Lasting Effects: What the Post Pandemic Return to In-person Teaching Tells Us About the State of e-Learning and its Future Trajectory
Keywords:higher education, contemporary e-learning theories, post pandemic, AI tools and affordances, agency, identity
An outpouring of studies on the forced move to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep concerns with teaching and learning online. Yet, now that most learning is returning to pre-pandemic environments, it seems naive to assume that teachers and learners in these settings, are, or will ever be, the same. A deeper understanding of the impact of those online experiences on teachers and learners before, during and immediately after the pandemic can provide insight into how to move forward in our educational systems, where technology is increasingly implicated. The conceptual framework of the study was based on the three key features of contemporary e-learning theory: learner-centred, community-based, constructivist-driven. We mapped this framework against course design, teaching approach and the use of technology to conceptualize the conditions that existed in returning to in-person teaching in a blended learning setting. This framework uncovers the developments, constraints, openness, and fears of a group of Higher Education (HE) EFL Chilean teachers in leading students into technology-enhanced, 21st century learning environments. A qualitative case study methodology was employed. Findings are based on written responses to an 8-item open questionnaire (n=32) and individual, oral-based (n=13) interviews along with field notes. Evidence of a significant advancement in digital literacy skills on the part of teachers, and indeed students was uncovered. Untypical in the Chilean educational context, a strong shift towards valuing more social constructivist teaching practices and an awareness of the importance of fostering relationship-building in learning ecologies, both in person and online, was also revealed. Changes attributed to both positive experiences online and reactions to negative ones, bode well for those long seeking a shift away from a traditional educational mindset that existed prior to the pandemic. At the same time, the findings that reveal hesitancy and in some cases fear of the rapidly encroaching new technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, indicate that for some teachers the embrace of technology has its limits. We discuss both encouraging and more concerning results in terms of the insight they offer and their implications for further e-learning research and for educational stakeholders operating in increasingly technology-dependent learning spaces.