Many countries have successfully slowed down the spread of the coronavirus taking drastic measures which included banning public gatherings and lockdown of universities till further notice. Although universities closure is an effective way of minimizing the spread of the virus, it has come with its own challenges especially in developing countries such as UAE. Ministry of Education and collaborating with universities, provided excellent overall rules and regulations to adhere the mandate of the country leaders in order to ensure the continuity of the education process at the country, plus the excellent infrastructure of the country played an active role to facilitate the online/distance learning process. Thus, learning alone in the house for university’s students has been proven to be effective as the learner has technological resources and internet access at home. Because distance learning gives a big advantage to students as they can study anywhere, they want with a few exceptions. (Carnevale, 2000; Dutton et al., 2002). And, transferring the knowledge from one person to other(s) whether via online or in-class are similar, but the communication method is different. In fact, (Lantolf, 2008; Bateman & Waters, 2013; Greenberg, 2005) said that teaching occurs when a more knowledgeable person passes on knowledge to a less knowledgeable individual in order to induce a relatively permanent change in behavior.
Some of the respondents asserted to the fact that the online learning rolled out by the Ministry as well as universities is very effective, but the accessibility has been the issue since you will need technological devices such as the smart phones or the computer and the internet to be able to access it. This has made learning in the house during this pandemic very challenging to them. It is also said that learning is effectively achieved when the right instructional materials are used for the right purpose during the process. For those who have issue either on internet access or technological resources, the government did extra mile to support them all with gadgets (Sebugwaawo, 2020), to enhance every home to have an adequate learning environment, however, some students are living in small apartments hence students are therefore obliged to learn either in the living room or their bedrooms which is very ineffective as stated by the respondents. That’s why the involvement of the family (parents) is important, as per García and Thornton (2014), the involvement of family in learning, supports to improve students’ performance, reduce absence and reestablish parents’ assurance in their children’s’ education.
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In the midst of pandemic where students stay out of university, majority of learning institutions resort to online learning which substitute the normal contact with the teacher in a physical classroom to a virtual classroom via the use of the internet and technological devices such as the smartphones, computers and tablets. However, teachers were supposed to get trained on how to make the distance learning experience more interactive, it was argued by (McLeod, 2019; Applefield, Huber, & Moallem, 2000) that learning is highly achieved when students are made to interact with instructional materials and draw their own meaning from their interaction. Also, it was claimed that students learn well when they are supervised and guided (Okendu, 2012). However, in campus there are many hands-on activities elevate students’ knowledge such as labs and it will help understating subjects (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). These aspects will be missing on the distance learning during the pandemic although students will learn but getting the right explanation will be a challenge to them especially with the new concepts and specially if hands-on is required.
The study revealed that majority of households in UAE do have internet access, due to the strong infrastructure at the country, which had led to an online learning platform rolled out by the Ministry of Education and universities at UAE being straight forward because majority of the students do have technological resources and access to internet. Those who don’t have access, the government provided them with free internet access via the ISP providers Etisalat and Du (Alshouk, 2020).
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It is undoubtedly true that most students agreed that due to the limitation of the face to face interaction because of the online learning system sometimes it is difficult to get proper explanation of some materials, and this might be as a result of faculty members insufficient adoption and adaptation to the distance learning, since it happened suddenly as a reaction to the pandemic, without a proper and insufficient training. This has made learning of some concepts especially those perceived to be abstract very difficult for the students in this period of lockdown and universities closure. In addition, it is noteworthy, regarding the assessment, which is one of the most challenging items, the current technology is not mature yet, to ensure the integrity and credibility by 100%, because there is always way(s) to trick these systems. In fact, the current assessments were designed initially for in-class environment, therefore, universities are highly encouraged to innovate new ways aligned with distance learning environment, to assess their students’ knowledge, keeping in consideration the technology limitations.
Finally, and most important, the study revealed that most of the university students 55% liked the online learning system, and 45% didn’t like it. Additionally, 49% agreed to have blended learning system (mix of online and in-class) rather than just online by 26% or in-class by 25%. In other words, and after this pandemic, it is highly recommended for universities at the UAE, to shift from traditional classroom environment to blended learning system which is combining in-class leaning and distance learning as per students’ preferences.