Virtual learning: Discussing this new era in higher education

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What you need to know:

  • Earlier, e-learning was not accepted wholeheartedly as it was assumed that this system lacked the human element required in learning.

  • However, with the rapid progress in technology and the advancement in learning systems, it is now embraced by the masses.

A fairly new concept in the Kenyan higher education system, e-learning, is gaining a foothold in Kenya. This convenient method of studying which gives students the freedom to attend their classes from anywhere was introduced almost two decades ago, but became more popular during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Widely embraced in the developed world, virtual learning in Kenya is viewed with both admiration and revulsion. Four students who switched from traditional methods of learning and adopted e-learning share their experiences.

Photo credit: Pool

Remjuce Bwana, 28
College of Insurance, Nairobi
Diploma in Insurance

When I enrolled for a diploma course in insurance, I had the option of moving to Nairobi or Mombasa, but I couldn’t move from Kisumu because I wanted to keep my current job. I therefore settled for the e-learning course. I loved the convenience, as my supplies job requires me to constantly be on the move. 

I have been studying online since August this year but I must admit the platform is not just convenient, it is also cost effective, although it needs a little fine tuning to make it more effective.

One of my greatest challenges is distractions from my job, which sometimes make it hard for me to attend my classes. At times I procrastinate and vow to work on the missed classes later, which I often fail to do.

Sometimes I miss classes and have to rely on the recorded sessions, which denies me a chance to ask questions especially if I need clarification with something. 

Adapting to the new system hasn’t been easy, so I am currently watching YouTube tutorials to learn how to properly navigate the new learning method. 

Another challenge I encountered is that I can only interact with the voices of my fellow students and lecturers. I can’t ever meet them physically. This is new. Sometimes these challenges make me feel as though I am not getting value for my money, but I have grown to enjoy the online classes since I am able to attend them at a place and time of my convenience. I am also able to record the lectures and review them in my free time.

Most of my learning materials can also be stored online where I can easily access them. This method of learning can be challenging especially for students using their phones because the hand gadgets can be cause distraction.

Poor internet connectivity can also be a challenge especially for those in remote areas.

In order to overcome these challenges, I always ensure I attend my lectures in a quiet room with stable internet to minimise distraction, and I avoid using phones during classes.

I think the online platforms should be modified to allow the students to see the teacher and the slides he or she is presenting. This is not always the case. 

Photo credit: Pool

Keith Imbayi ,21
Kenya Methodist University (KEMU). 
International Relations

I had just enrolled as a first year student in Kemu when schools were ordered shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of learning institutions went for e-learning to avoid the spread of the virus among students and lecturers, including Kemu. 

For months, I attended online classes. Right now we are back to the normal physical classes but during the pandemic, the online classes went on so well. Personally, I have no regrets and would be glad if the e-lessons would be brought back. 

Virtual learning gives one a sense of belonging because we all put our cameras on, meaning we are able to see and hear each other. 

I also enjoyed the classes since they were efficient and effective. You can interact with other students from all over the world who are taking the same course. This enables us to exchange ideas, thus increasing our knowledge. While we are able to interact fairly well while attending physical classes, you are limited only to students in your university. 

In e-learning, there is no physical interaction with students and lecturers, but communication is still effective and the relevant information is passed clearly.

We are in the 21st century and we have to embrace technology. We are gradually moving away from the traditional methods of learning where we have to travel from one place to another in search of learning materials and experts.

In e-learning, we were made aware of various applications we could use to acquire notes, and we had to learn how different apps work. When I finally graduate and build my company, all our meetings will be held online to save on time and transport costs.

With online classes, we could easily save our notes online and refer to them whenever we need them. They can’t get lost unlike hand written notes.

One challenge I have encountered with online learning is that some learners use outdated gadgets and systems. Also, some of the systems used for online studies can only accommodate a given number of students at a time. 

Another challenge is that you must have stable connectivity. This locks out students from poor backgrounds, or those living in remote areas from attending the lessons.

