The paradigm shift towards online learning during Covid-19 pandemic: an assessment of the attitudes on the learning practices among University of Zambia pharmacy students | BMC Medical Education

The paradigm shift towards online learning during Covid-19 pandemic: an assessment of the attitudes on the learning practices among University of Zambia pharmacy students | BMC Medical Education

During the COVID-19 epidemic, nearly all educational institutions used distance learning globally, including Zambia [19,20,21]. The effectiveness of the distance learning process depends on several factors, including the speed and quality of the internet, the accessibility of online resources, the availability of adequate infrastructure in academic institutions, and the readiness of both teachers and students to adopt this technology [22,23,24]. This study, therefore, explored pharmacy students’ attitudes toward online learning based on their experience with online learning activities during the pandemic.

Due to their flexibility and ease of carrying, this study found that smartphones became popular online learning gadgets compared to laptops and computers amid the pandemic. Our finding is similar to findings of a study conducted in India [17]. In addition, a study conducted in Ghana found that smartphones are popular because learning can take place anywhere and anytime [25]. Most of the respondents in the present study used mobile data (84.7%) as a source of the internet rather than Wi-Fi, a situation experienced among students in India [26]. Conversely, a study in Nepal reported that most of the students used Wi-Fi for their online learning [27]. We argue that while smartphones are popular and flexible in terms of use, their cost could have limited students from poor backgrounds to effectively participate in online learning. In addition, the high cost of internet connectivity remains a significant issue confronting online learning in countries such as Zambia [28].

The effectiveness of online learning against traditional face-to-face

Our study revealed that more than half (58.3%) of respondents found online learning less effective than traditional face-to-face learning. Additionally, 50.8% and 59.9% of the respondents felt that traditional face-to-face learning increased knowledge and skills more than online learning respectively. This study’s findings are comparable with those of studies conducted in Nepal and India [29, 30]. The reason could be that the students are more used to traditional learning styles and that pharmacy requires task completion through practical application. Students were more satisfied with lectures than with online learning, according to another review that evaluated the use of online learning tools in nursing schools [31]. According to a Taiwanese study, face-to-face instruction was deemed superior to online learning regarding all students’ social interaction, contentment, and presence among the lecturers and students [32]. In contrast to the finding of our study, a study showed that online learning is equivalent to traditional learning in terms of academic context [33]. Other studies conducted on students in India favoured using a mixture of face-to-face and online learning [30]. We also argue that the favor for traditional face-to-face learning was because Covid-19 led to an abrupt introduction of online learning, and it was difficult for students and lecturers to adapt easily. Further, institutions of learning were also caught off guard. Despite the preference of face-to-face learning over online learning, most of the respondent in the current supported the use of online learning education, arguing that it is novel and must be promoted.

Students’ attitude toward the perceived usefulness of online learning amid the Covid-19

According to this study, the majority (72.7%) of the respondents had a negative perception of the usefulness of online learning, and 46.3% of them stated that it could not solve many educational problems, even though the majority (97.1%) of them participated in online learning. Similar findings as the preceding were reported in Pakistan [34]. However, this is in contrast to the findings of other studies, which found positive perceptions of the usefulness of online learning [17, 35]. The main finding of one study conducted in Sri Lanka revealed that attitudes towards online learning are determined by perceived usefulness and perceived student participation [36]. Although the majority had a negative perception of the usefulness of online learning in this study, most acknowledged that it helped them save time. This finding is similar to the finding of the study done in Nepal [17]. It is surprising, however, that one study done in China showed that perceived usefulness does not determine the intention to use an online learning system. Therefore, there is a need for future studies to explore more factors that influence the use of online learning.

Students’ attitude toward the intention to adapt to online learning during Covid-19

Regarding the intention to adapt online learning, 45.9% of respondents disputed that they were not interested in using online learning, and 58.6% of the students expressed a desire to modify and adapt online learning. This is lower than what was reported in Albania, Nepal, and Pakistan, where 52.5%, 85%, and 100% of students, respectively, wished to adapt to online learning in the near future [17, 35, 37]. The lack of resources to support online learning infrastructure and the high negative attitude noted in the current study, could have influenced the low intention to adapt to online learning in this study. The student’s ability to adjust to the online learning approach, depends on their level of awareness, familiarity with information technology, and willingness to participate [38]. Therefore, increasing awareness of the use of technology must be the focus of higher Education to improve adaptability to online learning.

