Adoption of Online Learning in Higher Education

Paper Info
Page count 18
Word count 4964
Read time 19 min
Topic Business
Type Research Paper
Language 🇬🇧 UK


Many businesses around the world are exposed to risks and uncertainties. As a result, institutional managers and directors create risk mitigation strategies that enable business continuity in case of interruptions. These strategies include finding alternatives that would ensure normal business operations or that funds are available for the transition phase. Currently, millions of businesses globally are facing hardships because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to Nicola et al. (2020, pp.2), COVID-19 disease is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Data published by scientists reveal that the virus is transmitted by coming in close contact with an infected person or direct contact with contaminated surfaces. The number of infected people proliferated to over 1.4 million and over 83,000 deaths within a few weeks (Nicola et al., 2020, pp.1). Due to the growing cases of infections, strict measures were put in place that had a direct impact on economic and social activities.

From the onset of the pandemic, worldwide travel restrictions, self-isolation, and self-distancing rules were adopted. These measures forced a decline in economic activities because gatherings were prohibited. Consequently, schools were closed down to prevent the spread of the virus within the institutions and carriage of the disease to other individuals at home. It was estimated that more than 220 million students in China (Wang et al., 2020, pp.945) and over 1.5 billion children worldwide (Nicola, M. et al., 2020, pp.6) are confined in homes. Restricting movements of children to school helped contain the spread of the virus.

However, closing down schools has a varying degree of economic and social impacts. For instance, Nicola, M. et al. (2020) noted that the closure of schools in New York City for four weeks would lead to $1.1 billion in losses. These are estimated costs from the wages lost by teaching and support staff in schools. In the U.K., it was determined that closure would cost 3% of the country’s GDP. Additionally, many research studies and scientific conferences were postponed or cancelled following COVID-19. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown of learning institutions also significantly affected the social life of those students who rely on school-donated meals for survival.

As a result of these severe effects, countries and schools suggested ways that would help the continuity of learning. One of these approaches is online learning, where the students use computing devices and the Internet to access study resources. Growth in technology has facilitated the growth of online courses for higher education. For instance, a study conducted by Pew Research Center (2019) revealed that more than 81% of the United States population use smartphones, while more than half and three quarters own tablets and e-reader devices as well as laptops or desktop computers, respectively. The availability of these devices and Internet services enable learners to access learning materials from web sources or eLearning centres conveniently. However, the shift to online classes was unprecedented, which means learning institutions needed to understand various aspects that would help facilitate a smooth transition. This study reviews some of these factors, which include tools used, implementation, and cost-effectiveness, efficiency and ease of online learning, factors affecting students’ success, as well as recommendations from experts.

Research Methodology

The research method of choice significantly influences the success and effectiveness of a study. Several research questions were used when collecting secondary data used in this review. The questions were: “what tools, resources, and costs of implementing online learning?” “What are factors influencing online learning success in higher education?” and “what challenges do learners and instructors face related to online learning?” Multiple authors have published studies focusing on the adoption of online learning in higher education. Therefore, various measures were adopted to ensure that only relevant articles were reviewed.

The methodology framework adopted in this study was defined by Arksey and O’Malley (2005), which include five stages. The first step involves the identification of research questions. The research identified the relevant queries and search phrases essential in retrieving pertinent studies of the second stage. The keywords included “adoption of online learning in higher education during COVID-19,” “challenges affecting online learning,” “factors influencing success or failure of online studies,” and “cost of implementing online courses.” Search terms were used on Google Scholar, which was the main scientific database, Google that also provided some relevant articles, and ProQuest.

The third stage includes the selection of relevant studies. The search terms identified multiple studies that could have been used in the research. Therefore, search results were limited to the past five years, which helped in reducing the number of reviews. Narrowing down the search terms brought the number of relevant articles needed for the study was 180. Further reading on these articles led to elimination, and the related articles were summarized and reviewed, and their information recorded on the referencing page. Such data include authors, year of publication, the study title, and where it can be found. These articles were analysed because they relate to the study theme, and results are presented in this report, which is the final step of methodology.

