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The Development of Competencies for Use in Online Learning During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Insights from the hospitality management degree program at the Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City campus

By Rosa Adriana Vázquez Gómez, Claudia Galindo Correa, Pedro Pablo Espinosa Martínez / June 2023

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The bachelor's degree in hospitality management at the Universidad Panamericana (UP), Mexico City campus, is based on the development of management competencies that include leadership, problem solving, adaptation to change, teamwork, hospitality, among others. Founded in 1969, this degree program aims to educate future leaders in the hospitality industry in five areas, namely administration, applied sciences, gastronomy and services, research, and the humanities.

Likewise, so that said knowledge converts into skills and attitudes, since 2009, the program has been taught using a competency-based approach through the development of a methodology based on the ALFA-Tuning Project for Europe and Latin America.

A competency is defined as a comprehensive concept of knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, and values that enables an individual to perform and solve problems effectively in a profession, organization, job, or role in a specific context [1]. As a consequence of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which broke out at the beginning of 2020, professors were informed that all subjects would be taught remotely. Thus, through university-based platforms and with ongoing support from a specialized program in pedagogy and technological resources (e.g., Apolo 21)[a], UP’s teaching-learning strategies changed to adapt to the new context. In addition to presenting students with a sudden change relative to previous conditions, i.e., exclusive face-to-face learning, online methods require a high level of self-directed learning in terms of students' willingness and competencies, as well as high levels of technological capacity when it comes to learning platforms [2].

On the other hand, although numerous studies have been carried out on the adoption of online learning systems in higher education institutions based on existing theories, analysis of acceptance levels among students studying hospitality and tourism is lacking [3]. So too is analysis of the impact of strategies and resources used in the online format on the development of competencies, and their adaption to new industry realities. Indeed, the changes that the outbreak of the pandemic brought about call for substantial modifications to work styles, skill requirements, industry expectations, and priorities [4].

Research, such as that of Zaitseva et al. [5], has been oriented toward analysis of the competencies that, according to employers, higher-education graduates who studied hospitality and tourism need. In addition to so-called soft skills, the authors point out the importance of technological skills since the hospitality industry is characterized by the constant development of modern technologies and management methods.

Jaramillo, Cristina, and Rincón [6] define technological competency as the ability to determine the nature of the resources used and the level of information required; it involves analysis and decision-making regarding the content of messages obtained through technology and effectively using information to achieve a specific purpose, such as the construction of knowledge.

This research aims to comparatively analyze the perceptions of students and professors from the hospitality management major regarding the development of competencies in the online format three semesters after the pandemic began when classes were adapted to this format. This is done to determine if the technological resources and the teaching-learning strategies implemented were adequate for the development of said competencies, taking into account the needs of the hospitality industry and in line with the bachelor program’s requirements. Given that we wanted to learn about students' and faculty's opinions about their experiences in the learning-teaching process during the lockdown, we chose the term “perception.”

The bachelor’s degree in hospitality management at UP is oriented toward the development of 12 managerial competencies that are considered basic in the relationship with employees and clients, and in the provision of services. These competencies include decision-making, management and evaluation of projects and resources, negotiation, assertiveness, initiative, customer service, problem solving, change management, teamwork; friendliness (hospitality), creativity, and leadership.[b] 

The Literature

The use of information technologies in higher education has brought about a change in teaching-learning processes and has transformed students' perceptions of their own educational experiences. In most cases, a lack of technological skills has become evident. For this reason, it is necessary to educate students and teachers to develop their digital “literacy” and, thus, turn classrooms into spaces for collaborative learning [7] where knowledge management is promoted [8]. Collaborative learning and knowledge management are the main features of online learning.

Hall, Atkins, and Fraser [9] define “digital literacy” as skills, attitudes, and knowledge that students and educators must have to support learning in a world full of digital richness. For this, they must be able to use technology to improve and transform teaching-learning processes in the classroom, as well as to promote their own development and professional identities. The concept of "digital literacy" goes beyond the ability to operate digital tools and refers to subtle practices surrounding the ability to create, understand and communicate meaning and knowledge in a world mediated by digital technologies [10].

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the growing impact of digital resources on individuals’ education and socialization, the need for "digital literacy" became evident, as did the importance of designing training programs and strategies for teachers to translate this "digital literacy" into educational practices within the classroom [10].

One of the biggest benefits of incorporating technology into higher education is its promotion of immersion and learning such that students play an active role and have greater opportunity to express themselves on a particular topic and participate in debates and discussions with their peers. Online activities with social media can help create a framework for individual student preparation. Thus, teaching based on social networks encourages individual work and student visibility, as well as collaborative learning and knowledge creation [11]. In addition, knowledge management that leverages electronic resources promotes decision-making by providing information on the resolution of a problem, as well as dynamic learning and strategic planning [8]. These are all necessary competencies for students who wish to one day form part of a highly competitive labor market.

