SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT AND THE EFFECTIVENESS OF E-LEARNING DURING PANDEMIC LOCKDOWNS; A CASE OF COVID-19 IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN THE BUEA MUNICIPALITY
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E-Learning is the act of taking a course online using a modem, wireless or cable connection to access academic course materials from a computer, phone or other devices. (Oye, & Laheal 2012), describes E-Learning (EL) as the use of information and communication Technology e.g. Internet, Computer, Mobile Phone, Learning management system (LMS), Television, Radios and others to enhance teaching and learning activities. E-learning is a unifying term used to describe the fields of online learning, web-based training and technology to deliver instructions. E-Learning has evolved in different ways in the education, business and training sectors, and it has different interpretations for different sectors. At the school level, e-Learning refers to a learning process that uses both software-based and online learning tools, whereas in business, training and higher education sectors, e-Learning solely refers to online learning. (The Evolution of eLearning from the Turn of the Millennium, 2016)
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic (late 2019 and the year 2020) emboldened the relevance of the online teaching and learning. Due to this pandemic, following the World Health Organization guidelines, different countries adopted measures of lockdown to control and minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Schools, Universities and other Institutions were closed. Educators and students could not share the same physical space (classroom) for teaching and learning purposes. To mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic in the education sector, many countries adopted digital and online teaching and learning. However, the readiness for this alternative model of education was not the same for different institutions, due to socioeconomic circumstances. Institutions that had created conditions and encouraged the online learning even before the outbreak of the pandemic conducted it better than institutions and communities that were not well equipped for the online learning, and were adopting it for the first time
Background to the Study
The background of this study is subdivided in Historical, Contextual and Theoretical backgrounds.
Historically, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and quickly spread throughout China and the rest of the world. Many mathematical models have been developed to understand and predict the infectiousness of COVID-19. An outbreak of atypical pneumonia (Coronavirus Disease 2019, COVID-19) caused by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019 Li D, Liu Q, Liu Z, Gao Z, Zhu J, Yang J, et al(2020) The virus rapidly spread across China and the rest of the world. As of 9 May, 83,976 confirmed infections and 4,639 deaths had been reported within China Yuan HY, Hossain MP, Tsegaye MM, Zhu X, Jia P, Wen TH, et al(2020). The majority of cases in China have been identified in Hubei Province, especially within Wuhan. The Wuhan Municipal Government began a citywide lockdown on 23 January 2020 to slow the spread of the disease, and other cities in Hubei Province soon followed suit Yuan HY, Hossain MP, Tsegaye MM, Zhu X, Jia P, Wen TH, et al(2020). The lockdown effectively curbed further exportation of the epidemic from Hubei to the other provinces of China (1–4). Within China, the outbreak has been effectively under control and the main effort was put in identifying the imported cases from overseas. However, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March due to its spread and severity worldwide, with 2,361,998 confirmed infections and 272,094 deaths outsides China as of 9 May
Historically, Online Learning or e-Learning can go back to the 1990s, where the trend started and was emerging. In this decade, the development of personal computers was on the rise. E-Learning became more simplified, and it was easier to learn skills online. With this, e-Learning opportunities began to rise, with online environments becoming more acceptable. Interactive CD-ROMs and PDF text files came into the picture to ease the process of online learning. As it was monetarily more beneficial, online courses became more and more popular. This decade saw some notable achievements like personal home computers, online environments, educational courses online, and repurposing content into digital formats(The Evolution of eLearning from the Turn of the Millennium, 2016). The common e-Learning that was becoming popular in the nineties era did not suddenly get discouraged because of the technology developments that took place. Instead, the technologies made the concept of e-Learning more advanced. The upgraded technologies, methodologies and software attracted more people to use PowerPoint tools and learning management systems (LMS). In the span of these five years, there were a number of achievements in the field of e-Learning. Increased access to wireless, scalable vector graphics, improved PowerPoint capabilities, learning objects, educational games, e-Learning repositories, SCORM, LMSs and social media networks were some of the notable achievements in this field. (The Evolution of eLearning from the Turn of the Millennium, 2016)
2006 – 2010 was a time period when e-Learning tools became quite standard in the learning industry. The “anyone can build” functionality of online learning tools enabled every common person to learn more. The added benefits of advancing technologies along with less money and no geographical boundaries changed the way learning happens. Introduction of methodologies like podcasting, mobile Internet, learning analytics, and augmented reality created a boon for the online learning niche. Other notable achievements for this time span included: Educational; Gaming; User created content; Library digitization; Virtual worlds; Cloud computing; Online video; Gesture-based computing; eBooks; Mobile learning. From 2011 onwards, online learning has advanced tools available that further simplify e-Learning course creation. Today, e-Learning courses are popular among students, businesses and trainers. The tools used in the industry have become more easy to use. There is more content, expert advice, virtual classrooms, and a lot of interaction. Students use these technologies to gain expertise in any one subject. Professionals use learning courses to enhance their skill set and attain a better position in their career path. The future of e-Learning is bright and set to expand along with advancing technologies. Some of the technology advancements that have helped e-Learning grow since 2011 are the cloud, tablet computing, learning through social platforms, advancement in learning analytics, MOOCs, and wearable technology. (The Evolution of eLearning from the Turn of the Millennium, 2016)
According to Himanshu & Pandey (2013), e-learning focuses on usage of technology in the field of education and learning. E-learning refers to the use of the advanced technology of information communication in the learning process where the advanced technology comprises of electronic media. In the current scenario, the rapid growth of information and communication technology has led to the “e” becoming the symbol of this latest age of information technology. The alphabet ‘e’ is used as abbreviation with “e” are currently emerging in every second field, such ass e-learning, e-health, e-commerce, e-banking, e-government and many more. In the current scenario, where the world is being dominated by globalization, networking and information technology has reached its peak, e-learning plays a vital role in the field of education.