Tools, Resources, and Costs of Implementation

The adoption of online learning and training gained popularity because of the growth in technology and increasing challenges associated with the traditional form of education. The rise in web technologies and affordable computing devices significantly enabled learning institutions and corporations to set up online classes that would enhance training. For instance, findings by a study revealed that the estimated global e-learning market would be $655.41 billion by 2023, and the learning management systems (LMS) will grow to 18.84 billion by 2025 (Panigrahi, Srivastava, and Sharma, 2018, pp.1). Online learning offers flexibility, networking opportunities, and bridges distance challenges for learners willing to access education.

The benefits derived from the adoption of online learning are many, but they mainly depend on various factors. The ease of use of the LMS, interactivity, feedback, and student engagement plays a significant role in the success of e-learning. Panigrahi, Srivastava, and Sharma (2018) argued that organizations spend a lot of money on staff training and infrastructure intending to gain optimum benefits from online learning. However, some institutions had little time to prepare for the adoption of online classes. Therefore, such institutions adopted the readily available tools that would facilitate learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Crawford et al. (2020) observed that the British University in Cairo uses Microsoft Class Notes, Moodle, and Microsoft Teams in online learning. Other tools adopted by teaching institutions include Blackboard, email, Moodle, and Zoom. Some schools were already using most of the identified tools before the coronavirus outbreak.

LMS is considered effective in minimizing both the administration and training costs. Therefore, most schools have adopted different types of LMS because the prices are mainly one-off or monthly fee charged for hosting learning materials. In fact, Fathema, Shannon, and Ross (2015) revealed that 99% of higher learning institutions have LMS in place, but they are usually underutilized. The adoption of LMS is mainly influenced by the technology acceptance model (TAM), which is based primarily on an individual’s attitudes towards a given technology. Nonetheless, LMS provides institutions with functionalities and tools such as online group chats and discussions, course management tools, PowerPoint and document access, video clips, course evaluations and grading, and student monitoring and performance tools.

There are two types of LMS available to users in the market; open source and proprietary systems. According to Yilmaz and Ülker (2016), proprietary LMS are restricted from distribution as they are licensed under exclusive rights with closed-source. In contrast, open-source LMS guarantees the freedom to share or modify the codes to suit one’s needs. The licensing costs vary depending on the vendor, which can also limit the number of users, courses offered, and validity period. Some examples of proprietary LMS include Litmos, LearnUpon, and TalentLMS (Cujgba, 2020). These systems offer customizable pricing for institutions offering more than 1000 students. Key features include assessment and testing technologies, student tracking, audio/video conferencing tools, chat tools, customizable user interfaces, and unlimited courses. On the other hand, open sources LMS examples include Sakai, Canvas, Open edX, and Moodle (Cujgba, 2020). In most cases, the basic features offered by open-source systems are free, but charges apply for advanced functionalities. Additionally, the number of students and courses hosted on free services like Canvas is limited. The security in open-source systems is not assured, and organizations are encouraged to take certain measures to secure data, whereas closed-systems vendors guarantee data security. Therefore, schools should consider such issues when choosing the LMS to adopt for online classes.

In addition to LMS, other services are required to host an online course successfully. They include content creation, graphic designs, course management, quality assessment, and technical support. According to Movchan (2020), the cost for these services depends on the instructional design model chosen to implement a course. An example is the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) model. The costs calculated by Movchan (2020) noted that for one-hour course content, the analysis stage costs roughly $600-3600, design phase about $300-1050+, development price range $480-3600+, and implementation ranges $600-1600+. These prices vary depending on course needs such as shooting and editing videos, designing tasks and lecture visual content, and project management teams involved. On average, the costs of developing an hour of an online course is about $10,000 (Movchan, 2020). However, the cost increases as more features such as media richness are integrated into a class.

