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Academic Challenges of Virtual Learning & Ways to Deal With Them During The Pandemic

June 10, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic affected the healthcare system severely. The health care crisis did not just impact the frontline staff and clinical leaders but all the systems and communities. In the midst of building concerns about the stress-induced on the health care system globally, experts worried about imparting education to the students of healthcare.   COVID-19 disrupted the universities and academic institutions considerably. Many countries had to close educational institutions and deliver courses online. In the healthcare field, many nursing colleges in Canada braced up to face challenges that hindered the development of offering nursing education.  The majority of learning was conducted online and the nursing students faced difficulties in understanding practical applications of the theoretical knowledge that was imparted in the books. In this scenario, there have been some academic challenges of virtual learning faced by the nursing students.  Below mentioned we will mention all those challenges one by one while also talking about the ways to deal with them during the pandemic. If you are a student of any one of the registered nursing programs in Canada, keep reading to know more. 

Virtual Learning in COVID-19: 

In the emergence of COVID-19, educational institutions were closed to make sure that social distancing prevailed and the risk of infection transmission could also be reduced on the campuses. This affected the education and training of the students of nursing in Canada.  To sustain the learning process and achieve optimal nursing education goals, nursing colleges in Canada switched from conventional learning to virtual or online learning. The option of distance learning seemed to be the only option left for these colleges during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  For maximizing the benefits of this method of imparting education, educational institutions applied many different methods so that the students could be effectively engaged in academic development. Even though virtual learning offered advantages such as flexibility, comfort, accessibility, and easy management, the interaction and clarification were reduced.  The nursing students often complained about learning difficulties in the virtual learning method that led to low academic understanding and achievement. The quick transformation from traditional learning to online learning posed challenges to students who lacked information technology infrastructure.  In addition, since most nursing students are female, their engagement in domestic activities induced more burden on the teaching and learning process. As a result, there were some common academic challenges faced by nursing students during the pandemic. Let’s look at them one by one in detail.  1.Inadequate Methods: Implementation of virtual learning is governed by some fundamental requirements such as a well-functioning infrastructure, adequate training of students, and establishment of teaching and assessment guidelines to ensure a high-quality learning environment.  Some of the reported challenges include a lack of control over the evaluation parameters such as exams, quizzes, and assignments. The virtual learning environment is not controlled and students face trouble accessing the course material easily. A lack of this control gives rise to obstacles.  Oftentimes, the teachers and students highlighted that a lack of training on virtual class learning was a pertinent problem. Other than this, inadequate internet coverage and frequent loss of connectivity in rural areas were other common challenges faced by students.  The transition to virtual learning was seemingly abrupt, the faculty that conducted nursing courses in Canada also reported some difficulties due to a lack of well-established student assessment tools. In all, a lack of student interaction with faculty and other students has been one of the most obvious challenges of virtual learning.  2. No Practical Competence: The maintenance of academic integrity is one of the most essential challenges to ensure a robust learning process. All the students and even the faculty members affirm that the method of virtual learning is not appropriate to teach practical competencies or hands-on skills which is an important part of registered nursing programs.  Nursing practice is the core of the nursing profession and without any kind of hands-on practice, the students cannot master the skills needed to run a healthcare setting. Since theoretical knowledge needs to be linked with nursing practice, this has been one of the most serious challenges of virtual learning.  For effectively imparting nursing education in Canada, there has to be an interaction between teacher and students with body language and eye contact and this is something that is impossible in online learning. Hence, to maintain academic integrity the students need to practice the skills and gain mastery before they start working in any kind of healthcare setting.  To make sure that students get this mastery, on-the-job training sessions or extra clinical practice might be conducted just so that the nursing students can become confident about the knowledge they gained.  3. Learning Environment: In the online learning environment, it is difficult for the teachers to maintain conducive student engagement. When students learning on the internet, they can be easily distracted by other online applications, calls, and text messages. On the other hand, they might also face some problems with understanding dynamic online lectures.  With this new experience and sudden transition from traditional learning to virtual learning, there have been some technical issues dealing with platforms, specifically during the exams. This has been a stressful experience very often. Some colleges also asked students to submit an extra assignment as a method of evaluation because of which students perceived assignment overload as a challenge.  The problem is that virtual learning affected teamwork and social interaction. When we talk about nursing students, they would prefer traditional learning methods because that enables them to learn from constant interaction with teachers and students which is a valuable addition to the theoretical knowledge.  4. Lack of Technological Resources: Virtual learning requires a device and an internet connection. Some students may not have a technological device and so, the financial burden to purchase a new technological device along with effortless internet access can be a problem for some families.  Many times, purchasing electronic devices for every student becomes an overwhelming affair in families. In addition, it is important that the student is provided a quiet learning environment at home which becomes a challenge for many students.  If we look at this from the perspective of faculty members then they can also be distracted because of other obligations such as looking after kids or getting household chores done. Along with a lack of technological resources, a conducive learning environment and no distractions play an important role in the facilitation of virtual learning. 

Dealing With Virtual Learning Challenges: 

Virtual learning has been difficult for both the students and teachers. However, it is realized by everyone that it is an important alternative to ensure that learning continues during the COVID-19 widespread. There are methods in which the students can overcome challenges.  Some of them are mentioned below.  1. Flexibility: One of the main advantages of virtual learning highlighted by the students of nursing in Canada is flexibility. This means that the process of learning can be conducted at a convenient time. This helps in ensuring that the students can learn at a time when there is seamless internet access, there are no distractions, and they are in a peaceful environment.  In essence, students can also create learning environments according to their preferences. The lectures can be recorded and can be accessed at any time even after the class has been conducted. Virtual learning also saves time, effort, and resources because the faculty and students do not use transportation and college resources.  On the other hand, if the students pursuing nursing courses in Canada are working they can effectively manage their work and study simultaneously. Even though online learning affected personalized student-teacher interaction, in many ways it opened channels of communication with teachers.  With innovation and the use of new technology, students found freedom of expression in their teaching practices. As a result, they could change in case something didn’t work.  2. Theoretical Advancement: The academic achievements improved because of shifting to virtual learning. Since students could listen to recorded lectures many times, they could get satisfied while getting higher scores. Particularly, the students who had social phobia could learn better and reach a satisfactory level of understanding theoretical topics.  One of the most effective ways in which online learning can be maximized was by the maintenance of student-teacher continuity. Students can actually improve their learning skills virtually so that in the future they have no problem using the technology for their benefits.  Online learning is controlled by the teacher which prevents any possible student interruptions. Simultaneously, in case the students have any questions or if they are unclear about a certain topic then they can raise their hands and ask for permission to participate. This helps in creating a suitable learning environment for improved understanding.  3. Student Centric Learning Method: Since virtual learning is always focused on students, it becomes possible for the students to become self-directed learners. This means that the students can become independent learners if they make the right use of online learning methods.  Overcoming the challenges posed by online learning, students can review the recorded lectures multiple times in one day. Even the faculty of nursing colleges in Canada would encourage this because the end goal is to enable nursing students to become independent learners. As a matter of fact, virtual learning can offer students with wide learning sources available on the internet. 

Conclusion: 

Transitioning to virtual learning was important to limit the spread of COVID-19 infection. Overall, the impact of online learning ranged from facing learning challenges to looking at the positive side and overcoming them.  Just as there have been some challenges to the traditional learning methods, there has been a need to continuously improve the online teaching competencies. Finally, it has been suggested that by making the most out of the benefits of virtual learning, students can learn effectively. 

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