Online Learning: 4 errors forced by Covid-19

In tennis, a forced error is an error that the player commits influenced by the pressure imposed by the opponent. This name serves as a metaphor to talk about the forced mistakes made amid the pressure to which the pandemic subjected us.

Distance Education –or Digital English Education E-Learning– has grown rapidly in recent years. This phenomenon, already sustained over time, multiplied as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, causing the vast majority of institutions to try to migrate rapidly towards this format. Even so, it is not an automatic process. Like any other teaching format, it is necessary to understand it, assimilate it and be prepared for its implementation.

The urgency of the moment and the pressure to resume classes put pressure on institutions, teachers and students who were not prepared or trained in distance education models, to work with this medium in record time. Not even the most intensive of courses allow instructional designers, teachers, and academic administrators to effectively migrate to the online format; much less in the middle of an active period. In this context, some of the most common difficulties of distance education have become evident:

Se muestran cuatro imágenes: un símbolo de interrogación, una flor de dinero, una persona sin batería y una pieza de rompe-cabeza que no encaja.
The 4 errors forced by Covid19: Lack of knowledge, Investment, Exhaustion, Incongruence. Drawing by the author.

1. Poor knowledge or little preparation

Unfortunately, the idea that teaching by webcam is distance education has spread, but it is a belief that is far from reality. In general terms, distance education relies on communication and information technologies to focus on the student through learning strategies that promote self-management. Therefore, it requires more effort when setting up the courses than traditional formats, especially since the teacher does not have the same presence during learning. Although he wishes, he cannot accompany all the students home at the same time, nor follow their faces to be sure that they are learning. In this way, distance education is particularly demanding with the instructional design.

Obviously it is an unforeseen situation, although one could be prepared. In many cases, resistance and ignorance have outpaced common sense. [2] But, according to the research results of Franziska Zellweger Moser, it is unproductive and inappropriate to blame the teaching staff, since there are many reasons that drive this fact, for example: the university system - although composed of teaching, research and extension or service - tends to favor research by a great deal to favor promotions and a teaching career; teachers have little time to get involved with new activities; and the lack of skills becomes a difficult barrier to overcome. [3]

2. Investments

Overcoming these obstacles requires a change in mentality - which we hope the pandemic will help to achieve - but it also requires significant investments by institutions and teachers. Teachers would have to dedicate time and energy to training in distance modalities, which translates into taking time away from other activities with the endorsement of their supervisors. Meanwhile, educational institutions must not only invest in platforms and teacher training, [4] but also must take on specialized support staff in this field.

The investment process requires time and planning. In the midst of the pandemic, pressured by the ministries and by the possible desertion of students, many institutions have redirected resources to buy support programs for distance education, hire courses for their teachers, among other things. These have been abrupt actions to respond to the emergency. Under the circumstances, this is a difficult fact to criticize, but it is important to be aware that a large percentage of these investments will have been lost after the storm. If they are to be maintained over time, it will be necessary to replace hasty and temporary measures with permanent programs in line with the rest of the initiatives of the institutions.

3. Teacher burnout

When the abrupt change is added that pushed the teachers towards an unknown scenario, with the need they had to assimilate new information in record time, while trying to adapt their training material and follow up with the students as if they were doing it in a face-to-face, the result is obvious: exhaustion.

In general terms, jobs associated with education tend to be poorly paid, much less in less developed countries and even less in particularly demanding sectors such as primary education. In addition to this, it is common to find two types of teachers. There are those who dedicate themselves full time to education, which are usually highly demanded, and those who are only hired to teach a few hours of classes a week and therefore do not have the time or the contractual responsibility to undertake activities that go beyond teaching itself. There is obviously a huge gradient of circumstances between these extremes, but all have been particularly demanding since the emergency began, be it intellectually (in the adaptation process) or physically (in the number of hours they have had to dedicate).

4. Unadapted materials

It's amazing how common it is to run into this problem in training materials. It is a fact that comes from the face-to-face classes. Teachers are not necessarily trained to develop good visual communication, especially university professors who receive little pedagogical training. Thus, the presentations are the result of repeating common patterns in the industry, which usually leads to slides loaded with text, with poor contrast, with images that do not contribute to the content, etc. In this way, it is normal to show the multiplication of this phenomenon with the rapid adaptation of classes to the web format by teachers who are not trained, but are intensely demanded.

Presentations, which were previously projected on the wall, are now viewed through the screen. At best on the computer screen, but tablets and cell phones are also often used. Images become difficult to understand and text unreadable. The exercise by means of which the teacher pointed on the sheet becomes less natural, just as it is difficult for him to make the typical explanations on the blackboard. Generally, the content has not been adapted to the format, it is only transmitted through another medium. It is something natural, when any teacher begins to work on the idea of ​​a virtual classroom, the first thing that comes to mind is to upload the files of his presentations, but much more is required than that. In the words of Florentino Blázquez: Thus, accessibility changes notably, but what is more important, attention, motivation, mental activity, etc. change. [5]


Migrating to distance education effectively will require time, energy, resources and a lot of expertise. Basic training will not be enough, well educated people will be needed. [1]

To this series of events is added another concern associated with the restart of classes. Already this period, both in schools and universities, was fractured by the pandemic and it will be difficult to corroborate the learning or even know the results. But, in addition, most of the institutions are considering mixed formats for the next period. No, I am not referring to proven blended learning or b-learning formats, where classroom attendance is combined with digital resources, but classes that will simultaneously have students attending face-to-face and others virtually. I am not denying myself the possibility, I am just wondering –among other things– when and how will the instructional design adapt to this reality? When and how will teachers be prepared? They are a question we should be discussing now.


[1] L. Volko, “Digital media and education ignorance,” in Marketing Identity. Digital Life Part II, 2015, pp. 533–543.

[2] J. Nojda, “Distance education message to e-learning,” in Lifelong E-Learning. Bringing e-learning close to lifelong learning and working life a new period of uptake, 2005, pp. 315–317.

[3] F. Z. Moser, The Strategic Management of E-Learning Support. Waxmann, 2007.

[4] A. Salcedo, “Estadística para no especialistas: un reto de la educación a distancia,” Rev. Pedagog., vol. 29, no. 84, pp. 145–172, 2008.

[5] F. Blázquez Entonado, Sociedad de la Información y Educación. Junta de Extremadura, 2001.

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