Focus Group Study Research- Effectiveness of Online Learning

The Internet and the World Wide Web have affected nearly every area of our lives, from the global economy to personal and professional networks to information, news, and education. Online learning is now possible thanks to the Internet, and many researchers and educators are interested in using it to enhance and strengthen student learning outcomes. Furthermore, students from all walks of life have raised their appetite for online learning. The word ‘Distance Learning’ is often used to refer to ‘Online Learning’. Distance learning is a form of education in which the teacher and students are separated by time and geography. In a broader sense, online learning refers to any form of learning that takes place on a computer or laptop. This allows for education to be obtained seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, and it reaches a larger number of students at the same time. However, online learning environments have drawbacks such as impeding individuals’ socialization processes, a lack of adequate acknowledgement between the instructor and the learner, and communication barriers among learners. These drawbacks have prompted a quest for new learning environments that incorporate the benefits of both online learning and conventional learning methods.

A focus group research is a deliberately organized series of discussions aimed at collecting opinions on a particular subject. Focus groups are widely used because they save time and money as opposed to individual interviews. In addition to these practical advantages, group interviews enable participants to explore collectively unarticulated normative assumptions, offering insight into complex motivations and behaviors. Focus group engagement can generate a complex synergy that is not present in individual interviews. The fact that participants both question and justify themselves to each other makes focus group discussions exceed the number of separate individual interviews.

BENEFITS OF ONLINE LEARNING

The efficacy in educating students, its use as career growth, its cost-effectiveness in combating rising post secondary education costs, credit equivalency at the post secondary level, and the ability to provide a world-class education to anyone with a broadband link are only a few of the most significant benefits of the online learning. The post secondary education sector has gotten the most recognition for online learning. The value of a post secondary degree and the increasing cost of post secondary education are well known in the literature. The earnings difference between high school graduates and college graduates is widening. Simultaneously, college tuition costs are rising above the inflation, reciprocating the student loan debt. Many academics and educators agree that online learning can help to combat increasing post secondary education costs by spreading the expense of a class through a much greater number of students than traditional classrooms. Furthermore, in an online environment, a student’s marginal cost is negligible in comparison to a conventional setting, which is limited by a variety of factors such as the size and availability of the physical classroom.

The requisite credits for a post secondary degree are inextricably linked to this problem of cost and post secondary education. Traditionally, students must receive the majority of their college credits at a particular institution before receiving a bachelor’s degree from that institution. The point of contention is how online courses can be used to grant credits or certificates, and many educators see this as a win-win scenario. The objectives of this project are to improve graduation rates, minimize time to degree completion, lower post secondary education costs, and provide more access to non-traditional students.

As long as they have access to the Internet, online learning would be able to offer world-class education to anybody, anytime, and at any time. This is the foundation of a variety of websites and businesses, including Khan Academy, Edx, Udemy, and Coursera, to name a few who provide a large number of online courses.

RESEARCH PROJECT

To know the effectiveness of online learning, a focus group study was conducted by SpiderG. In the focus group study, 70 participants were called to know their viewpoints. Participants consisted of 30 teachers and 40 students. The focus group study happened via Google Meet. The participants were asked various questions to know their opinions. Questions were based on devices, mental and physical health, feasible in terms of time and place, peer-peer interaction, student-teacher interaction and so on. The viewpoint of each participant was taken into account to know about the findings.

THE FINDINGS

Improved learning as measured by test scores, student interaction with class content, a better understanding of learning and the online format, a greater sense of community among students, and a decrease in withdrawal or failure are some of the positive learning outcomes. Regardless of context characteristics, student learning results for online learners were as good as or even better than conventional learners, and students were really happy with their online education.

For Example, adjusting for sample selection bias, test scores for online format students were four points higher than for traditional format students in a study comparing learning results for students who self-selected into the online format for a particular course. Students and teachers both use a laptop or mobile. But some students bought laptops specifically for online learning. It was not cost-effective for those who had to buy a laptop exclusively for it, but for those who had to study outside of their hometowns, they saved a lot of money on accommodation, hostel fees, and other expenses. The online course was discovered to have cost savings and efficiency benefits over time. Furthermore, as new technologies and applications for online learning are developed and tested regularly, these learning improvements and cost savings are expected to grow.

