The cost and benefit of online learning

By Gracia Dorotea N. Rubio

When the pandemic Covid-19 struck, the issue of whether school continues or not became highly debatable. Online classes, if offered, will surely deprive the teaching-learning process of the affordances of face-to-face instruction. If academic freeze is declared, on the other hand, the students will be totally deprived of school-based education, and the teachers and other personnel may consequently lose their job.

Now, online classes have been going on for more than one semester, particularly in higher education and graduate levels, and in some high schools since the imposition of the first lockdown in March 2020. If there is an occasion that could make one shed tears for both love and fear, it is this occasion. Teachers, parents, and students cry for the love of learning, and for fear that they may not be able to sustain, or obtain the benefits of online learning.

For students to obtain the benefits of online learning, teachers must effectively adopt online education. One among the findings in the research of Sangeeta and Tandon (2020) in their study on factors influencing adoption of online teaching by school teachers during COVID-19 pandemic suggests that performance expectancy perceived by school teachers can build positive attitude as well as drive their behavioral intention to adopt online teaching during the pandemic.

Let us decode the meanings of the key terms in this findings. Performance expectancy refers to the degree to which an individual perceives that using a system will help him or her to attain a gain in job performance (Venkatesh et al., 2003). Positive attitude means being optimistic about situations, interactions, and oneself. Behavioral intention refers to the motivational factors that influence a given behavior where the stronger the intention to perform the behavior, the more likely the behavior will be performed.

In the same study, facilitating conditions also emerge as significant, which indicates that infrastructural support when well established in schools facilitate online teaching, and can enable behavioral intention as well as actual use. Facilitating conditions refer to the degree to which an individual believes that organizational and technical infrastructure exists to support the use of a system (Venkatesh et al., 2003).

How do these findings help online teaching at this time of pandemic? The question may seem to be belated, since the first semester is over. But belated as it is, reflective practice gives the benefit of insight, which, when properly applied, can result in improved action in the future. So, first, the need for improving the performance expectancy of teachers is highlighted. This can be done by training the teachers in the use of the technology for teaching – from using communication platforms like Zoom and Google meet and search engines for research to the actual manipulation of gadget that can facilitate online education. This begs the next imperative: provide the necessary infrastructure – electronic devices in their various forms as deemed fit for the purpose, and reliable internet connection. Next is the organizational support that will systematize the conduct of teaching, assessment, feedback, and reporting. Institutional support is necessary for the teachers’ personal undertaking of continuing education despite classrooms being closed. Finally, all the previous conditions, when met, will expectantly aid the development of positive attitude and the correct behavioral intention that surround the teaching-learning process as mediated by technology. This development can be facilitated through continuing in-service trainings.

Such is the cost of online learning: that teachers, curriculum experts, IT professionals, school administrators, and education specialists engage in a synchronized move to train for and acquire both the knowledge and infrastructure that support online learning. The benefit is the students being able to actively participate in their own learning in a computer-mediated setting.

The cost is real, the benefit is at best, hoped for.