Besides, there are also web-based video conferencing tools used to facilitate learning. An example is Zoom described by Chawla (2020) as a tool with local, desktop, and mobile access that allows people to meet with or without video. This tool gives users an option to record, collaborate on projects, and share one another’s screens. Further, Zoom is supported by a wide range of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Mac and iOS, Zoom Rooms, and Blackberry (Chawla, 2020). Zoom gained popularity during the coronavirus pandemic because it offers free sessions for up to 100 users with a limited session of 40 minutes. In addition, users can access more features for a monthly fee ranging from $15-20. There are other tools accessible to users for web conferencing, including Teamviewer, Cisco Webx, Polycom Education, GoToMeeting, and Skype for Business (Al-Samarraie, 2019; Chick et al., 2020). Most of these communication tools are accessible using mobile or desktop, which makes them essential for higher learning. The cost of each tool differs depending on the features offered and vendor’s market share.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, multiple tech companies have come up with new products and offers that facilitate learning. For instance, most campuses before COVID-19 were utilizing Microsoft Office for scheduling, collaboration, and submission of assignments. However, the company has added another feature that allows free integration with GoToMeeting and Zoom (Thomas, 2020). Such changes boost collaboration and video-meeting for classes. In addition, students and teachers can use Microsoft Teams to share files and organize conversations easily. Cisco WebEx probably has the capability to host many users at a time compared to other systems. According to Thomas (2020), Cisco WebEx supports webinars with up to 3,000 users and 40,000 streams. It has introduced free services for up to 100 users with no time limitation. The competitive prices and free services offered by these vendors have facilitated learning during this period. Additionally, the wide range of options available to users has enabled students and teachers to pick the collaboration tool they find convenient.

Factors Affecting Students’ Success and Effectiveness of Online Learning

Online learning also mainly relies on students’ capabilities to undertake and succeed in a course. The growing popularity of online learning in this period leads to one fundamental question; what are the factors that impact student success in online courses? As some research studies have noted, there are high attrition rates in online classes, which significantly influences the growth and success of these programs (Bawa, 2016, pp.1). Therefore, researchers, professors, and instructional designers, need to understand some of these factors when adopting online learning systems in higher education. The effectiveness of online classes depends on how well these factors are addressed during the design, development, and implementation phases. Learners’ success rate on online courses is influenced by personal or external factors. Instructional designers mainly consider these factors when creating visual appeal for the course. Instructors should also consider working with experts in learning how to create appealing and interactive classes. In this section, both personal and external factors are reviewed.

First, the level of motivation, self-drive, and determination influences the success of learning outcomes. Generally, motivation is seen as the desire an individual has towards something that impacts the success or failure. According to Eom and Ashill (2016), there are two forms of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when an individual conducts activities for inherent satisfaction or enjoyment. In contrast, extrinsic motivation occurs when people perform activities for the sole reason of attaining a specific goal, like earn a reward (Eom and Ashill, 2016, pp.191). Intrinsic motivation is desirable in online learning because it drives the students to do their best, especially because they are not monitored as in the traditional classroom. Researchers noted that motivation influences student’s performance, satisfaction with the course and is used to predict the students’ persistence with a class (Vanslambrouck et al., 2018, pp.34). When starting an online course, learners have different goals they would want to achieve at the end of a program. Starting an online course because of the desire/need to improve their skills or face a new challenge is an example of intrinsic motivation. Conversely, starting a course because of a promised promotion or getting a certificate is an example of extrinsic—and in most cases, such learners give up once the guaranteed opportunity is gone. Therefore, teachers and instructors should find an enjoyable and fun way to teach online classes to boost students’ motivation and the desire to succeed.

Some students do well in online classes compared to traditional courses. Perhaps the differences in performance between the two approaches are influenced by student’s attributes and perceptions towards each method of learning. By design, the learning responsibility in an online learning environment is heavily placed on the students. Furthermore, students have varied personal attributes and skills, which mainly influence the success rate of a student. For example, a study by Kauffman (2015, pp.7) opined that students with greater emotional intelligence features such as self-awareness, self-regulation, time management, internal locus of control, planning, and adequate management of feelings do perform better in online courses. Conversely, the author noted that students known to have a negative perception towards online classes are easily irritated or frustrated, which increases their likelihood of dropping the class or perform poorly. Therefore, it is clear that personal traits and skills influence student’s understanding of the problems, control, and tolerance, which forms the necessary skills for success or failure. Furthermore, students’ attributes can be improved through a combination of authentic learning principals and course activities.

