Student Access to and Competence in Migrating to a Fully Online Open Distance Learning Space
This article aimed to explore student perceptions and experiences of migrating to a fully online mode during COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the mode of delivery from face-to-face or blended learning to fully distance learning. The introduction of the Disaster Management Act (2020) in South Africa forced all institutions of learning to close their doors and move to teaching and learning online. We, therefore, needed to investigate whether the students at an Open Distance Learning (ODL) institution had access to the necessary devices and to see how they responded to fully online learning. Subsequently, this prompted a need to investigate student access to and competence in online learning in a fully ODL space during COVID-19. Since COVID-19 is a recent occurrence, little is known about how students experienced a (forced) move to fully online learning. In South Africa specifically, much less is known about fully online learning.
The structured web-based survey was sent to all registered Bachelor of Education and Postgraduate Certificate in Education students. The structured questionnaire asking questions about students’ access to devices and their experiences of learning in a fully online mode, was administrated through Google Survey forms. There were 2,858 responses received. Descriptive statistics and exploratory factor analysis were used to uncover findings.
This paper sets out student teachers’ experiences of learning in a fully online mode during COVID-19 in a developing country such as South Africa. These experiences as representative of the global South, are previously unknown to scholars and can assist in designing future fully online programs in this context.
Access to affordable data is an obstacle for students to access the learning management system. Students felt that the university took a long time to distribute laptops and also indicated that they lacked a suitable and stable internet connection. The digital divide was made more apparent and significant during COVID-19 although students indicated that they did develop necessary digital competencies.
Practitioners in Open Distance Learning should understand students’ context regarding access to tools and connectivity when designing courses.
Researchers should explore theoretical framings to understand issues related to online education when access to tools and connectivity is limited.
The digital divide was exacerbated by COVID-19. Students and communities need support to move to online modes of engagement.
More studies of a qualitative and mixed-method nature should be conducted to fully understand student teachers’ context and challenges with online learning. Further research that includes student responses using non-digital means needs to be explored.