DI.IPL - Cognitive challenges of online vs in person learning in EUniWell

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students have been constrained to adapt to the Online Learning (OL) environment (Mercier, 2021; Hodges, 2020). Recent studies state that OL can only partially replace In Person Learning (IPL) and that it may induce a general decline in education (Kuhfeld, 2020). However, OL could represent an obligatory choice in some circumstances or it could provide additional value to traditional IPL. Thus, it is essential to understand the cognitive processes underlying OL.

A pilot study at the University of Florence found that university students performed better on attention and retention measures, two central learning processes, during an in person class than during an online one. The present project aims to replicate the study in a larger population of EUniWell students across different course types and countries to:

  • describe the differences between OL and IPL in attention and learning performances
  • investigate whether the OL-IPL difference could vary according to contextual and individual characteristics
  • suggest good practices to use OL in the university courses

To pursue these aims, all partners will collect data on their university students according to the following procedure.

Purpose and Significance

This project is in line with one of EUniWell's central objectives which is that of improving education. The expected results could suggest new strategies to lecturers and to educational providers to promote greater attention and retention levels in undergraduates during online activities. The data will be used also in the courses preparing teachers and educators.

Implementation Method and Timeline

The project starts on 1 of May 2022. In the first phase, experimental tools are implemented, and staff and lectures are trained. Between September and November 2022, 204 undergraduates for each EUniWell university participate in the data collection (N=612). Students are randomly distributed into presence vs remote conditions. In all conditions, students must listen to a 40 min lesson on a topic regarding either the scientific or the humanities disciplines and perform a 20 min. attention task on a personal device. In the second phase of the project results are analysed and discussed. Students will be invited to discuss the obtained results and to participate in focus group activities to propose new strategies to make OL easier for lecturers and students. The project ends on 30 of April 2023 with the dissemination of the data.

Expected Outcomes

From the analysis of the study results, the students’ observations, and the focus groups activities, it is expected to shed light on the basic cognitive underpinning of OL at the university and on the interaction with individual, geographical and socio-cultural factors. Strategies to lecturers and to educational providers will be defined in order to increase attention and retention levels in EUniWell students during online activities.