According to 70% of the participants, for both students and teachers, online learning is feasible in terms of time and place. Because students can study from where ever they are from the comfort of their home at any time as they get recorded lectures. So, it is accessible at any time and place. For the teachers also, it is economical in terms of time management. It also reduces your financial costs.  However, a different point of view came in. Participants agreed to what people have told here that ‘the places are sorted according to the convenience’. But, a child gets distracted very easily.

For example: It is a morning class, people are roaming around attracting the child’s focus. He’s looking at his mother, there are people in the background which makes it even more difficult to make him focus on one thing. Professor wants to add his perception in this case. He works for a social organization, an NGO and had been working with kids who live in a low-income community. He teaches a bunch of 6th graders and part of his teachers for the Teach India Fellowship Program. So according to him, online learning for them not only be a challenge for them but also be very difficult for them. There is only one device for a family of 4-6 siblings. Then the problem is how to use that? If there is a recharge, it is just 1GB. If one is attending the online class then what about the others.

There are many problems faced by low – income communities and online learning is very difficult in such communities. Professor shared one example, Inhis School there are around 200 students and Teach For India distributed the devices. We gave the tab to each one of the students but before they got those tabs, it was difficult for families to just get basic amenities. Just food and paper was also very difficult to get. It was very challenging. Then we give food to them.It was very challenging for all the teachers especially for those who are teaching to low-income communities. Now, let’s say we have given them the devices, we have also done their recharge. But, now the places that they live in are the areas where the network is very, very bad! Now when he is teaching and kids are responding we are not able to understand anything. Your voice is breaking. Then just imagine how the professor is going to plan for such a class where after every sort of content piece he doesn’t know how many times he is going to repeat. Every kid says sir problem is from your side. Your voice is cracking. They will not understand the internet issue from their side. So for some part of the country, online learning is beneficial but from the other part of the country, online learning is creating massive problems.

Some students find it difficult in concentrating on the sessions because they are not much interactive because of the disturbance. With practice, I think chalk n talk is the best one, interactive one.

According to teachers, most of the students learn more when they are in the company of their peers like the school and atmosphere they miss. While learning in the home they miss all the atmosphere of the school. They feel a sense of isolation. Also, they feel difficulty concentrating on the lecture. They feel bored while listening just seeing the screen and listening to the lecture. Even they got recorded lectures still they don’t find interested in seeing it again and again because of a sense of school atmosphere, the college atmosphere is not there. There is no peer-peer interaction. Student-Teacher interaction is also missing. Some students agree with this fact that they miss sitting with their friends and attending lectures. This feels they don’t get in the online lectures. They just feel that they are watching a video and learning from a video. Though the teachers make their best to make it interactive as much as possible. A personal connection cannot be there as that was in the traditional mode of learning.

Personal connection is missing especially for those young graduates who have started working. They lack skills in relationship building. They don’t know how to approach and ask for help. It is very difficult for them.

According to the participants, Online Learning is partially economical. For those students who had to go outside to study and had to pay hostel rent for them online learning is economical in terms of cost. Even those students who have college at a distance of 1-2 hours also prefer online learning. According to them, the online set is working for them as their traveling time is saved and they get more time to concentrate on the assignments and studies.

Online Learning is causing a huge effect on health- both mentally and physically- negatively. All the participants agree that online learning is affecting their health. Keep sitting, watching videos and doing no physical exercise is affecting the health. Eyesight is mostly affected. Some people told that they don’t even take 200 steps or 100 steps per day because they are just sitting in the same place. They are not moving and this is leading to a lot of health issues. Sometimes they don’t even know about the weather outside and they are just sitting in a room. Some students told they even sometimes skip their food because they have back to back sessions. Mental health like stress and anxiety is increasing day by day. The major problems with mental health are that we are stuck in a scenario that we don’t know that when my laptop will get hang. My internet is not working sometimes. Important stuff with mental health is also associated with relation to deadlines. The teachers do not understand that students have to sit after their classes and had to complete the assignment. So sitting time, screen time, everything is hampering the mental health as well.