While online learning is in general considered an alternative to traditional learning, during the coronavirus pandemic, it became an essential element for maintaining educational activity at all levels. The resulting paradigm shift is changing students’ perceptions of online learning and these perceptions, according to Coman et al. [12], could very well be different when compared to pre-pandemic views. The COVID-19 emergency became a catalyst for fast-acting, innovative solutions at educational institutions [13]. 

Internet-based learning or e-learning is defined as the use of the Internet and digital technology to create educational experiences. Creating effective e-learning requires elements of both design and development. While design relates to decision-making, development relates to the processes involved. According to Horton [14], these elements bring into play human qualities such as commitment and reward, and capacities such as creativity and judgment. 

Qiu, Li, and Li [15] explored how different technologies have been integrated into online classes since the start of the pandemic, and Basilaia and Kvavadze [16] found online education has allowed teachers to gain experience to the extent that Zoom, Google Meet, and other platforms have become the new normal. This is because they have had to redesign their study plans and teaching-learning strategies for their classes to maintain effectiveness.

On the other hand, certain intention-based theories have been used to explain different scenarios surrounding acceptance of the use of technology from a business or educational point of view. They include the theory of reasoned action (TRA) [17, 18], the theory of planned behavior (TPB) [19], the technology acceptance model (TAM) [20], and the social cognitive theory (SCT) [21, 22, 23].

Robey reflected on the impact of companies’ growing use of technological systems in the management of information and pointed to the problems associated with their use for employees and the causes behind their rejection or failure; he pointed to designers’ failure to address the psychological reactions technology produces and the related organizational implications [24]. He also highlighted previous works that serve as theoretical support for said analyses, such as those of Ackoff [25], Churchman and Schainblatt [26], and Mason and Mitroff [27]. Other research, e.g., from Schultz and Slevin [28], focuses on perception regarding ease of use of technological systems.

In addition to theoretical contributions and models with exploratory, descriptive, and predictive approaches, studies on perception related to the use of technology have practical value for organizations and companies that intend to evaluate employees’ demand for the use of information technologies. However, in general practice, the methods for measuring acceptance remain subjective, and little attention has been paid to the effectiveness of said methods in correlating with user behavior [20] or with the impact they have on the development of professional skills.

Within the theoretical proposals, the TAM model identifies two fundamental elements—perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness—as triggers of a third factor, namely individual attitudes towards technology-driven products/services that eventually induce the intention behind behavior [20]. Perceived ease of use denotes the degree to which individuals expect the use of a specific application to be effortless, while perceived usefulness describes the subjective probability that individuals believe using a given technology will increase their performance.

According to the TAM model, these two elements help in the construction of attitude, which “(…) refers to the degree to which a person has a favorable or unfavorable evaluation or appraisal of the behavior in question” [19]. Attitude consequently influences individual behavioral intention, reflecting the level at which an individual formulates conscious plans to participate in a particular behavior [29]. The TAM model is based on the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), which purports that attitudes develop reasonably from the beliefs that individuals have about the object of said attitudes [17], and the consequences or outcomes that those beliefs produce.

In general, people's beliefs about an object are formed through association of its particular attributes in relation with other objects, characteristics or events. In the case of attitudes toward a behavior, each belief links the behavior to a certain outcome or to some other attribute, such as the cost incurred when performing the behavior [19].

According to Ajzen, as a general rule, the more favorable the attitude and implicit norm regarding a behavior, and the greater the perceived behavioral control, the greater the individual's intention will be to behave accordingly [19]. This indicates that the confinement and the accessibility to technology during the pandemic had a positive influence in students’ willingness to use technological tools, as well as in the usefulness of these tools. It also had an influence in the development of management skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making.

TAM has been widely and often applied to test individual acceptance of various smart technologies in the educational context [30, 31, 32, 33]. Likewise, the use of innovation has been highlighted as an important aspect that influences an individual's intention to use a system [30, 34]. User innovation has been conceptualized as the probability that an individual will search for novel products or services in the early stages of technology use [35]. In particular, the moderating impact of individual innovation has been identified in the relationship between the key variables associated with TAM and TPB in various sectors [36, 37].

In the specific case addressed here, this research aims to identify if students developed a favorable assessment of e-learning and therefore of the development of competencies, given the accessibility of technological resources, the adequacy of didactic strategies in terms of the online model and the support that the university offered. 

