COVID-19 has dramatically reshaped the way global education is delivered. Millions of learners were affected by educational institution closures due to the pandemic, which resulted in the largest online movement in the history of education. With this sudden shift away from classrooms in many parts of the globe, universities had to rapidly shift to virtual and digital strategies. Many believe that the adoption of online distance learning will persist after the pandemic. A new hybrid model of education is expected to emerge, and, given the digital divide, new shifts in education approaches could widen equality gaps. This is one of the first empirical studies investigating the effect of the sudden shift from face-to-face to online distance learning due to COVID-19 lockdown at one of the universities in Egypt. A comparison of grades was made between 376 business students who completed a face-to-face course in spring 2019 and 372 students who completed the same course but fully online via distance learning mode in spring 2020 during the lockdown. T-test was conducted to compare grades of quizzes, course work, and final exams for the two groups. A Chi-square test was used to compare grade distribution for both groups. The effect of gender, credit hours, age, and CGPA was assessed. The results suggested that there was no statistically significant difference in students’ grades. In addition, the unplanned and rapid move to online distance learning at the time of the pandemic did not result in a poor learning experience as was expected. The study also included a survey of 435 students and interviews with a sample of professors about their learning and teaching experience during the lockdown. The results of this study provide specific recommendations for universities, instructors, and higher education portal designers about the future application of online distance learning. Since Egypt decided to make the shift to online distant learning in all future higher education plans, the results of this research would be especially vital for universities in Egypt and other developing countries. If administered correctly, this shift could lead to a larger learner population, more cost efficiencies, and more university revenue.
In 2019 and even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global investments of US $18.66 billion in 2019, estimated to reach $350 billion by 2025. Learning management systems are now commonplace in higher education for both on-campus and distance students. In 2015, the annual growth rate of online enrolment was increasing with an extremely rapid rate of over 30% every year, and in 2019, the number of students taking at least one online course has been grown to 34.7 percent of the total learner’s population worldwide. In early 2020, COVID-19 has resulted in schools and universities being shut all across the world, making around 1.2 billion learners out of the classroom. This leads to a distinctive rise of distance learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. According to Hodges, well-planned online learning is totally different from shifting online in response to a crisis, as the speed with which this shift is done could be shocking to faculty members and learners.
The highest majority of prepandemic literature compared face-to-face with online distance courses was conducted in higher educational institutions in developed countries, where information technology infrastructure, resources, and support are available and reliable. There is a severe shortage of similar comparative studies in developing countries, in which the poor IT infrastructure and lack of financial resources and technical support, as well as modest IT skills for instructors and students, are the main challenges for online distance learning adoption.
Online Distance Learning versus Face-to-Face Comparative Studies
A large number of studies, before the pandemic, compared face-to-face with online distance courses in terms of university student performance, as well as many other academic and demographic variables of students. For example, Soesmanto and Bonner evaluated a dual-mode design in which students of year one of a business school at the Griffith University in Australia have the option to undertake the same statistics course in a face-to-face mode and/or an online mode. The comparative analysis suggested no significant differences in learning satisfaction and academic performance of the two cohorts within the dual-mode system. In a similar study done in California State University, Tan suggested that, with proper training and support of technology, university instructors are delivering both the on-ground and online sections of a business technology course with the same effectiveness as measured by students’ grades points.
Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among students
Several studies have replicated the finding that Latinx students tend to have less favorable perceptions of school climate than their White peers. However, because most research compares Latinx students to a White standard, little is known about variation within the Latinx group and thus the opportunity to produce strength-defining counter-narratives has been missed. Using latent class analysis, this study identified meaningful classes of school climate perceptions within 20,050 Grade 7 Latinx students in California. Five climate classes were identified, lending support to the hypothesis that substantial heterogeneity of school climate perceptions exists within the Latinx student population. The results support the utility of latent class modeling for examining school climate perceptions beyond traditional variable-centered approaches. Countering the prevailing deficit narrative, the results indicate that nearly half of all Latinx respondents reported generally positive perceptions of school climate. Conversely, supporting the need for environmental supports that encourage Latinx students to voice their concerns and make decisions regarding systems that affect them, over three-quarters of the responses suggested that Latinx students perceive meaningful participation at school negatively. The results suggest the possibility of a cascade effect in the development of the psychological experience of the school, such that some dimensions of school climate perceptions may be antecedents to others.
Universities need to enhance Internet bandwidth, enlarge the capacity of data centers, purchase licensed e-learning tools, and provide training for students and professors on needed IT skills. Online training and skills enhancement workshops should be emphasized to compensate for on-campus activities. Effective and responsive IT technical support and troubleshooting services should be provided to students, especially during quizzes and exams. Support can be offered 24/7 through phone calls, e-mail, online live chat, and video guides. Developing and maintaining robust communication channels between higher education management, students, and teaching staff are essential in keeping all stockholders informed and aware of the next steps. Multiple informational and introductory online sessions should be maintained. Developing and maintaining robust communication strategies with staff, faculty, and students are essential in keeping all entities informed and apprised of the next steps in the transition, training, and ongoing support. Institutions of higher education may make the gradual shift away from traditional instruction; they may implement online long-distance teaching to capture a larger worldwide audience. This result is especially important for some developing countries, like Egypt, that decided to integrate face-to-face with online distant learning in all future higher education plans, to cut costs, reduce student density, and make a gradual transformation of students to lifelong learners.