See how COVID-19 impacted learning and teaching

A summary of CRADLE’s research relating to emergency remote teaching.

hands with latex gloves holding a globe with a face mask

While 2020 seems like an eon ago, research that the CRADLE team did on the emergency remote teaching response to the pandemic has only recently been finalised. CRADLE was part of an international collaboration spearheaded by Silvia Bartolic and Neil Guppy at the University of British Columbia, with colleagues from Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Phillippines, the Netherlands, and the USA. In this work, we sought the views of students and educators on the changes that the pandemic had brought to learning and teaching experiences.

Being part of a multi-national project was a highlight amongst the lockdowns here in Melbourne, and seeing the data about learner and educator experiences around the world made us feel less alone.

From Deakin, 380 students and 39 staff contributed their perspectives to the project. Here, we share a brief summary and highlight important findings from the five published research papers that CRADLE have been part of.

What changes did institutions make to learning and teaching in the initial stages of the pandemic?

This first paper examined what eight institutions across four continents did in the ‘pivot’ to emergency response teaching. Whilst many universities already had an online learning management system, they were variably used prior to the pandemic. Most institutions did make the transition to online delivery of synchronous sessions, drawing on the LMS to support the delivery of learning resources. Whilst approximately half of the courses across this study did make some alteration to assessment requirements, there was an overall sense that fairness needed to be maintained. Whilst educators effected the majority of changes to curriculum and assessment themselves, and many felt overwhelmed in the process, the general feeling was that they were successful in teaching delivery during tumultuous times.

How did lockdowns and the shift to the digital influence confidence in learning?

Students studying very hard

Students and teachers were impacted by various aspects of the pandemic health response. In many countries around the world, there were variable levels of ‘lockdown’ which necessitated a turn to digital technologies. Adopting concepts of the ‘digital disconnect’ and ‘digital divide’ – between those who are adept and have access to technology, and those who did not have the same facility and access – we explored how this impacted learning and teaching.

Somewhat surprisingly, the confidence of students was impacted more by the crowded household situations rather than anything related to technology, and for teachers, the rapid nature of the transition had more impact than their previous experience with e-learning. This paper suggests that the environments in which learning and teaching take place are important for confidence in learning.

What might happen to digital learning in light of the pandemic?

Given the rapid shift to online learning, we wanted to know what the future might hold for digital learning, based on everyone’s pandemic experiences of technology. Educators, senior administrators, and students all shared the view that there would be a greater proportion of online and hybrid courses based on the relative ‘success’ of what had happened in the Emergency Remote Teaching response. This paper suggests that a return to the way things were before, is no longer possible, and that care must be taken in designing learning experiences across different delivery modes.

How did the pandemic impact learners from diverse backgrounds?

Student confidence for learning was moderated by different factors, but we thought that inequity (in traditional categories such as socioeconomic status, gender, disability, and international background) would be compounded by pandemic circumstances. Again, this paper found that the impacts of pandemic related factors such as household lockdowns, and suboptimal study conditions (noise, internet connection, too many people in a small space) were more influential on students’ learning experiences.

So our hypothesis that emergency response teaching might perpetuate structural inequalities was not entirely supported

This suggests that we need to carefully consider what factors outside of ‘traditional’ categories of disadvantage might impact negatively on students’ learning.

How did students manage their learning during the pandemic?

Deakin also conducted a small qualitative inquiry as part of the project, where we sought to gain further insight into students’ experiences of learning during the initial stages of the pandemic, being particularly interested in what strategies they developed and adopted. Students devoted energy towards organising the aspects of the life they still had control over: themselves, their time, their space, and their relationships, engaged in self-care and help seeking to be successful in study during the pandemic. This work highlights the idea that learning always happens within a context, and a set of circumstances, that students may have variable control over. As educators, we should consider how our teaching reaches students in the contexts of their lives, and the challenges that they might face.

a woman on the bed in the bedroom using a laptop

Overall, it’s clear that the pandemic had unexpected impacts on learning and teaching, and is likely to have made a lasting impact on the way that higher education is conceived of and experienced by staff and students. CRADLE’s pandemic-related work isn’t yet over: we are currently undertaking a study of what changes stuck with us after the COVID crisis ebbed. Keep an eye out for further updates once the project is complete!


Bartolic, S. K., Boud, D., Agapito, J., Verpoorten, D., Williams, S., Lutze-Mann, L., Matzat, U., Moreno, M. M., Polly, P., Tai, J., Marsh, H. L., Lin, L., Burgess, J.-L., Habtu, S., Rodrigo, M. M. M., Roth, M., Heap, T., & Guppy, N. (2022). A multi-institutional assessment of changes in higher education teaching and learning in the face of COVID-19. Educational Review, 74(3), 517-533.

Guppy, N., Boud, D., Heap, T., Verpoorten, D., Matzat, U., Tai, J., Lutze-Mann, L., Roth, M., Polly, P., & Burgess, J.-L. (2022). Teaching and learning under COVID-19 public health edicts: the role of household lockdowns and prior technology usage. Higher Education, 84(3), 487-504.

Guppy, N., Verpoorten, D., Boud, D., Lin, L., Tai, J., & Bartolic, S. (2022). The post-COVID-19 future of digital learning in higher education: Views from educators, students, and other professionals in six countries. British Journal of Educational Technology, 53(6), 1750-1765.

Bartolic, S., Matzat, U., Tai, J., Burgess, J-L., Boud, D., Craig, H., Archibald, A., De Jaeger, A., Kaplan-Rakowski, R., Lutze-Mann, L., Polly, P., Roth, M., Heap, T., Agapito J., & Guppy, N. (2022). Student vulnerabilities and confidence in learning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies in Higher Education, 47(12), 2460-2472.

Ajjawi, R., Fischer, J., Tai, J., Bearman, M., & Jorre de St Jorre, T. (2022). “Attending lectures in your pyjamas”: student agency in constrained circumstances. Higher Education. Advance Online Publication.

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