The proliferation of electronic gadgets, multiplicity of learning applications and open-learning materials on the Internet, the advocacy for virtual learning notwithstanding, on-line education needs meticulous planning, simultaneous execution and monitoring to be an effective route for imparting knowledge.
If the learning institution is in Ghana, then extra care is required to plug nauseous attitudinal, financial, and administrative holes which stealthily erode quality processes.
The government has ruled that Ghanaian tertiary institutions should operate physical and virtual classrooms, but the responsibility of that rests on each institution to offer students the best on-line learning experience.
A proactive institution begins not only by carefully considering its electronic infrastructure, but it also studies the needs of teachers/learners to ascertain their exact needs.
The good news is that, those joining virtual learning do not have to reinvent the wheel. Pioneering institutions in the country have established workable models which could be replicated.
The primary facility for on-line learning is Internet capacity, followed by capable web handlers, who can competently input content.
The institutions in question equipped their campuses with such. Targeted venues, offices and learning spaces were fitted with stable internet supplies.
Hotspots were created at vantage points on campuses. Such provisions, among others, have facilitated smooth on-line teaching.
Learners are also provided with monthly internet data through the year, so there is no break in research – for the diligent ones.
The institutions effectively pre-empt the realistic challenge of learners not possessing required learning gadgets by supplying learners with iPad or tablets for lectures and research. Of course, the cost is factored into tuition, so nothing is for free.
Such excellent preparations have sustained on-line engagement. Any institution that foregoes the primary steps above to launch virtual classroom engagement makes a complete mockery of online learning.
Experience from the 2019/2020 academic year can guide institutions which seek a shortcut to virtual classrooms.
After the long COVID-19 interruption in 2020, during which period there was government sponsored on-line learning, a cross-section of teachers had to re-teach all topics taught virtually because majority of students had not participated.
Among the given reasons were non-affordability of internet data, non-possession of android phones, poor communication network systems.
A caring, learning institution learns from, and is guided by such experiences to plan and roll out a humane virtual learning programme that accommodates different categories of learners, rather than implement a haphazard system which plays to those who delight to evade honest work.
A dedicated learning institution never makes general assumptions about learners’ affordable abilities regarding learning facilities.
Even where there is ample evidence, committed institutions make ample learning provisions to cover even the smallest needy minority.
Accordingly, on such campuses, faculties also utilise the ICT component of tuition to set up computer laboratories which enable learners to constantly access the facilities for academic purposes. Nothing is left to chance when institutions target effective on-line learning.
Therefore, faced with overwhelming evidence of genuine need among teachers and learners, an institution neglects the pragmatic steps above and plunges into virtual learning only as an attempt to sabotage genuine national and global efforts to educate the youth. Yet that happens.
Institutions joining on-line learning must appreciate that it is neither a camouflage nor adventure in Ghanaian education.
It is a strategy to steer the system into the 21st century, rid it of moribund elements.
The Tertiary Education Commission must have a plan to monitor institutions regarding effective set up and implementation, else other stakeholders get exploited.
The Ministry of Education must have a plan to compel institutions to run progressive education. Virtual learning is a key component of progressive learning which must be diligently implemented for sustainable intellectual, professional empowerment.
Institutions ought not to approach on-line learning as a whim for income generation.
They must perceive it as a complementary route, which simultaneously re-defines quality and ushers in the desirable flexibility, convenience and innovation for teacher and the taught. Hence, the ministry and the new oversight body have a duty to ensure that institutions target such progressive learning goals.
The writer is a lecturer, Takoradi Technical University