Methodological Strategy

To better understand the perceptions of students and professors within the bachelor’s degree in hospitality management on the development of competencies in the online format during the pandemic, a cross-sectional method was used to carry out descriptive research; an online questionnaire was designed based on the following analytical categories: Use of technological platforms and tools over the last 15 months in light of the three foundations of the TAM Model, namely perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness and behavioral intention toward technology. The questionnaire contained nominal scales with four levels and focused on application of digital skills, development of soft skills in 2020 and 2021—leadership, teamwork, negotiation, decision-making, problem solving, change management, administration and evaluation of projects and resources, and friendliness (hospitality). Their development was evaluated on four levels in accordance with Burch [38].

This instrument was applied to 136 students and 62 professors between June and October 2021 (see Table 1).

Table 1. Identifying data of the study population.

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34% of the students who participated in this study had completed their fourth semester, followed by 20.4% of students who had completed their second semester. 64.6% of the students surveyed did not work (only studied), while 20.4% worked and 15% were completing an internship, in addition to studying. This results from the fact that, starting after the fifth semester, the related programs are designed for students to enter the labor market.

The following presents the results of the questionnaires applied to groups of students and professors.

Technological platforms and tools. Regarding the platforms and technological tools used during the pandemic, the results indicate that students most commonly used Moodle, Google Meet, Zoom, Google Drive and Kahoot (see Figure 1). This demonstrates the range of possibilities associated with educational activities carried out in this way.  

Figure 1. Platforms and technological tools, student questionnaire.

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As far as professors are concerned, resource use was more diversified. Among the technological tools most used by professors, Moodle, Google Meet, Google Drive and Zoom stand out (see Figure 2). It should be noted that a wide variety of tools are currently being used to support the online teaching and learning process.

Figure 2. Platforms and technological tools used, professor questionnaire.

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Most students (74%) and professors (76%) consider accessibility and ease of use of technological tools to be simple, while 25% of students and 24% of professors consider it neither simple nor complicated, and neither of the two groups consider it to be very complicated (see Figures 3 and 4), which has made the transition from the face-to-face format to the online format relatively smooth. This also coincides with the variety of technological resources available to these students, which facilitates their learning.

Figures 3 and 4. Accessibility and ease of technological tools, student/professor questionnaires.

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58% of students consider technological tools to be useful, while 35% report that they are very useful for their learning, thus leaving out the “not at all useful” response option. 66% of professors responded that they are very useful, while 34% said they are useful (see Figures 5 and 6).

Figures 5 and 6. Perception of usefulness for learning, student/professor questionnaires.

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The students surveyed normally use digital technologies to acquire and express knowledge, and develop technological skills normally or almost always at a rate of 89%, a feature that is essential for the online format. These perceptions coincide with professors’ responses regarding students’ behavior, which is related with the radical change to a remote environment, and which reflects the daily use that digital natives make of technology. Professors believe that 30.9% of students always use different digital tools to plan, organize and document their knowledge, activities, and tasks, that 54.4% use them often and that only 14.7% rarely use them (see Figures 7 and 8).

Figures 7 and 8. Use of technologies, student/professor questionnaires.

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69.2% of the respondents say they use and evaluate the reliability of digital resources for information searches, and only 27.4% do as well, but they do not know how to identify the information (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Search strategies, student questionnaire.

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As can be seen, students are familiar with various technological tools, since 83% of respondents report using these tools always or often to plan, organize and document knowledge, activities, and tasks. This coincides with responses received from professors, who believe that 30.9% of students always use different digital tools to plan, organize and document their knowledge, activities, and tasks, that 54.4% use them often and that only 14.7% rarely use them (see Figures 10 and 11).

Figures 10 and 11. Use of digital tools for learning, student/professor questionnaires.

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As we have seen, communication is fundamental in teaching-learning processes using the virtual teaching format; thus, it is important to note that 57% of the professors surveyed affirm that students normally use different digital communication channels during this process, and 37% do so sometimes. Therefore, the majority make use of these tools (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. The variety of communication channels, professor questionnaire.

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Discussion. These results are relevant because they show that, due to confinement, both students and faculty needed to adapt to new learning and teaching conditions by using didactic and pedagogical strategies that are technologically based, strengthening in this way online teaching-learning processes. Results thus show that confinement acted as an important motivator for students. In addition to the accessibility and ease of use of technological tools, both study groups expressed that technology allowed students to not only acquire and convey knowledge, but also to further develop their technological competencies. These competencies, in turn, allowed them to use learning and teaching resources in a more versatile and diverse way, as well as to assess the reliability of information. The latter is an essential aspect of technological competence.

