E-learning in higher education learning institutions in the post Covid-19 era in Uganda
Higher institutions of learning world over have been blending e-learning with traditional face-to-face methods of instruction following the growth and improvement in information and communication technology (ICT). E-learning uses ICT (computers and networks) to deliver and exchange learning material among learners and their instructors. E-learning in the education systems has further been popularised by the highly infectious Corona Virus Disease. According to UNESCO, the advent of the Covid-19 disease saw schools world over closing, leaving close to 1.4 billion learners at all levels (elementary to tertiary institutions) in 186 countries outside the classroom. In response to school closure, learning and teaching took a turn to e-learning, thereby creating the biggest e-learning movement in education history; some online learning platforms like the Think and Learn App have witnessed a 200% surge in its use.
E-learning has allowed education continuity given its contribution (education) to growth and development of nations; a complete halt on the education system would create deficiencies in the labour needed for economic activity but also lead to overlap in some student classes and put pressure on available resources as a result of failure to move students to subsequent learning levels. With the use of the e-learning facilities from instructor and learner remote locations, students have had the opportunity to move to the next level of learning or to graduate with qualifications that deem them fit to join the productive labour force. The World Economic Forum reports that in addition to achieving continued learning in some schools, several higher education institutions have reported greater efficiency in operations with significant decrease in operating costs; the use of e-learning saves institutions a lot of physical and intellectual resources as well as time.
Despite the successes of e-learning through the Covid-19 pandemic, there are some hitches that could obstruct its complete success, especially in developing countries. It has not been an easy task for both instructors, learners and other stakeholders to transition from the typical traditional classroom setting to the “new” virtual classroom setting. In Uganda, most institutions were unprepared for the shift and had to join the e-learning movement with no training and/or facilities (hardware and software) to support e-learning. The OECD explains that in the developing world for example Uganda, the challenges of e-learning are pronounced; there is limited access to reliable internet and where available it is expensive to maintain. A worse problem is that the majority of the students do not have computers or any other digital equipment which are a basic requirement for e-learning.
Notably, some e-learning challenges stem from its very use. The supervision of both learners and instructors on e-learning platforms is low and therefore some learners and instructors may not live up to institutional expectations because they lack supervision and management. Without sufficient supervision, e-learning stakeholders are prone to tendencies of academic misconduct for example academic corruption, impersonation, malpractice, absenteeism, plagiarism, unfair grading, resource and authority misuse. These tendencies tend to crop up because stakeholders on the larger part make decisions beyond the watch of the responsible education administrators (with little or no consultation and with little or no guidance from policies and structures) thereby rendering e-learning ineffective.
Judging by its benefits, higher education institutions could make e-learning a fundamental part of their systems by carrying on with its use until a vaccine is found and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that the market for online learning technologies like virtual tutoring, language translation apps, video conferencing tools and other e-learning software may be at about 350 Billion US Dollars by 2025. To benefit from the new e-learning trend, it is imperative that education institutions with the support from government carefully craft systems that augment the benefits of e-learning while combating its risks. Such can include designing and implementing well-structured e-learning governance frameworks that are made known to all stakeholders and users of e-learning systems.
E-learning governance frameworks comprise those actions that education institutions partake in to give direction on e-learning activities, combat its challenges and achieve e-learning objectives. Governance frameworks guide e-learning decision-making through enlisting the rules of procedure and defining rights and responsibilities of each stakeholder. This creates transparency and makes each entity accountable for their actions over online learning platforms. A good e-learning governance structure should provide guidelines and strategies for aligning the use of e-learning platforms. It should be able to obtain information from learners and instructors about their needs and aspirations so that e-learning platforms content developers create content that fits their needs. E-learning governance structures and guidelines should have the ability to identify and resolve challenges that arise over online learning platforms and build relationships among students, instructors and all e-learning stakeholders. To achieve the objectives of e-learning, the governance framework should develop a proper decision-making procedure and also give procedures for communicating information among stakeholders. The governance structure during its implementation phase should be monitored and adjustments should be made if the strategies are not able to meet their desired goals. The framework has to have e-learning challenge management procedures, relationship management and network administration procedures.
Key to the e-learning governance framework is good leadership to develop an acceptable code of conduct and to ably provide solutions to deal with e-learning challenges. Additionally, higher learning institutions should be ready to change with the ever-volatile technologies and ICT innovations as ignoring new technologies may further complicate the e-learning system. It should be noted that e-learning in higher education institutions requires a great deal of both financial and human resources and therefore higher learning institutions have to incorporate in their governance frameworks budgets for financial resources and also make sure that students, instructors and school administrators obtain sufficient training to comfortably use online learning platforms for their intended purpose. Good e-learning governance frameworks go a long way in creating, disseminating and sharing knowledge in societies hence producing critical learners that can adapt to changing world situations. On the contrary, absence of an e-learning governance framework encourages the challenges that come with its implementation mainly because system users lack the needed guidance during the use of e-learning.