Background: Since 22 March 2020, the United Arab Emirates implemented distance learning in public and private schools and higher education institutions as a precaution to protect students from the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar trends have taken place globally, with 1.8 billion learners in 190 countries – almost half of the world’s students – affected by full or partial physical class closures as of March 2021. Currently, about 3.2 million students are undergoing higher education fully online. Apart from exacerbating pre-existing educational disparities by further limiting educational opportunities for vulnerable youth, economic and psycho-social impacts of the pandemic create additional educational and wellbeing obstacles for learners. Despite commendable efforts to provide digital infrastructure and update digital teaching skills of teachers to facilitate online learning in many nations, a large proportion of learners, and a significant percentage of lecturers and university administrators, remain sceptical about the suitability of online learning to promote engagement with peers and faculty, as well as facilitate fair student assessments.
Objective: This study examines three determinants of effective delivery of online university learning activities – overcoming online learning hesitancy, developing smart campuses and promoting smart learning.
Methods: Both Critical Review and Case Study approaches were adopted. Pertinent literature on the impacts of rapid transition to online learning following the Covid-19 pandemic were examined. The authors coined the term “online learning hesitancy” to describe suboptimal engagement with, and support for, online learning by university students, lecturers and university administrators. Smart Campus and Smart learning activities at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University were utilised as case study to illustrate how redesign of campus and learning activities for online mode significantly reduce online learning hesitancy and optimise learning online.
Findings: Online learning hesitancy encumbers learning activities by decreasing the motivation of students to stay engaged with learning activities, decreasing the motivation of lecturers to optimise online presence and develop adequate learning materials, and decreasing university authorities’ commitment to accredit tertiary online programs or invest in technologies for facilitating learning. Importantly, youth’s views on the obstacles posed by online learning to achieving their goals of strong social networking, acculturation, migration and accessing post-graduation working rights in different nations Building smart university campuses and investing in smart learning techniques will help address online learning hesitancy while optimising the potential of contemporary universities to effectively achieve their academic goals.
Conclusions: Universities need to seize the opportunity brought about by the Covid-19 crisis to re-imagine education and accelerate changes in technology mediated teaching and learning. Concurrently, the multi-faceted determinants of online learning hesitancy need to be addressed to optimise smart learning among youth. Smart campuses, smart learning approaches, and addressing social and migration-related constraints perceived by a large section of youth transitioning from physical classes to online learning are key parts of the solution.
Keywords: Covid-19, Smart learning, smart campus, online learning hesitancy, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University.