EL has become an increasingly popular learning approach in higher educational institutions due to vast growth of internet technology. Nowadays E-Learning has a competitive advantage and many universities, colleges of education and other tertiary institutions have implemented it and this has impacts on the student’s performance (Yakaraju 2014). E-Learning centers on the inter section of education, teaching and learning with ICT it clearly preceded by two other disciplines; educational technology and distance education. These two disciplines have uniquely contributed to the intensive use of ICT for educational purposes. E-Learning is also a natural evolution of distance learning, which has taken advantages of latest tools to emerge in the context of technologies for structuring education. Most electronic learning courses or programmes are available anytime and anywhere through the world-wide web (www). According to Abimbola and Abolade (2009), the world-wide web breaks down the walls of time and geographic location, and gives every individual the ability to be a continuing and lifelong learner through accessing the resources of the ‘website via email.
University education and other tertiary education in Cameroon today is the responsibility of government entrepreneurs, agencies, or groups such as religious bodies, communities, universities and corporate bodies. There are decrees that prescribe minimum conditions to allow the establishment of universities under certain guidelines determines by the government. In some tertiary institutions, their E-Learning does not add any value to the teaching and learning activities of their institutions as a result of some limitation afore mentioned and perhaps they do not investigate the impact of E-learning on student Academic performance. Much research has not been done on the relationship of E-Learning use and student academic performance. Some Private universities in Cameroon has an e-learning site designed for teaching learning using module software package, but it is not fully utilized by both students and lecturers.
It has been found that student in higher institutions that engaged in E-learning generally performed better than those in face to face courses (Rodger, 2008 & Holley, 2012) found that student who participate in online/E-learning achieve better grades than students who studies traditional approach. A teacher determines what to teach, how to teach and thus less concern about the students that are at the receiving end. There are various approaches source being put in place to compensate for the problems occasioned by this traditional learning paradigm. For example online instruction has the potential to provide opportunities for reflective and integrating learning outcomes. This approach provides the students adaptive personalized e-learning because is a general term used to refer to computer enhanced learning. It may involve the use of mobile technologies such as personal digital assistant and Mp3/MP4 player, web based teaching materials hypermedia, discussion boards, collaborative software, e-mail, blogs, wikis, text chart, flash video, compass, finder, etcetera, should be use as a pedagogically powerful tool for the consumption and modeling of knowledge Sunil (2017).