Different opinions came on the quality of online educating students and traditional educating students. According to Professor, there is no difference between the quality of online educating students and traditional education students. Learning always depends on how much you know and how self-learning you have done. Even if there were physical classes, students who were not doing anything after the class won’t have much knowledge. Mostly only those students that were blooming in the classroom were now also blooming in the virtual mode. So essentially, those students have the habit of self-learning. According to him, online or offline is just a medium. A habit of self-learning completely depends on a student.

Some people have a different sort of opinion because the same teacher has been working with the kids before the COVID and after the COVID with the same kids. And she has seen that behavior has changed as a psychologist. This is her observation because when somebody is in front of the eye the person himself or herself has a judgment that the teacher is observing. You know, that fear is there in the child. In a group class or something, the cameras are off, so the child is sleeping, the child is running or doing something else is not be seen.There was a noticeable change in the behavior of the child. The change was also noticed by the child’s parents. Simultaneously, point number two would be if we are comparing a child in traditional and virtual then we should compare it with ourselves as to how we were 1 year ago when it was a traditional setup, how our approach was towards academics and how the approach is now towards academics. So even the change within ourselves, we a student can also justify this answer.

It was also mentioned that student below 8th grade was earlier dependent on the teachers but are now fully dependent on their parents. Parents have their things to take care off. So they are not able to pay much attention to the academics that were prior happening. There is also a difference that is noticed.

Some students mentioned that their learning outcome is pretty much the same, just the method of study has drastically changed because of the online setup. There is almost relatively less material to write. Everything is online available in PDF format. The assignments everything is typed out. But some group of students do not find online learning justifiable as they are not able to learn the theories properly.

It is also known that in online learning student-teacher interaction has reduced. There were different strategies adopted to maximize this interaction. Some group of students mentioned that they asked for the class assignments related to a particular topic to make a more interactive session. Some students mentioned that have doubts session with their teachers where they discuss their queries and doubts with their teachers.

According to the professors, since COVID he thinks it has been really important to have that sort of engagement.

For Example: from a teacher who teaches students living in low communities. So normally his day starts with a morning meeting that happens asynchronously on WhatsApp so he asks them questions to which they have to respond and these are open-ended questions. So it can start with an introduction where we share smiley and emojis about how we are feeling then he asks a question.

For example, recently he asked them a question that if you could make one thing free in this world what would that be and every child also put a voice note and they respond using a voice note and we sort of continuing that discussion and the sort of challenge each other’s views as well so the group is pumped up we have around 300- 400 messages on the group. It is a way to wake up others who have not woken up they will be like we will have class at 9 PM so his post will be by 8 PM. That is essentially something is going around, and they are sort of waiting because of these things and again in the class also in our morning meeting we play treasure hunt etc. as well when he was teaching them about Animals, Herbivores animals and Carnivores animals. He asked them to search for all similes of animals on the WhatsApp chat and put that on WhatsApp chat so lot technology is used to engage so that they feel excited. So when they are doing something they will be engaged if you discuss one way if it is just teacher talk then he thinks it is very difficult to engage them. He also mentioned that different points were asked daily. According to him a good balance of teacher talk and student talk should be maintained. This strategy has worked for him. He thinks it is more student lead rather than teacher lead and now his students sort of take up topics explain them make projects etc so whatever they do in the entire week on Friday students have to use both knowledge and skills to create a project at the end of the week. So, it gets engaging and this is how you know keeps the momentum going. He mentions that no significant learning can happen without having a significant relationship.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. In the current era where online learning has its own Pros and Cons, Hybrid learning can create a balance that could improve the learning process.
  2. Technological improvement with easy accessibility of devices can optimally improve the process of online learning, especially in lower-income groups.
  3. The Student and Teacher relation can be worked on through more personalized communication outside the class through WhatsApp groups or extra meetings.
  4. Utilizing great visual aids can help students find fun and enjoyment from their learning, also gamified apps and programs can be another way to increase motivation, especially for lower grade students.

 

Nishtha Kapoor

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