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The challenges of digital learning – an interview with YSD Excellence and Bursary Scholars



The stresses of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have caused dramatic shifts in education all over the world. As e-learning becomes a necessity rather than an option, classroom lessons are conducted remotely via digital platforms. This approach has been adopted globally both in urban and rural areas as keeping schools open poses health and safety risks for students. However, the costs and requirements of digital learning have posed some challenges among students especially the disadvantaged ones.

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) recognises the importance of digital learning, which is an essential part of YSD THRIVE, a more comprehensive and wholesome scholar development programme. In February 2021, YSD introduced its first e-learning platform, an initiative that expands its scholars’ horizons through lifelong learning in a post-COVID-19 world. The initiative underlined YSD’s commitment towards producing more quality and well-grounded graduates through developmental programmes which supplements their educational studies. Selected high-achieving YSD Bursary scholars are also given 12-month access to the platform every year.

YSD recently interviewed two of our scholars to learn more about their take on digital learning and its challenges. YSD Bursary scholar Muhammad Idhil Hashim, 23 and YSD Excellence Scholar Md Nur Afiq Md Nadzir, 22 both shared their experiences on learning remotely and digitally during the pandemic.

Could you tell us more about yourself, the course you are currently pursuing and how YSD is assisting your education journey?

Muhammad Idhil Hashim
:
I am Muhammad Idhil Hashim and I was born and bred in Melaka. I am currently a final year student at Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) majoring in Philosophy, Law, and Business with Honours. Words cannot express how thankful I am to have been chosen as a YSD Bursary scholarship recipient. My education has always been of utmost importance to me, and to be able to secure the scholarship is truly humbling. The scholarship has certainly helped me and my family in offsetting the full cost of my studies at the university. It is through YSD’s support that I am able to accomplish much of what I never thought would be possible for myself and I am indeed grateful.

Md Nur Afiq Md Nadzir:
My name is Md Nur Afiq Md Nadzir and I am from Sarawak. However, I moved to Melaka in 2009 to follow my late father who had to move to the state for work. Currently, I am a third-year student at the University of Malaya pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. The YSD scholarship has helped relieve the financial burden of my mother who is also a single parent. Other than helping me financially, YSD has also helped me emotionally by providing the scholars with YSD THRIVE events and development camps to enhance our soft skills. Meeting new friends who are studying in top universities around the globe is an amazing experience. They have opened my eyes and humbled me.

Recently, YSD had commenced to provide scholars with free access to Udemy where we can now enrol ourselves in a variety of courses such as time management, soft skills, Python programming, and Adobe Photoshop. Learning the basic Python language is beneficial for me as I use it for my Integrated Design Project (IDP) which is compulsory for all third-year engineering students in my university. Without the Udemy courses, I would have struggled to learn Python as I have no previous background in the language.



As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced learning institutions to shift to distance and digital learning. What are your thoughts on this, and can you share your own e-learning experience during the pandemic?

Idhil:

While online classes offer an increased degree of flexibility, I still find it quite difficult to adapt especially due to issues such as poor internet connection at home. As a final year student, there are plenty of coursework to be completed and most times, I will have to travel to the city centre for facilities to get a stable internet connection and work on my assignments. Digital learning also lacks physical human interaction. I find it quite demotivating to study without the physical presence of friends and lecturers around me. However, I must persevere and be able to adapt to the new normal.

Afiq:

Honestly, I prefer physical learning over digital learning. However, we are living in the Industrial Revolution 4.0 era where technology advances fast. Thus, we must learn to adapt ourselves to the new norm to not get left behind. Having said that, one of the many challenges of digital learning is staying focused in classes, which is very difficult for me because there are many distractions around me such as my comfortable bed and my gaming station.

The second challenge of e-learning is online meetings. I used to be a person who likes to have meetings with my groupmates because I get to meet them and interact with them physically. However, I feel like online meetings are very inefficient because most of the time, some people would just mute their microphones and turn off their cameras throughout the meeting. I also find it difficult to study alone as I prefer to study in a group. I tend to learn and absorb better when I teach people what I understand. Unfortunately, having a physical study group is impossible due to this pandemic.