As noted, students’ learning behaviours also influence the performance of online classes. A study by Rai and Chunrao (2016) grouped learners into five categories, which include viewers, solvers, all-rounders, collectors, and bystanders. These learners behave differently despite having equal access to learning materials, and that determines the variance in grades. The researchers noted that collectors and viewers record lower scores in online classes than other types of learners. This is because viewers focus more on exploring the learning materials than the actual study and understanding of the content. In contrast, the collectors find learning materials for storing in case they need them in the future instead of actively using these resources. Additionally, Rai and Chunrao (2016, pp.263) noted that self-motivation, high difficulty level, lack of human support, and poor discipline, and learning by doing the minimum also contributes to failure in online classes. Therefore, instructors should include ways that would help the students participate more in learning.

Online courses have a collection of various artefacts such as PowerPoint, videos, books, and audio. What each student does with the provided materials is up to them, but it significantly affects their performance. Therefore, students who are disciplined enough to study the offered online reading materials perform better in the program as opposed to the students who focus more on preserving the content. Moreover, a study by Stockwell et al. (2015, pp.936) and Palvia et al. (2018) noted that blended learning, such as the combination of videos asking students to actively solve provided problems than passively listening to lectures, and asking students to apply learned concepts in new areas helped in boosting participation and learning. As a result, learners should be active and engaged to boost performance in online classes.

The ease of use, interactivity, and the overall appearance of the online course influence perceived user satisfaction and learning outcomes. As already noted, there are different types of learners, and they each prefer different learning methods. In most cases, students perform better when the teaching methods and course designs match their learning approach (Eom and Ashill, 2016, 188). Designing an online class is an intricate process, and instructors should put into consideration the learners’ traits. Additionally, the instructors should focus on research to learn about their learners, which would enable them to deliver student-centered content. As noted in Eom and Ashill (2016, pp.196), the desire to study in an online course is influenced by how the course materials are organized, especially the use of logical and understandable components. Therefore, a well-designed course design would positively impact user satisfaction that in turn, would improve learning outcomes. As a result, teachers, instructors, and administrators should focus on offering online courses with well-defined objectives, resources, and intended learning outcomes that support students’ engagement and improve performance.

The course design and teaching delivery methods influence student’s performance in online learning. As noted by Chen (2016, pp.303), failing to implement a good design in online classes disrupts learning process, especially when the students lack knowledge on where to start learning, what to do at any given time, how to approach study materials, and when and how to communicate. It is even worse for students trying to adapt to new technology. Providing unambiguous learning activities eliminates obstacles students’ might encounter in online classes, thus boosting user satisfaction. A well-designed course entails a better organization and presentation of the learning materials, clearly defined learning objectives and assessments, provisions of interpersonal interactions, and incorporation of the appropriate technology (Jaggars and Xu, 2016). The authors noted that learning objectives, appropriate techniques, and well-organized courses are desirable in a program, but they have an insignificant impact on learning outcomes.

On the other hand, interpersonal communications, especially frequent instructor-student interaction within the course, significantly improved students’ grades (Jaggars and Xu, 2016, pp.26). These findings are in line with results from Eom and Ashill’s (2016) study that noted well-organized courses are desirable online course design features. Ineffective collaboration in online classes negatively impacts the performance of the students. As a result, instructors and teachers should focus on using the available instructional design models that accommodate students’ needs and improves the delivery of course content.

Interaction and engagement are essential in boosting learning. However, eLearning is designed to be physically isolating, which might impact motivation, engagement, and satisfaction in learning. The success of traditional classes is mainly influenced by instructor-student and student-student interactions (Stockwell et al., 2015, pp.933). Based on these descriptions, it is clear that online classes might be an ineffective learning method, especially when such interactions are not incorporated. Some researchers have focused on finding ways of replacing or supplementing the lack of these relations. A study by Glazier (2016) noted that one way of offsetting the isolation students might feel during online classes is through building a rapport. Building a rapport with the students makes them feel that the instructor is engaged and accessible, which boosts a positive perception of the class.