For a successful learning session, I would advise one to join the class at least five minutes before the session so that they can have enough time to prepare.

Also, have your learning materials including note books and pens with you. This will help you stay attentive during the entire session, and will minimise distractions.

Mobile phones can easily interrupt your sessions, so it is important to keep it on silent mode and away from your desk.

I hope e-learning can be fully embraced in the future. This will prevent any disruption to the school calendar in case another pandemic comes. 

The systems that universities choose to use for the classes should be user friendly so that every student can participate fully in the programme.

Photo credit: Pool

Doris Darmi Jirma,22
Great Lakes University of Kisumu
Bachelor of Science in Nursing

At first I wasn’t into e-learning. I kept doubting if I could access the applications or even learn how to use them, but Covid-19 forced me to embracing this new method of learning. 

I think e-learning should be embraced in our learning institutions since, unlike he traditional format which requires students to travel to learning institutions, e-learning brings the lectures to us. 

With this method, you can learn anywhere as long as you have a good internet connection. All I need is my phone or laptop.  
The e-learning platforms also grant us a chance to connect and learn with students from other countries. It also helps us save time because you don’t have to move from place to place, and it is not as tiring as physical classes.

Technology, they say, has turned the world into one big village, and that is exactly what e-learning does. As a nurse, I get to learn more outside the syllabus through networking with students from within and outside Kenya.

E-learning platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet grants learners an opportunity to meet virtually. It resembles the traditional classroom, only that learners and instructors do not meet physically. I don’t have any problem with this since I am focused only on learning, and that is exactly what I get.

Since the onset of Covid-19, I have grown to love virtual learning. I prefer it over physical classes.

Just like any other mode of learning, e-learning comes with a number of challenges. Learners must be disciplined and dedicated in order to achieve their goals.

One of the major challenges I face as a student is the urge to explore social media platforms during classes. 

The other challenge is that I don’t always have a constant supply of data. I sometimes lack the money to buy bundles so I attend my lessons at a place with low internet connection and end up missing most of the teachings.

To avoid this, I always try to attend my classes in quiet places, away from friends, and ensure my network connection is uninterrupted.

I would say that where or how we get knowledge should never matter as long as the knowledge is passed, and the learner understands the lesson.

We live in a modern world and should quickly adapt to new technology. We will always have new innovations in the field of education, it is however up to us to choose wisely what will build or break us.

I would say that e-learning is a life changing platform that brings education close to us. We should not be in a hurry to dismiss it but instead look for ways to improve it.

I don’t regret choosing this path because it has made me aware of things I didn’t know. As a student nurse, I easily connect with other students world-wide and learn new things from them.

Photo credit: Pool

Faith Moenga,23
East Africa Institute Of Studies  
Interior design

I am yet to fully adapt to online learning. I think this method lacks a feeling of belonging. I used to struggle to understand the lessons during online sessions, maybe because I was still stuck in the traditional modes of learning. 

But with Covid-19, our institution adopted e-learning to ensure we continued with our classes. It helped to finish the syllabus on time, which is one thing I am proud of.

Access and use of the learning platforms requires one to keenly follow the sessions and ask questions. You can’t do that if you rely on recorded sessions.

While some platforms offer one an opportunity to ask questions directly to the instructor, others only allow the learner to post the question on a chat box, which may delay the response. 

One of the major advantages of e-learning is that it trains the learner to be self-dependent. You have to make the decision to attend the lessons and be attentive for the entire session. Nobody will push you. The recorded lessons are a bonus because you can refer to the lessons whenever you want.  

As students, one of the major challenges we face with online classes is procrastinating the scheduled lessons while hoping to catch up from the recorded sessions.

I also think that some lessons are understood better if one attends physical class, does practicals and gets vivid examples from lecturers.

I would advise online learners to be keen when selecting the venue for their lessons since the learning environment determines the level of distractions and concentration. Avoid noisy places or office settings where you will be required to work on other things. 

Also, most of us believe we can multitask, including attending the online sessions while also handling our social media accounts or chatting with friends. That is a fallacy. 

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