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Challenges and Opportunities for eLearning During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The year in review

By Simone C. Conceicao / August 2021

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In 2020–2021, elearning became essential at all levels of education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From July 2020 to June 2021, eLearn Magazine had a 17.6% acceptance rate. A total of 25 articles were published averaging two articles per month. Among the publications, 50% of the articles were in higher education, 24% had an international focus, 21% centered on professional development, and 17% involved design for learning. A common theme in published articles was the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in online education and opportunities for overcoming these challenges (42% of the total publications). Topics included challenges of moving from face-to-face to the online environment, experience with technology and attitudes of students to online learning, instructor preparation and support, and the role of motivation and emotions in online learning.

Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Challenges incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic included incorporating new technologies (i.e., webcams) in teaching and learning, adapting to a new mode of instruction (i.e., online), and instructor preparation (required a different type of time and effort). Challenges were experienced from all corners of the world and addressed different learners. In Latin America, the article, “COVID-19 and Higher Education in Latin America: Challenges and possibilities in the transition to online education,” shows that moving from face-to-face to online created issues of access and inequality. These challenges may have lasting consequences for higher education in Latin America.

Online education also affected adult learners. The article, “A Challenging Reality: Transitioning from the classroom to e-learning among English language learners,” addresses that transitioning English as Second Language adult learners from face-to-face to online abruptly caused barriers to their learning because of the constraints of the technology during communication. The author provides sound strategies for overcoming these barriers. On the other hand, learners with experience with technology and elearning have a different attitude toward online education as portrayed in the article, “Attitude of Nigerian Students to Online Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Two articles illustrate the value of emotions in online education. The article, “The Burden of Alleviating the Burden During a Pandemic: Emotional literacy as a tool for online course design, adaptation, and evaluation,” focuses on emotional literacy as a strategy for framing online course design, adaptation, and evaluation. The authors define emotional literacy as the ability to understand one’s own emotions in a way that improves an individual’s personal power and the quality of life. They provide strategies for alleviating issues when learning online. Another article that focuses on emotions is “Motivating Learning by Playing Animal Crossing New Horizons: A trending game during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This article shows how video games can help learners become immersive and engaged in learning. The authors present an example of how to use a motivational learning framework for game-based learning when playing Animal Crossing New Horizons.

Opportunities for Overcoming COVID-19 Challenges

Five articles provided opportunities for overcoming the challenges of moving into an online learning environment. The article, “Designing for Social Connectivity (Not Everyone Likes Webcams), focuses on the opportunities for avoiding social isolation while social distancing and at the same time considering cultural and other influences that might affect learners. The author shares a set of recommendations for using webcams as an effective strategy for online courses.

Further, the article, “Overnight Transformation To Online Education Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons learned,” shows that online education can be beneficial if institutions use a strategic approach to change management and provide the necessary support. The article offers a set of recommendations for institutions to help them ease the transition from face-to-face to the online environment.

Based on a study of faculty migrating from face-to-face to the online environment, the article, “How Instructors Learn to Teach Online: Considering the past to plan for the future,” provides lessons learned on supporting instructors learning online. The same theme is in the article, "Listening to the Sound of Silence in Supporting Instructors' Transitions to Remote Teaching During COVID-19,” in which the authors reflect on their experiences during the pandemic and the strategies used for a successful transition.

Finally, the article, “Engaging Young Learners through Online Teaching,” presents the transformation of an early childhood education program from face-to-face to the online environment by using community building, interactivity, and online presence. The author indicates using technology in innovative ways allowed for meaningful and engaging learning experiences for young learners supporting their social and emotional needs and development.

What’s Next

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a disruption to teaching and learning; however, this disruption allowed for opportunities to reflect on old ways of designing and delivering instruction, consider the learners’ needs and experiences, and be intentional when designing online instruction. This past year’s articles showed a focus on an empathic mindset from the part of practitioners. It revealed how important it was to keep the learner perspective at the forefront of making learning design decisions.

Though a year of challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a year of opportunities for online education. The mission of eLearn Magazine is to advance eLearning innovations, applications, and policy ideas that move the global conversation forward. The pandemic provided the space for evidence-based conversations with practical implications for dealing with the pandemic and beyond. The hope is to inspire instructors, designers, administrators, and researchers to join the conversation and contribute to the field of elearning as they see the value of elearning in a continuum.

About the Author

Dr. Simone C.O. Conceição, is Editor-in-Chief of eLearn Magazine. She is Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Conceição received her doctorate in Adult and Distance Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master's in Adult and Continuing Leadership Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Conceição was born in Brazil and has lived in the United States since 1989. Her diverse background brings an international perspective to the fields of education and training. She has researched and identified many aspects of good practice in online environments. Her research interests include adult learning, distance education, impact of technology on teaching and learning, instructional design, international education, and staff development

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