The versatility that characterizes technological resources also allowed most students to (always and often) plan, organize, and document their knowledge, activities, and assignments. Additionally, most faculty reported that students frequently used these resources to maintain communication with professors, classmates, and third parties. 

Development of Competencies

Up to this point, we have focused on the use of technological tools in the learning-teaching experiences of students and faculty. In what follows, we highlight some aspects of the experiences of both groups in the development of students’ competencies. In this section, we present a complete inferential analysis to understand how the development of various competencies correlates to each other, on the basis of the teaching-learning experiences of students and faculty. Likewise, we examine the validity of the presented data.

Regarding development of competencies (see Figure 13), both students and professors perceive the strongest ones as teamwork and change management; students see the least developed one as leadership, while professors see it as problem solving.

The perception of this development is higher among students than among professors. Both groups see negotiation and problem solving as among the least developed competencies; however, it is worth mentioning that, on the scale used, from 1 to 4, where 1 is least and 4 is greatest, the average is 3, which suggests that both groups generally see development of competencies in a positive light.

Figure 13. Perceptions around development of competencies, professor/student questionnaire.

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Analysis, discussion and corroboration of results. To corroborate the survey data regarding the development of competencies, the statistical language R and its platform RStudio  were used because it offers a wide range of tools compatible with software focused on data science (see Supplemental Material). One additional advantage is that it is free to download, and the programming code can be shared with web applications like Powerbi desktop.

Table 2 shows how the results’ mean and standard deviation are associated; to make it easier to read, the variables most representative of the results were marked on a scale with increasing gray intensity. Here, we found that students and professors agree that teamwork and change management are among the competencies most developed during the pandemic and that they play a dominant role in digital literacy. This result can be explained by timely adaptation to new information technologies and professors’ development of the competencies needed to use online tools. It should be noted that teamwork had the highest standard deviation within the sample of professors, which indicates that their perceptions varied to a greater degree depending on the type of class taught. This is a result of the fact that some subjects can be more easily adapted to online dynamics than others since some require the use of laboratories, classrooms, or special equipment within the university facilities.

Students perceive negotiation as one of the least developed competencies during the pandemic (the average was 3.03 in comparison with the general average of 3.17). This may be so since negotiation requires strategies and activities normally carried out in person, like when students work to solve case studies within the classroom or during professional internships. However, during the pandemic these activities had to be carried out more impersonally. In the case of students, the standard deviation for this competency was below the average of the other deviations (0.72 vs. 0.76), which indicates that this perception is strongly associated in this student sample.

Of note, for this student sample, and for that of professors, decision-making had one of the lowest standard deviations (0.71 and 0.69 respectively), while the average in each sample was above the general average (3.2 and 2.76 respectively). In other words, both samples recognize that this competency developed in step with the novel needs that the pandemic posed.

Table 2. Association of mean and standard deviation.

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Inferential analysis. To measure the instrument’s reliability, a polychoric matrix was used to measure the consistency of the latent variables (competencies developed in the school). Using a RStudio script, Table 3 shows the values of α for each latent variable ranging from 0.79 to 0.82; these results are thus greater than the minimum acceptable standard of 0.7. 

Table 3. Values of α for each latent variable.

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Table 4 shows the total omega coefficient, which works with factor loadings and with standardized variables, reflects that this work has an acceptable level of reliability between 0.7 and 0.9.

Table 4. Total omega coefficient.

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The following correlation matrix, displayed as Table 5, shows the degree of association between the development of competencies within the student and professor samples, respectively. The samples were analyzed separately and then compared assuming that, if the correlation value is close to 1, association is high, while a correlation value close to zero indicates low association.

Table 5. Degree of association between the development of competencies.

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Based on the above we can infer that:

  1. Teamwork and problem-solving competencies (0.35 for students and 0.51 for professors) were strongly associated during the pandemic. These two groups recognized that remote collaborative work helps to achieve academic objectives. Teamwork among professors and academics together with students made strengthening decision-making possible and gave the impression that technology was an easy solution, adaptable to change and very useful during the pandemic. Regarding decision-making and problem solving (0.58 for students and 0.67 for professors), effective and timely decisions in the face of the pandemic emergency were seen as strongly associated with solving academic problems, and therefore with decision-making. Finally, both students and professors (0.57 for students and 0.59 for professors) saw problem solving as the competency most associated with other competencies.
  2. Students and professors perceive project management and evaluation differently. If we look at the project management competency line in the student sample, we see an intense gray color associated with most of the other competencies; thus, students recognize that they had to develop different approaches to this competency. On the other hand, the project management and development competency in the professor sample has a light gray color; thus, professors believe that project management among students did not meet academic expectations. This can be explained by the fact that students’ homework, project, and paper load increased exponentially, and students were not prepared for the increased academic demands that professors placed on them.
  3. Students and professors believe that, during the pandemic, development of the following competencies was not associated:
    • Teamwork and negotiation
    • Decision-making and hospitality

It is important to point out that students only saw negotiation as strongly associated with decision-making, while, for professors, negotiation was strongly associated with leadership and decision-making. Therefore, there is an opportunity to design mechanisms whereby students see negotiation as applicable in conjunction with other competencies. 

