The onset of COVID-19 has affected social, political, and economic relations profoundly, virtually introducing a new reality. Among the various spheres that saw the impact of the pandemic, education has been one of the most prominent examples. Most measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus sought to reduce direct personal contact to a minimum. As such, education in its standard understanding has been rendered impossible, as it implies gathering hundreds of people within a single campus. In the face of the most serious healthcare crisis in modern history, most learning activities have been transferred to the digital space. Online education became the optimal choice amid a lethal virus outbreak, utilizing the advantages of modern technology. Nevertheless, it equally became a serious disruptive factor that had a controversial effect on students and educators. This paper aims to investigate the causes and effects of online education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease became a global healthcare emergency. COVID-19 reached the level of a worldwide pandemic in the first half of 2020, which prompted governments to take unprecedented steps in order to protect residents’ health and well-being. In the case of education, this situation implied the indefinite closure of university campuses and schools (Chakraborty et al. 357). This way, millions of students and teachers ventured into the uncharted territory of online education. From the authorities’ perspective, this format was to eliminate the risks of the virus contraction. Indeed, crowded campuses and classrooms created a favorable environment for the spread of the disease, so the decision appeared appropriate through the lens of public health. As such, the outbreak of COVID-19 became the primary cause of the global shift toward online education at all levels.
As far as the effects of this shift are concerned, various perspectives exist that deserve to be examined. Evidently, schools and universities could no longer function in their previous formats. Face-to-face interaction became the key avenue of COVID-19 transmission, which is why the closure of campuses was inevitable. Between the full-scale pause of academic activities and digital education, most institutions opted for the second option, as it allowed them to maintain the learning process in some capacity. According to Lockee, online education as a concept is not a recent invention, as it has been used before in the fallout of serious disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis (5). Nevertheless, the previous attempts were made at the level of specific communities affected by the emergency. In the case of COVID-19, online education became a global tendency of an unparalleled magnitude in terms of both scope and duration. In other words, never in the history of the world has the global education framework remained in the remote format for such a long period.
Therefore, while online learning became a viable option for sustaining the process in the face of the pandemic, it has caused reasonable concerns regarding its long-term consequences. First of all, the shift toward the digital space did not occur in a natural manner. More specifically, the system was forced to incorporate an entirely new approach to learning in a short period without prior preparations (Lockee 6). As a result, the educational framework did not have the time to build the required infrastructure and form the digital literacy of both students and educators. This way, a smooth transition was not possible, which is why the initial stages of online learning were associated with major challenges from technical and user perspectives. As a result, the efficiency of education decreased, causing unfortunate experiences. A considerable amount of time was consumed by the necessity to readjust the new format of learning, which was found to be detrimental to the overall process (Lockee 6). Accordingly, the first months of online education are associated with serious organizational challenges on both sides.
On the other hand, the difficulties of online education were not limited to the initial stages of the pandemic. Evidently, the situation improved drastically across the overall period of remote teaching. Chakraborty et al. refer to a survey indicating that over 65% of university students reported better learning experiences in the case of the physical presence in a classroom (359). According to them, face-to-face interaction contributes to the improved understanding of the learning materials through engaging non-verbal channels of communication. When learning is moved to the digital sphere, the feeling of personal connection between students and teachers is reduced to a minimum, with the computer screen serving as a mediator. Nevertheless, the perception of online learning by students has improved since the start of the pandemic. As per the findings presented by Chakraborty et al., the organization of the process evolved along with the capacity of learning platforms, the use of online media potential, and users’ digital literacy (360). These improvements partially alleviated the negative side of digital studies, indicating that with advanced planning, this format can be a viable means of education.
However, the effect of online learning is not limited to the technical issues or insufficient digital literacy of users. Kecojevic et al. discuss the serious repercussions of remote studies on the mental health of students (para. 3). Their empirical research revealed that the pandemic period caused increased stress among the learners. This pressure came from a combination of factors, including the overall negative atmosphere of a global emergency along with the hardships of a less familiar learning environment. Under these circumstances, it has become increasingly difficult to focus on academic progress, which contributed to the deterioration of learning outcomes.
The impact of online education has become particularly evident for medical students. According to Rajab et al., the pandemic-related restrictions have prevented them from acquiring the standard amount of practical experience in the field. In the medical context, such a lack of engagement can be highly detrimental in the long term as young practitioners will have to obtain the required expertise with a significant delay. Nevertheless, most medical students report a positive impact of online learning that revealed itself during the pandemic’s later stages. More specifically, the ongoing crisis has underlined the value of digital technology in today’s social and professional landscapes. It has prompted students, educators, and professionals to research the digital opportunities that can facilitate their work in the foreseeable future. Rajab et al. report that current medical students speak in favor of a mixed, online-offline approach to both learning and professional activity (para. 6). Therefore, the pandemic served as an important incentive to modernize the approach to studies and work in different fields.
Overall, the COVID-19 outbreak became a major stressor for the global community. Its effect has become especially observable in the sphere of education that had to reorient its activities to a completely new, digital format of studying. In this context, a number of negative effects have been reported by educators, students, and researchers. Digital learning decreased the efficiency of education through lower personal engagement and higher stress. The lack of communication contributed to the deterioration of students’ mental well-being, making it more difficult to concentrate on academic activities. Furthermore, the quality knowledge obtained in remote studies is equally questionable. However, research suggests that online education was the optimal choice in the current environment, considering that the alternative implied a complete pause. In spite of the initial difficulties, students’ and teachers’ digital experiences improved along the way, introducing a valuable point of reference for future practice.
Chakraborty, Pinaki et al. “Opinion of Students on Online Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, vol. 3, no. 3, 2021, pp. 357-365. Web.
Kecojevic, Aleksandar et al. “The impact of the COVID-19 Epidemic on Mental Health of Undergraduate Students in New Jersey, Cross-Sectional Study.” PLoS ONE, vol. 15, no. 9, 2020. Web.
Lockee, B. B. “Online Education in the Post-COVID Era.” Nature Electronics, vol. 4, 2021, pp. 5-6. Web.
Rajab, Mohammed H. et al. “Challenges to Online Medical Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Cureus, vol. 12, no. 7, 2020. Web.