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The prevalence of digital tools means that the world should rethink methods of learning. Students are now digital natives, and the delivery of curricula through electronic means could be what it takes to transform accessibility and equality in education.
Nonetheless, digital-learning methods come with various challenges that must be overcome for these benefits to be realized.
Reduced face to face interactions
No president runs a country from Skype, and no CEO does the same either. With the isolative nature of e-learning, students miss out on face-to-face interactions. They, in turn, may develop poor communication and social skills.
Employers need workers that can successfully take on leadership positions. Now, churning out graduates that are expertly skilled but poor at communication puts employers at a disadvantage.
HR departments would need to invest a lot of resources in communication and leadership training. The possible solution to this isolation dilemma in digital learning is the adoption of blended learning environments.
Self-learning students online can transform their e-groups to real-life meet-ups.
On the other hand, higher learning institutions can use physical classes to complement their online courses.
Over-reliance on self-learning
Self-learning has its place in all forms of pedagogy. Some proclaim that this type of learning achieves better outcomes than instruction-based learning.
The biggest challenge however is that students must take control of their own learning environments and progress. Things could quickly go wrong with this.
The students need to be disciplined and highly motivated to stick to their study schedules and follow the course syllabus. There is minimal academic support that the students get from education providers.
By the end of the program, the learners might fail to develop the skills that were part of the course objectives.
One solution to this problem would be for learners to practice self-discipline and sharpen their planning skills.
Education providers, on their part, should incorporate frequent professor interactions in e-learning platforms to help students digest difficult concepts.
The problem of cheating
Online students cheat more on tests compared to class-room students, according to researchers.
Practice tests, for instance, which are supposed to act as progress indicators for the students become a joke when the learners check answers before completing the test.
There is no one around to supervise you as you take the test. And because as humans, our biggest fear is the fear of failure, it takes a higher level of self-mastery to assess objectively.
Some candidates may confirm answers during the test, while others may extend their time on the test. All these surmount to cheating and the resultant score therefore cannot be an accurate indicator of understanding levels or exam preparedness.
For successful evaluation in digital platforms, students must create an exam-like atmosphere at home or wherever they are. They must restrict access to course material at the time of the test, and set strict timing for the same.
Scientific fields where practical learning and exploration are needed cannot benefit from e-learning. Online classes can, therefore, only be effective for social sciences and other theoretical subjects.
At the moment, there is no technology that can enable medical students to carry out an autopsy without being in the lab. That’s just one example.
One answer to this problem is the adoption of hybrid learning environments. The other option is for online students to undertake a mandatory internship in the field of their training to test and gain practical skills for their theoretical knowledge.
Problems with accessibility
You might have all the devices and internet connection capabilities to access digitally delivered education. That’s alright. But remember that technology is prone to failure. At a critical moment in the course of your learning, your computer or mobile device may fail. Your connectivity might slack, or you might even become a victim to a cyber-attack.
Meanwhile, a significant fraction of the population does not currently have access to technological tools. That therefore throws equality out of the window. A combination of all these factors makes e-learning methods unreliable for delivering education and knowledge.
Can technology accessibility gaps be sealed in society? Can digital education providers guarantee security on their platforms? It’s possible that all this can be done. But it would take many years for actual results to be seen.
Unverifiable quality and qualifications
There are trusted online course providers, but there are also quacks. There are credible third party study material providers, but there are also unscrupulous, unqualified and pirating cartels.
It’s therefore hard to verify whether you, as a student, are receiving the best quality education and whether the course materials you are relying on are original or meet global standards.
Checking for accreditation with professional bodies and regulators is one of the things that you must do before signing to an online program. It would also help to verify the certification of the content providers and the licensing of their business.
Without thorough checking as above, electronic platforms can become a breeding ground for criminals. These places can be where graduates waste their financial resources only to come out half-skilled and with illegitimate certifications.
Unlimited access leading to reduced focus
Each program has its learning objectives, and only a specific set of study resources can help to achieve that. But now, with e-learning, there is no limit to the number of learning materials that students can access.
It’s easy then to lose focus on the actual curriculum goals and course objectives.
Extra study materials can be a distraction. For instance, with the use of question banks, some students might focus on exam preparedness as opposed to skills acquisition.
In other cases, students get off track and study unrelated or archaic concepts found in the many resources on the web.
The solution? Of course, at the current rate of things, there is no going back to physical books. It’s economically infeasible and environmentally unsustainable.
What education providers can do instead is provide clear course objectives and specify the study materials for students to explore. On their part, learners should stop trying to cut corners.
The shared nature of digital resources
Education is costly. Books are particularly expensive to acquire and therefore digital resources could be a blessing to cash-strapped students. All they have to do is split costs and share passwords, or email copies of e-books to each other.
But this cost-cutting practice for students has a loss-making outcome for publishers and study material providers. Little money streams into their accounts, and as a result, research is stalled.
Lack of research and regular updates to course content eventually births the skills mismatch that employers complain about whenever they hire a fresh graduate.
Seclusion and loneliness
Young students need regular face-to-face interactions. They need to form real-life friendships. College institutions are not just buildings for learning operations, but also serve a critical role in building friendships and networks that could be of social and professional value.
Digital methods can rob students of these socializing opportunities. The lack of human interactions in their atmosphere could mean that the students go on to live a lonely life as a result.
The graduates build skills but no empathy or the other emotions that make us human. In the financial world, these graduates would be the workers that see customers as numbers.
They would be willing to toe the grey areas of ethics for profits. In the long run, negligence to ethics always boomerangs on the organization.
Back in the day, students only needed a pen and paper. Nowadays they need a pen, paper, a computer, an internet connection, antivirus software and the list goes on.
Not many people can afford these costs, especially those coming from low-income regions of the world. What happens to them, then if the world decides that electronic education is the way to go?
It’s easy to predict; many students will be locked out of learning opportunities. Even though digital methods are always hyped as the equalizer in learning, they have this major shortcoming.
And perhaps the conversation should start right at the top. Technology manufacturers must reduce costs or develop cheaper education-focused technology.
Technology breeding laziness
Not many e-learning students care to take notes. Everything is done for them. All they have to do is download course content and summarized books. There is no high impact learning when students fail to make their own notes.
In the end, they don’t internalize the concepts, they don’t question, and they end up regurgitating textbook knowledge to exam questions.
When these students get out of the education system, it would be like they never went through it. They will have glorified certifications but no ability to add value to organizations.
And employers would forever be asking themselves what is wrong with their recruitment process.
The solution is simple. Students need to engage with the program and course content actively. They must be inquisitive, do more research and stop taking shortcuts.
It’s a new age and evolution does not come with a reverse gear. Even with its many challenges, digital learning is fast taking over other forms of education.
This calls for educators and students to find solutions to the pressing concerns for better learning outcomes.
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