Students’ perceptions of the ease with which they can use online learning

Concerning the ease of use of online learning, the majority of respondents provided satisfactory answers that it was easy to learn online. When asked whether utilising an online course was more challenging than using a library, 64.4% of respondents in this survey disagreed. This is considerably higher than what was reported in Nepal, where 45.5% of respondents found utilising online learning to be simpler than using a library [17]. In the current study, 40.9% of the respondents disagreed that technology would eventually enslave them. This is in line with the study, which also revealed that 38.8% of the respondents dispelled the assertion that technology would eventually enslave them. This is encouraging considering that the majority of the participants in our study were willing to adopt the technology of online learning.

Technical assistance toward online learning

Scholarship reveals that providing online learning training support is critical for students to implement online learning successfully [39]. In our study, 43.4% of respondents indicated that the institution supported a training program for online learning. This contrasts with what was reported in Nepal, where most respondents had a neutral attitude toward technical assistance [18]. In the current study, 58% of respondents disagreed when asked whether the institute had enough technology for online learning. According to a study conducted in Australia, access to technology was one of the challenges higher education institutions faced when switching to online learning [40]. Therefore, upgrading and having enough technology to support online learning at UNZA is essential to ensuring its success.

Learning stressors while using online learning

In this study, 48% of the respondents said they were not anxiously worried about their capacity to use online learning. However, 79% of respondents claimed that a slow internet connection contributed to increased stress, and 36.7% said that their teachers forced them to use online learning. This finding is in line with what was observed in Nepal [17]. A good number of studies have shown that the use of distance learning, remote teaching, and the general social turmoil during COVID-19 negatively impacted adolescents’ mental health [41, 42]. This study’s findings offer the university authorities a meaningful opportunity to improve internet services to lessen stress and other psychological problems during online learning. Instead of forcing students to use online learning, institutions should review the mechanisms, methods, and practices used to deliver their online courses and programs.

Distant use of online learning

The usage of social media and distance learning for communication and education has increased because of COVID-19 [43]. In the current study, 49% of respondents disagreed with using online learning to reach students living in rural areas. This could be attributed to the high preference for face-to-face learning noted in this study. In contrast, a study found that 68.3% of respondents supported using online learning to reach students who live in remote areas [17]. Both achievement and learning are enhanced by distance education. The ability to learn at any time and from any location makes distance learning advantageous. For students, staying at home during pandemics is safer and less stressful [44]. However, we argue that, while there was a little option given the situation, online learning in most remote areas of some countries, such as Zambia, can be constrained by poor internet access and constant power outages or completely lack of electricity facilities.

The overall attitude of respondents regarding online learning

Overall, only 38% of the students in this study had a positive attitude toward online learning. This is much lower than what was reported (43% in Iran, 54.1% in Nepal, and 77% in Pakistan) [17, 34, 45, 46]. Other studies in India and Jordan reported 30.8% and 26.8% positive attitudes toward e-learning, respectively [30, 47]. The lower levels of positive attitude towards online learning in our study can be attributed to poor internet connectivity and a lack of efficient devices used by students during online learning. Therefore, the UNZA should improve the quality of online Education and implement clear guidelines if student behavior towards online learning needs to be improved.

Factors associated with an attitude toward online learning

The literature reviewed shows that factors associated with an attitude towards online learning vary according to the institution and country. In this study, no socio-demographic characteristics (age, employment status, residence, year of study, and internet source) significantly influenced respondents’ attitudes about online learning. This is supported by the findings of other studies conducted in West Bengal and Nepal [18, 47]. One study discovered that male students preferred online learning to female students. Another study found that male students significantly favoured online learning than female students [48]. Gender, place of residence, level of education, and previous experience were found by one study to have a relationship with students’ attitude toward and online learning [49].

Barriers to online learning

The most frequently cited barriers to online learning by respondents in our study were the cost of the internet, a lack of institutional support, unreliable or no internet, and limited access to devices (laptops and smartphones). This finding is supported by research that identified unreliable internet as one of the major barriers to online learning [48-50]. Other studies cited the cost of the internet and lack of access to laptops and smartphones as the most frequent barriers to e-learning [49, 51]. It can be suggested that investment in affordable internet services is one way of easing the challenges associated with online learning, in addition to the provision of soft loan schemes for gadgets such as laptops and smartphones for students.

Limitations of the study

Conducting this study in a single discipline with a specific target group (“the pharmacy students”) is considered a study limitation that could hinder the generalisation of the findings.

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