Background. The necessity to introduce digital technologies in education and in the professional training of journalism students in particular has been widely discussed in the theory and practice of education over the past 20 years. From the point of view of both future research and training, it becomes very important to study the development of journalists’ professional competencies and professional identity in the online environment.
Objective. To study the experience of distance learning by students in the faculty of journalism at Lomonosov Moscow State University during the period of restrictive measures in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic (Spring 2020).
Design. A two-stage empirical project studied the opinions of students about distance learning, to identify its effectiveness for the formation of professional competencies and identity. In the first stage, a qualitative (investigative) study was conducted on a small sample using semi-formalized tools. In the second stage, a formal survey was conducted on a representative sample (N = 576).
Results. We found that in order to achieve the social, educational, and cognitive presence necessary for effective online education, an important condition is the communication environment and stable communication among all participants: students, professors, and academic departments. However, the communicative environment of the traditional training process is not transferred to the online environment in its original form. With Internet technologies, it is difficult to provide a strong teaching presence, which is a catalyst for the development of social and cognitive presence and a key component of traditional professional training. In the online learning mode, students are overloaded with self-study and written assignments, and mastering the necessary professional knowledge, competencies, and skills becomes their own responsibility.
Not all components of the traditional educational process (types and forms of classes, educational materials, etc.), remain effective when transferred to the online environment.
Conclusion. The formation of professional competencies, as well as the social, cognitive, and behavioral components that determine the further development of professional identity, is difficult in distance education. Online learning cannot be regarded as a full-fledged alternative to the traditional higher professional education of journalists.
Keywords: professional identity, journalism students, online learning, teaching presence