How do you overcome those challenges and what are your strategies and techniques to maintain academic excellence?

Idhil:

I personally have no exact method to overcome the challenges as it depends largely on the situation. 2020 has been a tumultuous year for everyone. I am glad that my lecturers offered a little more leeway for students to adapt to the new normal especially when it comes to finishing assignments. Where I study, those with difficulties accessing the internet will be allowed to opt for pre-recorded lectures and presentations. We are also exploring several interactive applications such as Telegram to disseminate learning information. I am consistently training myself to be more disciplined by creating schedules to track my work progress.

To maintain good academic results, my strategy is to always seek clarity from the lecturers during classes when I do not understand any topics or subjects. As we all shifted to online classes, many prefer to stay silent and class participation is often not as active as during physical classes. However, I try my best to participate actively in each class to learn better. To keep up with my busy schedules, I try to avoid procrastination. As we know, procrastination is the bane of every student’s existence, but the more you procrastinate, the more pressure you will feel when the work starts to pile up and you do not have enough time to complete them all. I always ensure that my assignments are done two weeks before the deadlines so that I have time to make any corrections and have peace of mind to proceed with another assignment.

Afiq:

Attending online classes in the comfort of your home has its pros and cons. As comfortable as it may seem, it is just as challenging to remain focused especially when there is no one around to supervise you. I prefer to study in the living room rather than in my bedroom to avoid distractions. I also keep my phone away to avoid checking my phone every couple of minutes. I found this method to be very effective and it has helped me focus better during classes. I also try to make meetings more casual than formal. By doing so, the members of my group will not feel tense, and I found that they are more responsive and cooperative.

I also try to keep meetings as short as possible because the longer the meeting is, the less efficient it becomes. I also create virtual study groups via Discord – an online platform where we meet every day after classes to discuss our assignments or to study together. I think it is the closest we can get to a physical study group. However, now that I am back on campus, we are able to meet physically to study together on the campus.


In your opinion, what are the ways we can improve the experience of digital learning? What kind of support would be helpful to enhance your learning journey?

Idhil:


The lack of physical human interactions makes the students sometimes feel deprived of the social elements of learning. Improving digital learning requires two-way efforts from the lecturers and certainly the students. Both students and lecturers need to interact more, with the lecturer ensuring that the students are engaging in discussions instead of just giving one-way lectures. From there, students will have more confidence to raise doubt and ask questions and comfortably interact with their lecturers. Instead of having real-time online lectures, the lectures should be recorded and uploaded onto a learning platform. It makes the resources accessible for the students to watch and learn anywhere and anytime they can access the internet.

I feel that a meaningful relationship between students and lecturers is crucial to improving the experience of digital learning. This can be established by using a few tools such as live reaction and instruction during lectures to encourage the students to engage more with the lecturers. From my observation, all online meeting platforms have live reaction features, hence they should be used to enhance the learning experience. Next, a casual chat before or after the lecture is essential to maintain the relationship. This is an opportunity for lecturers to motivate students to be interested in the subjects they are teaching. I believe that motivational and mental health support are also essential in my learning journey. Sometimes, a little thoughtfulness and compassion among lecturers and students could lift low spirits in these tough and uncertain times.

Afiq:

In my opinion, having a tablet such as an iPad is very helpful during this pandemic and for any digital learning sessions. All the examinations are done online, and most universities allow their students to write their answers on an iPad. Owning an iPad is giving the students the upper hand because it allows them to submit answers without having to scan the papers one by one. Notes taken on an iPad are also easier to read compared to handwritten ones. Thus, this will boost the students’ productivity and encourages them to strive in digital learning. Therefore, I think financial support in terms of discounted devices, access to paid software or just extra allowances would be the best support for students during the pandemic to enhance their learning experience.


Muhammad Idhil Hashim

Md Nur Afiq Md Nadzir

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Last Updated:
04 Sep 2021
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