If we analyze the correlations associated with friendliness (hospitality) (see Table 6), we can see that students perceive it as developing hand in hand with teamwork, as well as project management and evaluation. Professors only identify this association in terms of problem solving.

Table 6. Correlations associated with friendliness (hospitality).

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Conclusions and Recommendations

The outbreak of the pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the consequent stay-at-home orders brought about drastic changes to the educational processes at higher education institutions. From one minute to the next, professors incorporated strategies into their programs for which they were not prepared and, supported by available technological resources, they made the necessary modifications to move from a face-to-face format to an online one.

The students affected by the pandemic are digital natives who are constantly connected in real time to social networks. However, moving from a face-to-face format to the online model requires changes in socialization dynamics and in how knowledge is approached since distance learning implies a series of self-directed learning skills for which students, as well as professors, must be trained and prepared.

Online learning requires a high degree of autonomy, critical capacity, and decision-making. Therefore, this analysis looked at perceptions surrounding ease of access and use of digital platforms from two separate groups, namely students and professor. These results should motivate the design of educational methods and strategies that promote optimal resource use in order to encourage students’ professional development. As seen in the results of this study, there are competencies, like teamwork, that are better suited to remote formats.

In addition to being a challenge for students and professors’ teaching-learning processes, the online format has put the effectiveness of digital platforms to the test, and progress therein should be taken as a starting point for the promotion of a hybrid model in which available information technology resources are taken advantage of. This includes instituting programs to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of the technology available in higher education institutions, as well as designing educational strategies and models that take advantage of the potential and influence of various digital resources. A hybrid education enriches learning because it takes the best of each format for the benefit of students.

Universities face the challenge of designing training and follow-up programs in digital literacy for professors in accordance with the professional and alumni profiles relevant to each department and program, and of strengthening the development of soft skills that represent a competitive advantage in the labor market.

We recommend continued use of online platforms to strengthen the competencies that are required and/or demanded in the labor market because, during the pandemic, some companies recognized that cultural exchange and diversity of management styles are pillars of more competitive strategy. These companies then used part of their resources to develop online platforms and employee trainings for remote work; they also opened up job opportunities in which employees can work from home or even from another country.

Thus, the push for digital self-learning that resulted from the pandemic established an autonomous model of remote work. With it, universities and companies are proposing hybrid work models that are here to stay and that also promote cross-cultural models at the managerial level in organizations.


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[a] Since its creation in April 2020, Universidad Panamericana’s “Apolo 21” program has trained more than 6,200 professors on its three campuses. It recorded the following usage of conferencing technologies during pandemic: Webex: 3,839 total hours; Google Meet: 47,483 hours per month, 338,445 participants; and Zoom: 6,150 hours per month, 90,167 participants, 153 events.

[b]  Information about these competencies is available on the official website of the Universidad Panamericana’s Hospitality Management Degree; and includes the concepts associated with each one, as well as their assignment to the corresponding major, and a proposal of didactic strategies for their development throughout the degree program. 

About the Authors

Rosa Adriana Vázquez Gómez is Professor and Research Secretary of the Bachelor of Administration and Hospitality, ESDAI, of the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City. She holds a Ph.D. in political and social sciences, with a focus on communication from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Dr. Gómez is the editor of the academic journal Hospitalidad ESDAI (ISSN 1665-1839), and a member of the Research Network (RICIT). Her research interests include hospitality and tourism, tourism imaginaries, and inclusive tourism.

Claudia Galindo Correa holds a bachelor's degree in administrative informatics with a specialty in operations management and a master's degree in education. She is a professor and Head of Academy of the Bachelor of Administration and Hospitality, at ESDAI of the Panamerican University, in Mexico City,

Pedro Pablo Espinosa Martínez is a professor of statistics, probability, and marketing at ESDAI (Hospitality Management School) of Panamerican University in Mexico City. He holds a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering with a master's degree in international marketing. He is a high specialty leader in sales strategy in the pharmaceutical industry.

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