Cambodian Education Forum
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Online learning has been adopted by many educational institutions as a method of delivering education to their students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it appears to have a positive impact on students’ education in the future. This chapter discusses not only the development and importance of online learning in the Cambodian context during the pandemic but also the challenges and opportunities that students have encountered while engaging in online learning during COVID-19. While some students may find it difficult to become accustomed to online learning, others seem to view it as an opportunity for their education. This chapter argues that the implementation of online learning has provided Cambodian students with the opportunity to continue their education and gain knowledge from anywhere with the support from the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport, as well as other public and private institutions.
Keywords: Online learning; COVID-19; future of education; Cambodia
Different ways of learning, including offline and online learning, have played an essential role in helping individuals gain knowledge. Prior to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused disruption to education globally, many educational institutions have relied on physical education, a conventional and most popular style of learning, to deliver education to students. With the help of study materials such as books, journals, and other print materials, students have been able to learn independently and successfully. It was not until 1984 that the first online learning was introduced by the University of Toronto to cope with the increasing number of people who began to learn to use computers and other technological devices due to the revolution of technology and the increasing use of the internet (Sarkar, 2020). Over the years, online learning has become a new model of education with great potential that impacts the design and delivery of education at all levels (Joksimović et al., 2015).
Over the past 20 years, the development of technology for educational purposes has rapidly increased as many educational institutions across the globe have embraced online learning (Demuyakor, 2020; Murphy, 2020). The embrace of online learning has skyrocketed since the beginning of 2020 when educational institutions around the globe were forced to close to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic (UNICEF, 2021). In fact, since the outbreak of COVID-19, first detected in China’s Wuhan city, online learning has been a replacement for face-to-face teaching and learning.
Against this background, this chapter discusses the implementations of online learning in the context of the pandemic. It also examines the development of online learning as well as its role in the Cambodian educational context. It then analyses the opportunities and challenges to online learning and discusses the importance of adapting online learning during the pandemic and in the future. The chapter argues that online learning will dominate the educational field in the future as it provides easy and affordable access for students.
Defining Online Learning
Online learning has been around for years as a new way of learning, but the term online learning has been defined differently. Based on the Cambridge University Press (2021), e-learning or online learning is described as “electronic learning: the business of providing courses online for students so that they can study and learn from home” (n.p.). Similarly, the Oxford University Press (2021) has given the meaning of e-learning (online learning) as “a system of learning that uses electronic media, typically over the internet” (n.p.). Online learning can also be referred to as “a form of distance education and a web-based learning, e-learning, and digital learning” (Sadiku et al., 2018, p. 74). Online learning is described as a type of education, training, or learning programs conducted through web techniques and electronic means (Liao & Lu, 2008; Li et al., 2009).
Overall, in this chapter, online learning is referred to as a form of education delivery over the internet from educators to learners through an internet-based curriculum, without having to attend face-to-face classes. Nevertheless, a few things are required for the successful delivery of online learning. They include internet access, knowledge on how to operate digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and personal computers, and the ability to use online platforms well.
Online Learning in the Context of the Pandemic
Since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 has made the greatest disruption to the education system globally, creating severe impacts on nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries in 2020 (The United Nations, 2020). Struggling to cope with the rapidly increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, many countries in Asia (Rising, 2021), America (BBC News, 2020), Europe (BBC News, 2021), and other parts of the world have been forced to go into lockdown, affecting every aspect of life, including education. To keep the education system going, many countries have adopted online learning (United Nations, 2020). Due to the pandemic, online learning has gained popularity and become the only means for students to continue their education. After almost two years, many students may have considered online learning as their favorite way of learning during the pandemic. The pandemic has, in a way, created a great opportunity for learners to get used to learning online and allowed educational staff to be more familiar with online learning delivery (Heng, 2021).
According to Coman et al. (2020), as much as face-to-face learning does, online learning yields very positive results that are promising for the delivery of education during the pandemic and in the future. Online learning is also a convenient way for undergraduate and postgraduate students to continue their education amid the COVID-19 crisis (Orakci, 2020). As the outbreak of COVID-19 has left no choice for educators and learners, but to embrace online learning, it has created a conducive environment for this type of learning mode to flourish now and in the post-pandemic era (Dhawan, 2020).
To put it simply, online learning has introduced a new modern way of learning for the future generation, particularly for those intending to pursue higher education. Online learning has also become a bridge for everyone to learn to become accustomed to using technological devices (e.g., computers, laptops, and smartphones), digital platforms, and the internet.
Instructional technology is highly advantageous for students and those who pursue a professional course through online learning (Mehra & Mital, 2007). Online learning is beneficial in several ways. It enables students to learn from anywhere in the world irrespective of their geographical location; it guides students to design and determine their learning style; it improves their research and information and communication technology (ICT) skills; it provides unlimited information; it saves their expenses on traveling and textbook purchases; and it facilitates the process of publishing their work (Dhull & Arora, 2019). Online learning can also maintain the critical function of the interaction between teachers and students (Anderson, 2004). However, the online courses chosen by task designers and teachers have to be affordable and educational to create meaningful learning and educational experiences.
The flexibility and effectiveness of online learning are advantageous, allowing students to access learning materials easily and making them become self-directed learners (Mukhtar et al., 2020). Online learning modalities also motivate student-centered learning, for it is manageable during the lockdown situation. The use of a plethora of technological tools and platforms to support online learning provides new methods that enable the learning processes (Morales et al., 2021). Interestingly, innovation in software and applications for learning facilitates the organization of online study groups and other learning and assessment activities such as quizzes as well as questions and answers (Feenberg, 2017). It is argued that these software innovations may show up in the future in standard Learning Management Systems designed for virtual classes, especially for college students (Feenberg, 2017).
