Over the years, virtual learning has become a household name in the education sector. The essence of virtual learning is to enable all students’ access instructional materials and learn their academic courses online without being presence in the classrooms. The importance of virtual learning was seen during the covid 19 lockdown; students and teachers interact with one another using communication technologies. However the correlation between virtual learning and academic performance has not really being fully ascertained. In this article we will look at the correlation between virtual learning and students academic performance.
There is no single definition of virtual learning since the systems for such learning are continuously evolving and learners are adopting new tools such as blogs and wikis as these emerge on the Internet. Virtual learning is learning that is not confined within the walls of a classroom, but that, which expands the possibility of using internet facilities, platforms, satellite links, and related system to access, analyse, create, exchange, and use data, information, and knowledge in ways which until recently, were almost unimaginable.
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It involves learning acquired via interaction with digitally delivered content, network-based services and tutoring support often with any type of on-line tool and media including the Internet, intranets, extranets, simulations and games, virtual worlds, clouds, satellite broadcasts, and web platforms. It is carried out through the use and integration of electronic discourses, such as email, portal, downloadable-executable-file, face-book, social networking, web platforms, electronic dissertations and e-portfolios, among others. Mobile learning which is the ability to obtain or provide educational content on personal pocket devices such as PDAs, smart phones and mobile phones, is also a form of virtual learning.
Virtual learning is carried out through online learning, web-based training and technology delivered instructions in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). VLEs are defined as computer based environments that are relatively open systems, allowing interactions and encounters with other participants and providing access to a wide range of resources. The VLEs provide tools that are customized for education. Sometimes called course management systems (CMS), learning platforms (LP) or learning management systems (LMS), these VLEs are tools that have become increasingly popular for learning in higher educational institutions due to vast growth of internet technology. Virtual learning is made possible by developments in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) which have been rapid in recent years and have promised improved education and training to an increasingly diverse cohort of students. With the exponential growth of ICT, the higher education environment is expected to have a greater focus on meeting student expectations with more emphasis upon widening students’ participation in ICT. The use of ICT in higher education has also necessitated the concern with development of lifelong learning skills, the emergence of new subject disciplines and increased use of technology in learning.
THE BENEFITS AND USES OF VIRTUAL LEARNING
One reason why there is so much discussion around virtual learning is that there are many purported benefits and uses of online learning. Some of the most important ones are: its effectiveness in educating students, its use as professional development, its cost-effectiveness to combat the rising cost of postsecondary education, credit equivalency at the postsecondary level, and the possibility of providing a world class education to anyone with a broadband connection. What has received most of the attention for virtual learning is the postsecondary education arena. The rising cost of postsecondary education and the importance of a postsecondary degree are well documented in the literature. The lifetime earning gap between high school graduates and college graduates is continuing to widen. At the same time, the cost of college tuition is rising faster than inflation and the student loan debt is rapidly increasing. As of 2014, the total national student loan debt is over one trillion dollars. Many scholars and educators believe that virtual learning can be an effective tool in combating the rising cost of postsecondary education by spreading the cost of a class over a much larger number of students compared to the traditional setting, dividing the cost by tens or hundreds of thousands of students as opposed to dozens. Moreover, the marginal cost of a student in an online setting is negligible relative to the traditional setting, necessarily constrained by a number of factors such as the size and availability of the physical classroom. Intimately connected to this issue of cost and postsecondary education are the required credits to obtain a postsecondary degree. Traditionally, students have to earn most of the college credits at an institution before they are awarded bachelor degrees at that institution. The point of contention is how online classes will play a role in awarding credits or credentials, and many educators connected to virtual learning are hoping that there will be credit equivalency for some online classes. The goals of this endeavor are to increase completion rate, reduce time to degree attainment, reduce costs to postsecondary education, and offer more access to non-traditional students. As of 2013, the American Council of Education had approved five online courses for college credit. However, there is concern over whether colleges will accept the recommendation, and there is also concern about the dilution of a traditional degree due to the transition.
DEVELOPMENT OF VIRTUAL LEARNING IN NIGERIAN SCHOOLS
The development of virtual learning in Nigeria could be traced back to the development of telecommunication which began in 1886 when e-cable connections was established by the colonial masters between Lagos and the colonial office in London to transmit information and receive feedback. By 1893, all government offices in Lagos were provided with telephone service for easy communication, feedback and easy access and later all other parts of the country were provided with telephone services. A lot of changes have been witnessed in the telecommunication industry since 1886.
