An Investigation of the Shift to Distance Education and the Widening of the Digital Divide During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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This research aimed at identifying the impact of COVID-19 on students who were forced into distance learning across countries. It examines the experiences of long-distance learning students to understand how they coped with learning and studying via digital means compared with traditional face-to-face methods. The research particularly focused on investigating digital divides due to the sudden shift to long-distance learning. The study involved qualitative methods when it came to analyzing the experiences of students. The face-to-face interview was not possible due to government guidelines and the lockdown. As a long-distance student myself, I had no option but to adopt email interviews with students to collect data for my research. A semi-structured interview with 20 questions was sent to five participants following their recruitment through an online advertisement. The responses provided by the participants were then analyzed using reflective thematic analysis. The findings of the research showed that digital divides became much more evident for long distance students during COVID-19. Issues that surfaced were problems with accessing the internet and other infrastructures required for online study as well as not having the appropriate digital skills to conduct their studies and which took time and effort to learn. Further, the research identified the emotional impact the students experienced resulting from the lack of social interaction with teachers and other students, the passiveness of the learning situation, isolation, time difference issues, the high requirement for self-discipline in the studying process, an inability to find solutions to learning problems, mental pressures and anxiety. While these were the major disadvantages of online distance learning, some advantages were recognised including the availability to record lectures, flexibility, and the support of teachers.