Many countries around the world have suffered from COVID-19, and Cambodia is no exception. To make education available for students, the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and E-School Cambodia, has introduced a free e-learning application that offers online learning opportunities for students from grades 1 to 12 (Ry, 2020). The e-learning app includes subjects such as maths, Khmer literature, and English for grades 1 to 6. Physics and chemistry are added to the previous subjects for grades 7 to 9 and biology is added for grades 10 to 12. In addition, the e-learning app was specially designed for students who are preparing for the grade 12 national examination so that they will not lose track of their learning (Ry, 2020). Both teachers and students will be able to keep in touch through MoEYS’ Facebook page and YouTube channels. UNICEF has also assisted MoEYS in providing e-learning classes with key subjects and alternative learning opportunities to students (Long, 2020). Similarly, UNESCO has also played a crucial role in supporting education initiatives in the Kingdom amid school closures induced by the pandemic. Through support from these organizations, MoEYS, and other stakeholders, including parents, Cambodian students can access education through online lessons. They have also become more familiar with online learning, something that was more or less alien to them prior to the pandemic.
According to Khmer Times (2020, para. 2), “the extension of school suspensions covers all educational institutions at all levels, all forms, both public and private.” In this situation, online learning has become more significant for students as MoEYS and the National Assembly are working together to promote digital education in the Kingdom (Voun, 2020). Put another way, online learning has made teaching and learning of both teachers and students more accessible and convenient both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning has begun to be widely used and has made lessons, research studies, lectures, and many educational activities more accessible (Heng, 2020, 2021).
Online Learning: A Major Opportunity Created by the Pandemic
Thinking positively, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for students and teachers to adapt to a new way of learning and develop their digital competence. The pandemic has also changed traditional learning approaches and accelerated the digital transformation of education in Cambodia (Chhoeurm, 2020). Thanks to online learning, students and teachers remain in touch with each other during the crisis as many well-recognized schools, universities, and institutions have offered this new mode of learning (Ferri et al., 2020). Online learning has also provided Cambodian students with the opportunity to improve their learning autonomy through a wide variety of digital platforms. Moreover, students also have the opportunity to learn to manage their time wisely, arrange study schedules, prepare lessons, and control their learning strategies. More importantly, they can also benefit from this new mode of learning because online learning can save time and expenses, something that may not be possible in face-to-face learning. Students will be able to make good opportunities out of online learning, leading to more hybrid and transformative higher education at a global level (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020; Morales et al., 2021). In addition, the post-pandemic generation will be able to benefit from the digitalization of education, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic (Heng, 2021).
Despite the opportunities, there are challenges to online learning. In the context of Cambodia, MoEYS announced the closures of all educational institutions in March 2020. The school closure has rapidly driven students and teachers to embrace online learning. However, this transformation from face-to-face classrooms to online learning has posed many difficulties for both teachers and students (Chhoeurm, 2020; Heng & Sol, this volume). According to Heng and Sol (2020), most of the challenges to online learning are related to access to online learning platforms, low digital competency, and inadequate technological infrastructure. Not knowing how to use sophisticated online learning and communication platforms (e.g., Google Classroom and Zoom) and poor digital literacy skills have also triggered burdens and anxieties, stress, and other psychological problems and difficulties for students and teachers (Heng & Sol, 2020).
A recent study by Em (2021) who investigated the challenges of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic at a provincial high school in Cambodia found that access to internet connection was the most challenging problem preventing students from learning effectively. Other challenges included interruptions from their surroundings while learning from home and a lack of smartphones and money to recharge phone credits to access the internet. Overall, as Marinoni et al. (2020) aptly noted, “the shift from face-to-face to distance teaching did not come without challenges, the main ones being access to technical infrastructure, competences and pedagogies for distance learning and the requirements of specific fields of study” (p. 11).
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is a possibility that online learning will be able to provide access to education for anyone, anywhere, and anytime as long as access to the internet is available (Nguyen, 2015). Online learning has gained relevance and appeared to ensure its continuance even after the COVID-19 pandemic (Morales et al., 2021). As the future of online education will be characterized by the delivery of education over the internet, it is expected that online learning will take the reins in the future.
Regardless of how effective online learning can be, the environment and the people around the students are also the factors affecting the efficiency of their academic performance. Therefore, in order to facilitate the educational needs of the students, not only during but also after the COVID-19 crisis, MoEYS should attentively focus on the possibility of students being able to access the required tools for online learning, maintain the momentum of their learning progress, and evaluate the results of their learning achievement.
As for educational institutions, they should use this unexpected opportunity to enhance and maximize the use of ICT for learning and teaching by investing more in the integration of ICT in the classrooms (Heng, 2020). In addition, assistance and involvement from parents are also an impactful factor affecting students’ performance because parents can help check students’ learning progress directly at home, something that teachers cannot do. Whilst parents play a crucial role in supporting students, teachers also play an essential role in making lectures trackable and accessible to students so that they can keep up with the lessons.
Finally, given the lack of research investigating how online learning is perceived and experienced by Cambodian students and teachers, it is recommended that research should be conducted to understand students’ and teachers’ perceptions and attitudes toward online learning. Such an understanding will be useful for policymakers to ensure that online learning will be effectively implemented and can serve its role as a new and effective way of learning in the future.
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