The provision of telecommunication services was initially monopolized by the Nigeria Telecommunication (NITEL) until sometimes in 90’s when the federal government of Nigeria commenced the liberalization policy of telecommunication industry. Four (4) private telephone service providers (Mtel – NITEL, Econet Now Vmobile, MTN and Communication Investment Limited – CIL) were initially licensed to provide General System for Mobile Services. CIL license was later revoked for inability to pay the license fee before the prescribed which was later given to Globacom (Glo) Nigeria. With this development, more companies were licensed to provide internet services in Nigeria, and this led to improved access to the internet by Nigerians. The country has less than 11 ISPs in 2000, but by the year 2006, it has risen to above 100 and many got connected to the information super-highway, through broadband VSAT connection see.
In Nigerian schools, the commonest type of virtual learning adopted is in form of lectures note on CD-ROM which can be played as at when the learners desires. The challenge of this method is that the numbers of students per computer in which these facilities are available are un-interactive as compared to when lectures are been received in the classroom. Some institutions adopted the use of intranet facilities; however, this is not well maintained because of incessant power problem and high cost of running generating set. Most students in Nigeria go to the cyber café but because there are people of diverse intension on the net at the same time, and the bandwidth problem, a multimedia interactive cannot be done.
CHALLENGES OF VIRTUAL LEARNING
- Inequality of access to the technology itself by all the students. The cost of a personal computer (PC) and Laptop are still very high in Nigeria considering the income level of an average worker in the country. Few students that are privileged to have a PC/Laptop are not connected to the internet as this does attract extra cost which they cannot afford.
- Technophobia: Most of the students have no computer education background, hence they are afraid of operating one, some go to the extent of hiring expert at a cost to fill their admission, registration and other documents meant for them to fill online. However, the very few who have access to the computer do not know how to use it and maximize it usage.
- Internet Connectivity: The cost of accessing internet is still very high in Nigeria. Most Students make use of Cyber Café who charges between #100.00 and #150.00 per hour despite their poor services and slow rate of their server
- School Curriculum: Most of the students admitted have no information technology/computer education knowledge because it was not entrenched in the curriculum at their elementary and secondary education level. Not until recently when computer education is been introduced at elementary level and it is not yet a compulsory subject at the secondary level of our education.
- Attitude of Students: ICT give room to independent learning and most students are reluctant to take responsibility for their own learning, but they preferred to be spoon-fed at all times.
- Software and License cost: It is very expensive to get some of the software because they are not developed locally, they are developed in Europe and other developed countries to suit their own system and make their own living. The cost and even the interpretation some of the software’s put off some of the students who showed interest.
- Maintenance and Technical Support: There are few technical staff to maintain the system. This makes it very expensive for students that have a PCs to maintain when a technical problem is noticed
- Electricity: The perennial problem in Nigeria is the problem of electricity instability which has been a major setback for our technological development. Some of the students that reside in cities and towns are faced with the problem of epileptic supply of electricity, while majority of them live in rural areas that are not connected to the national grid.
Students academic gain and learning performance is affected by numerous factor including gender, age, teaching faculty, students schooling, father/guardian social economic status, residential area of students, medium of instructions in schools, tuition trend, daily study hour and accommodation as hostelries or day scholar. Many researchers conducted detailed studies about the factors contributing student performance at different study levels. The higher education performance is depending upon the academic performance of graduate students. The measurement of students previous educational outcomes are the most important indicators of students future achievement, this refers that as the higher previous appearance, better the student’s academic performance in future endeavours. Lot of studies have been conducted in the area of students’ achievement and these studies identify and analyze the number of factors that affect the academic performance of the student at school, college and even at university level. Their finding identify students’ effort, previous schooling, parent’s educational background, family income, self motivation of students, age of student, learning preferences and entry qualification of students as important factors that have effect on student’s academic performance in different setting. The utility of these studies lies in the need to undertake corrective measures that improve the academic performance of graduate students. It is generally assumed that the students who showed better or higher performance in the starting classes of their studies also performed better in future academic years at degree level. Everyone can be surprised with this assumption if it could be proved scientifically. From the last two decades it has been noticed significantly that there is great addition in research literature and review material relating to indicators of academic achievement with much emphasis on this dialogue, whether traditional achievement measures of academic performance are best determinants of future academic gain at university or higher level or innovative measures. However, it is also observed that many of the researchers are not agree with this view point or statement.
VIRTUAL LEARNING AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
Academic performance has been a fundamental concern in education right through recorded history while it is daunting to try to make sense of all the literature in this area. The impact of Virtual learning is assessed by ascertaining if students were able to grasp what was delivered or taught to them. Virtual learning reduces the ability of students to grasp what is taught or delivered. Online teaching strategies have a negative impact on academic performance. Virtual learning and the traditional face-to-face approach are comparable. The core arguments are that Virtual learning has positive impact on students‟ performance and that it increases the enrolment in academic program. Online learners achieve the same level of performance and satisfaction which is equal to that of face-to-face setting provided that the quality of instructional materials is similar.