There are several ways students and teachers can increase engagement, as found by researchers. One, the instructor should consider introducing discussions, live chat, and feedback. Such strategies improve collaboration between learners and teachers, thus significantly improving class satisfaction and engagement. Instructors should also learn something about their students, make eye contact during a presentation, and greet students warmly, as well as incorporating engaging activities in the classroom. Further, professors should provide regular announcements that intended to engage students or including a grading rubric for the assignments. Additionally, students should set reminders for assignment delivery that can help them remain active in class. Building and increasing engagement in online courses boost motivation as well as user satisfaction, which are positively linked to performance.

Challenges Facing the Adoption of Online Learning

Despite the seemingly many benefits associated with online learning, some notable challenges significantly influence performance and effectiveness. Limited interactivity is one main challenge experienced by students and teachers in online classes. In many of the available video and web-conferencing tools, only one person is allowed to speak at a time. As a result, members are expected to take turns when giving their views and might lead to back channelling difficulties and interruptions (Al-Samarraie, 2019). In such cases, students find it challenging to contribute to audio or video discussions, and might negatively impact their satisfaction levels. The interruptions might also increase misunderstandings among class members because of the uncertainty that exists when using online learning tools.

Online learning relies on technology for smooth operations, which can create some technical challenges. According to Al-Samarraie (2019), instructors and students might experience problems like technical setup and bandwidth stability. When setting up a presentation workstation, most people have a limited understanding of technical issues, especially when it comes to setting up cameras, microphones, and presentation materials needed for a class. Bandwidth indicates the amount of information that can be transmitted along with a carrier per second, depending on the application. Primarily, it is easier to transmit textual information than videos, moving pictures, and sound. Consequently, learners need access to high-speed Internet to view learning materials in real-time. However, the number of users around the world with access to high-speed is limited, which negatively affects the quality of audio and visual communication. Users are likely to experience lagging videos or breaking voices during the presentation, thus affecting the quality of teaching and learning.

Technical difficulties increase the likelihood of learners’ interruptions. Time delays and buffering interrupts the learning process. These issues make it difficult for the learners to focus or concentrate in the class, especially when the speaker is not visible on screen (Al-Samarraie, 2019). Additionally, users are likely to talk over others when raising issues affecting their learning, which increases cases of noises during the presentation. Furthermore, there might exist background noises from multiple students with no knowledge of turning off a microphone when listening to an instructor that also disrupts learning.

One other common problem is the unequal distribution of resources essential for accessing online courses. According to data collected by the U.N., only 47% of people in developing countries had access to Internet services before the coronavirus outbreak (UNESCO, 2020). This number is in comparison to 86% of people in developed countries. Additionally, access to computing devices that support learning materials is limited in developing countries. Such factors influence learning because most of the students in developing countries lag behind. Moreover, there are students in developed countries without stable Internet connections or learning resources, which might limit their access to online classes. For instance, UNESCO (2020) noted that 25% of families in Italy lack access to a broadband connection. Students with disabilities should also be considered under unequal opportunities. Normally, such students find it difficult to access physical classes, and the same is witnessed in online learning. The learning resources and tools lack the essential features that would support students with eyesight, hearing, or other impairments. As a result, the students might fail to meet their academic obligations.

Like many other programs shared through the Internet, online learners face cybersecurity risks. Learners and instructors interact via shared links available on the web, which can be accessed by unauthorized or malicious outsiders who disrupt classes. For instance, Chawla (2020) noted that cybersecurity risks increased by 82.5%, especially now that many people are using the Internet. In the recent period, multiple Zoom accounts were compromised that were later used to broadcast malicious messages in meetings. Cases of users posting racial slurs and pornographic videos on Zoom meetings were also high. Many countries and organizations such as Google, Singapore, Taiwan, and Pentagon have banned Zoom because of privacy risks (Chawla, 2020). However, Zoom developers mitigated this problem by issuing an access code that means only allowed people can join a meeting. Nonetheless, users still need to check out for unauthorized access because the access code might fall to the wrong hands.

