, teacher, or lecturer, there are many recommended online platforms and applications that facilitate distance education. When it comes to distance learning, every student can sit at the comfort of their space and participate during the agreed time.

    Over there in the UK, not less than 270,000 undergraduate students are getting their first degree through distance education as well as over 108,000 postgraduate students. The figures are quite impressive and can be emulated.

    Check out these top 5 reasons why one should consider e-learning now

    Types of distance learning

    Video Conferencing – Out of the several types of distance learning, video conferencing appears to be one of the most popular ones. In this method, apps, software, or websites that allow video conferencing are used for audio and visual communication among students or between the lecturer and the students. Here, expert educators who are not within the walls of any classroom can impart knowledge on students who are live through the video conferencing platform. Recently, Zoom has experienced an increase in the number of users. This includes businesses, meetings, and online classes, among others.

    Asynchronous and synchronous distance learning

    Asynchronous distance learning is quite flexible and focuses more on assignments and projects, while synchronous distance education isn’t flexible. In the former, participants or students can work at their will but may have less interaction with their fellow students. But in the latter, there is a higher level of intercommunication and cooperation among students often instantaneously. However, these two demands live communication or teleconferencing.

    Hybrid distance learning

    This combines synchronous and asynchronous distance learning processes. Here, students follow stipulated deadlines and are allowed to complete projects and assignments on their own. However, all submissions are made online.

    Computer-based distance learning

    Unlike the common types of distance learning, students are meant to assemble less often in a computer laboratory to learn. Here, they don’t have any choice but to adhere. Their schedule can be manipulated only by their instructor.

    Fixed time distance learning

    In our contemporary world, Fixed Time Online Learning appears to be the most common method. Students are allowed to log in their accounts at a stated time and entail mandatory live sessions in some cases.

    Schools are mobbing to distance learning, and the reason is obvious. With the directives from the government and health sectors to stay home and go for safe practices, schools have no choice but to shut down. Considering the level of technological advancements in some developing and under-developed nations, distance learning appears to be a herculean task. While some nations, schools, and institutions are adapting already, others still need to level up to catch up with the trends. Obviously, distance learning will serve great purposes even after this coronavirus pandemic is over.

    You can further read about the difference between online learning and distance learning.

    Challenges of distance learning

    Despite the fact that distance learning is a way to go, especially in this period, when the world is taking unexpected turns, it has its challenges. Here are some challenges distance education poses.

    Feeling of isolation

    Undoubtedly, many students learn better when they have their peers around. They engage in group activities, discussions, and sessions to teach one another and explain concepts. Often, this makes them think critically and put in more work academically. Distance learning might make any student feel isolated because they barely have no physical interaction with their fellow students.

    Lack of technology

    Technology keeps advancing, and for anyone to be abreast of these technological inventions, they must keep up with the evolution. This is not different in the life of students who want to engage in online learning. Most of these students have little or no technological power. They can’t afford the necessary tools needed to come online and take their classes. To be on top of your game when it comes to online learning, you need to have access to all the necessary technology, and this isn’t an easy one for most students.

    Lack of discipline

    In life, discipline will always set you out and make you act accordingly, even when no one is watching you. The traditional classroom offers a certain level of discipline that makes every student know they are constantly under the watch of the school authorities. The case seems to be different when you are at home with a lot of things available to distract you. Lack of proper self-discipline is one of the problems of online learning – no one to guide students on upcoming tests, what to do and what not to do, and improving their skill set.

    Little or no support

    If you’ve ever participated in online learning before now, you can attest to the fact that it often comes with little or no support. Students are left to find their resources if they must complete their online work and assignments.

    Poor communication

    Unlike the traditional classroom, students sometimes find it challenging to spend time discussing with their tutor face-to-face. While some types of distance learning don’t permit face-to-face discussions with tutors, those that do often offer students minimal time. Everything is conducted online, and time is a major factor in such scenarios.

    Related article: Seven digital learning tips for students

    Distance Learning and Its Benefits

    Just like many other things in life; despite their challenges, they still have proven benefits, distance learning isn’t different. In fact, during this coronavirus pandemic, it appears to be the surest way of learning as a student. Asides that, here are some other benefits of distance learning.

    Flexibility

    Recall, the traditional classroom has a set of learning rules and schedule every student must follow in line with the curriculum. But distance learning allows you to be flexible, tweaking your schedule to suit your convenience. You can alter your schedule and still learn ideally. However, every student should have a high level of self-discipline and strive not to misuse the flexibility of online learning.

    Saves time and money

    Distance learning can help any student save time and money that’s always expended in going to educational institutions. Here, you can access online learning centres without incurring higher costs, and the courses online are quite cheaper. If you’re truly looking to save money while working in line with your schedule, then online learning is a way to go.

    Easy to access

    In times like this, when events take unimaginable turns, no one thinks about attending regular classes. Distance learning becomes the best option, and it’s quite easy to access. With a computer system, or a smart device and an active internet connection, you can access several online courses and engage in online learning.

    With the increasing acceptability and adaptability of online learning, students are making a switch, and it’s not bad at all. We believe that soon, the coronavirus pandemic would be over. Life would return to normal and academic activities would resume fully. But before then, do well to practice distance learning and equip yourself mentally and academically. Stay safe, wash your hands with soap and water often, wear your masks, and hope the world heals.

    You may want to check out our other article on how to study during coronavirus pandemic.

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