Prof. Albert Sangrà, participated as a guestspeaker in Uninorte, Colombia (18th – 22nd March 2019). The conference focused on the ongoing debate surrounding online learning (OL) and how it is evolving in Latin America. Despite the constantly growing list of claims that OL appears to be growing rapidly, there appears to be a distinct lack of robust databases to back this up. Sangrà addressed this in his discussion highlighting the biggest challenges in the field, most notably quality assurance.
One of the most obvious challenges that continues to impact OL is the lack of consensus regarding the definition of QUALITY in OL. What is quality? How do we define it? Is it universal, or perhaps specific depending on the country from which the course is being developed? Sangrà highlights this “lack of agreement about what it is and what it means” sourcing the aforementioned questions as some of the principle causes of this issue. Furthermore, the general fact that OL is referred to in different terminologies such as semi-presencial, distance-learning, online among others does not aid this difficult debate. It seems then that whilst learning is ubiquitous, a conclusive defintion of it is not. However, Sangrà, who acts as Director of the UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change, made it clear that “while their is no unified clarity about the terms applied to this field, the the suspicions of its legitimacy as a robust form of learning will not decrease.“
Does he think that Online Learning is the answer to all problems in the educational field? No, but he does state the importance of its contribution to answering said problems “I am often asked if the future of education online will replace face-to-face courses, and I always say no, all institutions who offer quality face-to-face courses now will not backtrack because of online learning.”
Turning our attention to Latin America, there is much evidence showing that these are crucial times for the development of online learning. This is highlighted in the constant discussion amongst not only government officials but also amongst the general public. However, one area highlighted by Sangrà was the lack of available data to be able to truly understand the current state of online education in Latin America. There are no available data related to the number of students who are studying online or who have taken at least one class online.
In Colombia, the latest figures show that there is around 316,952 students online, representing a total of 6.7% of the total student population. In Mexico the number grows, but the overall percentage does not vary greatly from in relation to overall student population which stands at almost 500,000 people.
However, it is not possible to comment on the state of online learning in all countries given the fact that education data published does not reference any specifics of online learning.
Another aspect that hinders the development of ‘online’ education is regulation, which in the opinion of Albert Sangrà “does not seek to promote but to hinder the regulations that it demands”. The quality processes designed today for virtual education are not designed fbased on effective indicators. “In the absence of research, they resort to metrics that can easily lead to errors such as thinking that the time spent connected or the number of clicks made, give an account of the quality of education received,” says Albert.
For the expert, a path towards the positioning of virtual education as a reliable option is already underway, however Sangrà considers the prestige as a sum of evidence and visibility of the work done by virtual educational centers. He insists that research in the field must continue, above all, not to fall into the most common mistakes of virtual education, such as “stand in front of a camera and recite a speech, as it happens today in traditional classrooms.”
Note: This article has been translated from Spanish to English based on the original article by Omar David Alvarez and can be accessed here.