Online learning in challenging times: Guest blog by our Learning Technology Researcher, Dr Tharindu Liyanagunawardena

Posted on: 14 April, 2020

Dr Tharindu LiyanagunawardenaSocial distancing implemented by countries across the world to combat the spread of coronavirus has caused unprecedented changes in our daily lives. The situation posed a great challenge to educational institutions across the world, causing them to cancel lectures and graduation ceremonies, and, where applicable, ask students to vacate their halls and accommodation.

In adapting to the situation, most institutions have adopted online learning. For many traditional institutions this is the first time that they are trying to use technology on such a large scale. In their hurry to adopt technology to overcome the immediate threat of not being able to continue, there is always the danger of institutions rushing into using technologies without proper appraisal (accessibility, security and privacy concerns, for example) or adequate user training.

There is also the possibility of excluding groups of users who are not able to engage with the technologies for various reasons. Some may not possess the required level of digital literacy while there could also be issues of accessibility both for people with disabilities and people who do not have the luxury of unlimited, uninterrupted, broadband connectivity. Therefore, it is important that people who make decisions address these issues. For example, if a student with a hearing disability was supported by a note-taker in class how could we support this student now that we have moved to online lectures? Or now that most overseas students have gone home to their countries, can we conduct online classes at the same time and expect them to be present despite the time differences? What if the technology we adopt is barred in some countries where our students reside?

If you have lived/visited a developing country, you may have experienced how difficult it can be to get access to the internet away from city centres. The connectivity cannot be relied upon and it often cannot support high-definition videos. In some rural places you would be lucky if you have access to uninterrupted electricity supply!

The questions I pose are considerations which I hope leaders at institutions currently going digital take on board as they work to find new learning solutions for their students.

In my role as a Learning Technology Researcher and Chair of the Online Learning Research Centre at UCEM, I scan the horizon, assess educational technology and consider how we can use it to enhance our students’ experience. We are always thinking about the practical aspect of the technology we appraise. Accessibility is also something we are researching into so that our programmes are accessible to the widest possible student group.

As the leading provider of supported online education for the Built Environment, UCEM is better placed than most to face this difficult situation. As a result, UCEM is advising other institutions in order that the sector can keep educating students to the highest possible standards.


To find out more about our online learning, visit our Supported Online Learning webpage.