Online learning as the way forward

By Delon Chai

Countries all over the world has seen an unprecedented change in the dynamics of education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to contain the pandemic, governments around the world temporarily closed their educational institutions, forcing millions of students to shift their learning online. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the closure of educational institutions impacted over 60 per cent of the world’s student population.

In Malaysia, the Movement Control Order (MCO) forced all schools and higher learning institutions to adopt online learning or e-learning initiatives to ensure students stayed on track with their respective syllabuses. On 16 May 2020, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin advised that, as the process of digitalisation using virtual learning platforms had intensified, virtual learning could be the way forward in education.

It is undeniable that online learning has gained significant momentum following the closure of learning institutions worldwide. Over the past year, teachers have taken to delivering online classes on Zoom, Cisco Webex, Facebook Live, Google Meet, Google Classroom and other online platforms in an emergent and unprecedented response to the global crisis.

This sudden transition to online learning has been unsettling for certain groups, particularly students who do not have adequate access to the Internet or the equipment necessary for online learning. In a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Education involving 670,000 parents and around 900,000 students, it was revealed that only six per cent of students had personal computers, while 36.9 per cent had no access to related devices.

Meanwhile, educators have had to cope with asynchronous teaching where students may feel disconnected from their instructors as well as their peers. Even though there are extensive e-learning applications that come with a wide range of functions to facilitate online discussions, collaboration still poses a huge challenge when students are not physically present in the classrooms. Such collaborations are often replaced by discussions in virtual rooms or forums, which unfortunately can result in some passive students becoming disengaged in ongoing discussions.

While remote learning does present some challenges to students and educators, who until recently were exposed largely to conventional teaching methods, it does offer a myriad of benefits to students and educators alike. For example, the benefit of flexibility in online courses is highly apparent. Notwithstanding the normal live classes where students are required to attend according to their timetables, online courses offer students the flexibility to work in their own time and at their own pace to fulfil their learning needs.

Lessons delivered online can also be recorded and archived for future reference. Hence, in the event that students cannot keep pace with the normal classes, they can easily watch the recorded classes. There is evidence to prove that students attending online lessons require less time to learn than traditional classrooms mainly because they can learn at their own pace and revisit materials they do not understand.

With the wide array of functions embedded within the learning management systems, educators are able to administer a full-fledged learning experience almost equivalent to that of the conventional classroom. Tools such as online videos, podcasts, quizzes and many other game-based learning tools can all be prepared and administered online. With the clever integration of games with interactive technologies, the online learning experience may sometimes supersede that of a traditional classroom.

Furthermore, online learning can be customised to suit the various learning styles of students. Be they learners who are geared towards visual or auditory learning, or students who learn by reading and writing, online courses can be designed to provide a mixture of resources that create the right learning environment for each learner’s style.

Scholar Yuval Noah stated that current education systems lack the teaching of critical thinking skills and adaptability. Instead, the focus is largely on traditional academic skills and rote learning. Within this context, higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills can be enhanced with online courses.

As most online courses exclude examination components, teachers and lecturers have to design authentic assessments to gauge students’ learning at each stage of their academic journey. Authentic assessments make use of creative learning experiences to test students’ knowledge and their application in real-life tasks. Research has shown that these assessment methods can better evaluate students’ competency as compared to traditional paper-based examinations where students would largely regurgitate information they learned in their courses.

As for the effectiveness of learning online, one particular research has proven that, on average, the student retention rate is 25 to 60 per cent more compared to students exposed to traditional learning methods. This, however, is dependent on whether the students have access to the technology.

Research has proven that by implementing online learning, or the least a blended learning approach, drastic improvements can be achieved in terms of reach, effectiveness and costs of learning. With the continued advancement and integration of technologies into learning management systems, it could become the harbinger of change for making online learning as the way forward.

Delon Chai is a lecturer in the Department of Foundation Studies at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Business. He holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration specialising in finance, and prior to that, he completed a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance. He is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK (AFHEA) and has had eight years of teaching experience in higher education. Prior to joining academia, he worked in the fields of corporate finance and administration. Chai’s latest research interest is in the use of blended learning models in higher education learning and teaching and he is currently implementing the model in his classroom. He can be contacted at