In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced worldwide the outbreak of COVID-19, which is a new strain of coronavirus. Two months later, in March 2020, the disease was declared as a pandemic . COVID-19 has thrown its immense impact on all areas of our life. It affected our communication with each other, our social life, our rituals, and ways of worships and even our way of dressing and clothing, with wearing a mask becoming a must and a necessary piece of attire. The field of learning and teaching is of no exception. Schools and universities found themselves compelled to adopt new ways of teaching, as students were unable to come to classes and share the space and place with other colleagues. Almost all educational institutions applied distant or virtual learning, i.e., online learning as a substitute to face-to-face learning. The current situation is unique and hopefully unrepeatable, at least in the near future, so it is important to evaluate the impact of this phenomenon on different aspects of higher education industry including students’ performance.
In response to this unprecedented event, the government of the Kingdom of Bahrain imposed strict and draconian precautious measures to hinder the spread of the coronavirus disease. All walks of life were suspended or at least were put to a bottom-low-level. All educational institutions all over the Kingdom of Bahrain were put on suspension including the regional Arabian Gulf University-College of Medicine and Medical Sciences (AGU-CMMS). AGU is a regional university under the financial support of 6 Arabian Gulf countries, i.e., United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Bahrain, State of Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, State of Qatar, and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. CMMS at AGU adopted the Problem Based Learning (PBL) method for its medical program [2, 3]. The AGU students are mainly from this region of the world. After the suspension of classroom teaching, AGU students went back to their countries in the hope of returning soon, but the news broke out that that they should stay home and resume their classes by e-learning or what is recently known as virtual or online learning. Hence, virtual classes for medical undergraduate students at AGU were commenced on 21st March 2020, as almost all AGU students have no access to AGU campus or face-to-face learning.
Virtual or online learning made the process of communication between students and their lecturers easier and more convenient. Students started receiving their medical education while staying at home [4–7]. For the last twenty years distant learning has played a significant role and created a severe competition among universities to expand their scope of teaching and their financial income [8–11]. Previous studies on the efficiency of online learning stated that this method of teaching should be consistently evaluated to potentially enhance e-learning . As this experience of teaching is a novel method of teaching at AGU, it was necessary to assess and examine the outcome of the last six months of online learning at AGU. Recent studies were carried out on the impact of COVID- 19 on clinical practice [13, 14], and on how e-learning is a conducive way and an interactive method during the COVID-19 pandemic .
The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effectiveness of virtual teaching-learning strategies on the students’ performance in final exams at AGU-CMMS amid COVID-19 pandemic, when compared to their performance in conventional teaching-learning environment.