As more students returned to campus for in-person classes, the long-term demand for online learning in Canada needs to be traced for digital learning and strategies to ensure long-term learning, according to the C.D. Howe Institute.
Fatima Alahmair, a first-year student majoring in English, found it challenging to adjust in March 2020 when school suddenly switched to online due to COVID-19.
But nearly three years later, she finds she prefers remote learning rather than attending class in person at the University of Calgary.
“I’m not the biggest fan of it [hybrid learning],” said Alahmair. “I like being able to work at my own pace and, at the same time, in person is good if it’s a more like a writing-focused class or something that needs a teacher.”
Alahmair also pointed out that students shouldn’t be overly concerned about lacking enough knowledge to find a job due to online learning after they graduate. “I don’t think they should take hybrid learning into consideration when hiring. It’s not like students or anyone else had control over that, so they should have had that understanding, and they probably do.” she said.
Hybrid learning, a blend between online and in-person classes, is a long-term trend accelerated by COVID-19—impacting the recent graduation cohort who have been dealing with the uncertain learning style for years.
With the flexibility and the convenience that hybrid learning offers, more students prefer to have classes mixed between online and in-person, according to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario survey.
Roughly 70 per cent people aged 25 and older said the pandemic impacted their learning preferences, while around 77 per cent said they were relatively accepting of online learning.
The program which is practice-oriented would deprive students of opportunities for hands-on experiences to learn with online learning, although it can help students who have more theory-based courses learn efficiently.
Afrida Sayeara, a student who majors in chemistry at the University of Calgary, said chemistry labs play a vital role throughout her program. Nonetheless, due to online learning, all her first-year lab classes were online, making her feel like she was learning everything by herself.
“In-person labs, you can ask the teaching assistance questions. You can collaborate,” said Sayeara. “However, with online labs you’re just all looking at one video, and you have to base your entire lab report on that one video. So yeah, I prefer in person learning.”
As of 2021, Canada had taken 621,565 international students since the pandemic has eased, according to Erudera, an education search platform. But the majority of the students have a hard time coping with hybrid lectures, as they have to deal with potential understanding of the language and getting used to hybrid learning platforms.
“In a classroom, they [international student] might feel freer to put up their hand. The instructor might be able to recognize by their body language that they’re struggling. As we’re online, you’re not necessarily going to see that body language,” said Dean Thompson, chair of the Association of Opticians of Alberta, who also teaches in the optician program.
Thompson also mentioned that there was some plan to eventually have a distance learning in the optician program where they would attend online lectures and and then booked some time to come to the lab.
“The longer-term impact of online/hybrid learning requires study, especially since some pre-pandemic U.S. studies found online delivery hurting both student persistence in PSE [post secondary education] and labour market outcomes,” said Roger Milian, a social scientist who works for Academica Group.
However, none of this is possible in Canada until we start doing a better job of tracking student participation in various course delivery methods and linking that information to outcomes. – Roger Milian
There has been a phenomenon of increased demand for online learning since 2015. From 2018 to 2020, six per cent of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) interviewees preferred online learning, the number climbed to 10 per cent in 2022, according to the report for the UCAS.
Meanwhile, the report outlines a 15-per cent decline in demand for in-person classes, from 71 per cent to 56 per cent, explaining the match of increase for people who choose hybrid and online learning, said Milian.