Three of the more popular learning theories behaviourism, cognitivism, and social constructivism will be highlighted to form the foundation our study. Behaviourism focuses on how people behave. It evolved from a positivist worldview related to cause and effect. In simple terms, action produces reaction. In education, behaviorism examines how students behave while learning. More specifically, behaviorism focuses on observing how students respond to certain stimuli that, when repeated, can be evaluated, quantified, and eventually controlled for each individual. The emphasis in behaviorism is on that which is observable and not on the mind or cognitive processes. In sum, if you cannot observe it, it cannot be studied. Cognitivism has been considered a reaction to the “rigid” emphasis by behaviorists on predictive stimulus and response (Harasim, 2012, p. 58). Cognitive theorists promoted the concept that the mind has an important role in learning and sought to focus on what happens in between the occurrence of environmental stimulus and student response. Parallel to behaviorism and cognitivism was the work of several education theorists, including Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. Their focus on social constructionism was to describe and explain teaching and learning as complex interactive social phenomena between teachers and students. Vygotsky posited that learning is problem solving and that the social construction of solutions to problems is the basis of the learning process.E-learning theory is built on cognitive science principles that demonstrate how the use and design of educational technology can enhance effective learning (David, 2015; Wang 2012). The theory was developed from a set of principles created based on Cognitive Load Theory (Sweller, Van Merriënboer & Paas, 2019). According to David (2015), Cognitive Load Theory is “the amount of mental effort involved in working memory” (n.p.) during a task and can be categorized into germane, intrinsic, and extraneous effort. Since the working memory has limited capacity and the brain will suffer from overload if learners are presented with too much information, causing inefficient learning, it is essential to balance these three types of load to promote learning efficiency (Clark, Nguyen & Sweller, 2005). Based on this, Mayer, Sweller and Moreno (2015) established 11 design principles that were created to reduce extraneous cognitive load and manage germane and intrinsic loads at an appropriate level for learners using technology (Mayer, Sweller & Moreno, 2015;). These types of cognitive load, along with design principles and technology, comprise e-learning theory. E-learning theory belongs to the grand theory of Connectivism because it emphasizes how technologies can be used and designed to create new learning opportunities and to promote effective learning.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The notion of school environment and the effectiveness of E learning during pandemic lockdown have great intuitive appeal and have been popularized in educational practice. Education now widely acknowledges the importance of pandemic lockdown and the use of E learning platform. Universities all over the world are struggling to dominate knowledge through the utilization of information communication and technology. Thus, most universities communicate their students through the internet. This implies that most learning and discussion activities as regards academic issues are done with the use of Electronic learning. Hence, it is thanks to the Covid 19 pandemic that the Cameroonian educational system adopted the E-learning as a major tool during the peak period of Covid 19, even though some Universities in Cameroon like the University of Buea, the University of Bamenda just to name a few had often engaged their students through on-line learning processes.
The Coronavirus pandemic has greatly tested the world’s educational systems and provided an opportunity for higher learning institutions to embrace alternative means to learning. Kumar (2020) stated that the pandemic caused an “unprecedented test on education”, with Anjum (2020) opining that the pandemic was a “catalyst” for educational institutions to try other means of education that have not been used before.
The lockdown caused by the pandemic prevented millions of school children from attending physical lectures, but some of them were not hindered from studying throughout the period as they started using social media and messaging platforms to interact with teachers.
Some institutions quickly adapted to the online learning methods due to their prior preparedness to embrace distance learning (Brensaid & Brahimi, 2020). The most commonly used platforms for learning included WhatsApp, Google Classroom, Instagram, and Facebook, Telegram.
Although the knowledge-sharing process was still ongoing, it couldn’t go unhindered because these social media platforms were not originally built for education but for interaction and message sharing.
Using them for lectures could be more distracting because some learners used the same mobile phones used for other communication purposes to engage in this online learning. Compared to the physical classroom, discipline and competition were absent during the online study period with learners being freer during lecture hours.
The effectiveness of E-Learning use in teaching and learning is, therefore, a topic to be researched. Learning is termed effective if the learning and teaching goals are realized regarding the academic curriculum. This research therefore finds out how the use of E-learning effectively enhanced learning during a pandemic with case study of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown
The importance of education is increasing because of increasing pressure to catch up with the developed world regarding, for example, global competitiveness (Hawkins 2002). Before the introduction of e-learning many people who wanted to obtain university degree had to compete for the few places that were offered by the public universities. Those offered places had to apply for study leave as they had to go through the traditional learning system. This kind of further education system was characterized by limited number of students that could be absorbed per an academic year and consequent removal from their places of work for the duration of their study.
Several studies have been carried out on academic performance especially on conventional students, but not much on e-learning as a panacea for education during pandemic lockdowns in the Cameroonian educational system. The need to sever this ground so as to extend the frontier of knowledge in order to help improve the unimpressive e-learners’ academic performance necessitates and serves as the motivating factor for undertaking the present piece of research so as to fill the existing important research gap.
Objectives of the Study
To find out the effectiveness of the use of E-learning during the COVID-19 lockdown period
- To explore the attitude of student’s and academic staff’s towards e-learning during the Covid 19 Pandemic
- The study sought to investigate the various E learning platforms and measure the ability of the students and staffs to use e-learning tools during Covid 19 pandemic
- To examine the influence of School environment on E-learning during the Covid 19 Pandemic
- To understand the challenges faced in using virtual learning platforms for learning during COVID-19