Teachers and instructors have to update and modify teaching techniques to accommodate new changes regularly. As observed earlier, an hour of online class might cost approximately $10,000, which means that such courses are expensive, especially when operating with a limited budget. However, teachers are required to modify these learning materials and techniques to accommodate new students or when shifting from one platform to another. Such an approach adds financial strain on institutions and teachers who dedicate their time to creating these resources. Additionally, changing from a traditional learning approach to online classes within such a short period is disruptive and distracting for students. Students who were used to attending classroom-based learning might find it difficult to adjust to new ways of learning, which negatively impacts the effectiveness of online learning. Also, the institutions incur additional costs of transforming learning materials into ones adopt in online lessons. Such charges include hiring project managers, instructional designers, and other experts needed in designing user-friendly LMSs and quality courses.

Recommendations and Conclusion

The findings and reviews gained from this report have certain practical implications in the field of online courses. First, instructors and professors learn some of the factors that influence student success and the effectiveness of online studies. With such knowledge, instructors and educational institutions are more likely to develop courses that call for students’ engagement and interactivity. Some of the recommended measures schools should include hiring visual creators, instructional designers, and experts to design classes that suit learners’ needs and attributes. The lectures should also aim to deliver learning in an enjoyable manner, which includes creating a rapport and learning simple things about your students. Doing such would create a positive engagement that is linked to success in class.

Additionally, the study recommends that higher learning institutions adopt online platforms that support equality. This statement means that learners with disabilities have the same access as abled students. For instance, the instructors should use a blended learning approach for students with disabilities, which can include delivering learning through the use of web videoconferencing to improve interactivity. Furthermore, for every written text, the teachers should provide an audio file that learners can use with assisted listening software, among others. Also, teachers should be more flexible on how they assign deadlines by avoiding a one-fits-all strategy. As such, the instructors can allow students with accessibility issues or learning challenges to deliver assignments within their own pace. Also, where possible, teaching institutions can liaise with well-wishers and Internet service providers to ensure that all students have access to the Internet that can boost learning. Finally, students might need to reevaluate their approach towards online classes and adopt attitudes that help in boosting satisfaction and motivation, which significantly influence the performance in those courses.

In conclusion, the evidence reviewed in this study reveals that higher learning institutions should consider various factors when adopting online learning platforms. First, the study noted there is a wide range of learning tools and resources that each contains multiple advantages and disadvantages. These tools are open-source or proprietary. In cases of learning, it was evident that proprietary resources, especially LMS tools, are more viable because institutions usually serve a high number of users. However, these tools can be supplemented using interactive and web videoconferencing tools such as Cisco WebEx and Zoom. In the coronavirus period, most companies have adopted measures that support learning by providing free services, which schools and students should use to their advantage.

In addition, teachers should consider the factors that influence the effectiveness of online courses during the design and development process. The materials reviewed noted that both personal and external factors influence student success in online studies. The personal factors focused on issues like individual behaviours and attributes, such as motivation, discipline, time management, discipline, and method of learning. These factors influence the students’ perception of a class, which is further linked to the satisfaction level and performance. The study found that a positive impression towards a course increases student’s desire to work harder in class, consulting with the instructor and students, as well as going the extra mile to meet the course demands. Students take more responsibility in their own learning by working harder and actively participating in in-class activities, leading to better performance.

External factors identified instructor-student rapport and course design features as paramount in influencing learners’ success. The studies reviewed in this paper revealed that well-designed courses should have clearly defined objectives and activities, where students understand where to start learning process, what to do at a given time, and how to communicate with others/instructors. While these factors were identified as desirable in an online class, some researchers indicated that they have an insignificant impact on student performance. However, they were listed as particularly important to eliminate confusion that might frustrate students’ desire to study. Improved student-to-student and instructor-to-student engagement were also positively linked to increased performance. Incorporating these factors will reduce students’ high attrition rates in online learning and would benefit a school in the long term as they would get a better return on investment.

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