“True knowledge is not attained by thinking. It is what you are; it is what you become.”― Sri Aurobindo
Learning in schools and colleges will be very different in the after-Corona era from the times we grew up in. The lockdown taken as a precautionary measure to combat the evils of the COVID -19 Pandemic has forced teachers, students, parents and all stakeholders to adopt the new normal in the world of teaching and that is online education. The Corona Virus Pandemic has appended the world of Education forever. The online resources include recorded lectures, videos, ebooks, journals, podcasts, short films, quizzes, etc. The most popular platforms that Indian students have accessed are Swayam, EDx, Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, Skillshare just to name a few. The various platforms which are being used by schools and colleges are Zoom, Google meet, Cisco Webex, Microsoft teams to name a few. These resources and platforms are engaging a total of 1.3 to 1.5 billion learners worldwide during this lockdown period.
We need to reflect on what the pioneers in the Education technology space opine.
1. One of the popular portals for learning online is EDx. The Founder of Edx, Anant Agarwal, Distinguished Professor at MIT – mentioned how to learn online and how to teach online is a course on EDx available for free. They have about a million learners online with about 1000 corporate trainers and 150 global partnerships. The most popular course is the course on Happiness which is offered by UC Berkeley. They have also witnessed an upsurge of user enrolments by about 15X.
2. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, a not for profit start up created online education globally. He has seen an upsurge of 3X registrations of students who wanted to study online. For some courses especially mathematics where they provide short, micro videos on basic concepts, the upsurge was as high as 20X. They work closely with Delhi and Karnataka Govt. and provide content in about 43 languages including Gujarati.
3. Byju Ravindran, founder of Byju’s – They have also made a lot of content available for free during the lockdown period. They have 3.5 million paid subscribers. Students spend on an average of 71 minutes daily on the app interestingly, 65% of the students are from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Children and parents have been found to binge watch these videos which look like a game or a movie.
While we still do not dare to think of it as a complete substitute of face to face learning, we can’t but rule out its many benefits. Let us discuss what these benefits are. In the later part we will also discuss the challenges faced by students and teachers and what needs to be done to make it an experience that is far from a compromise.
Convenience and reach – Anytime Anywhere Anyone is the norm of Online education. It helps the learners transcend the barriers of time and distance. It is student centred, cost effective and an empowering experience.
Flexibility – The main benefit of Online learning is flexibility. The e-learner takes the driver’s seat in online leaning, he chooses the courses to study, when to study and from whom to study. With the world’s best universities providing a host of courses, there cannot be a better time to gather knowledge. And that too from the comfort of your home without having to travel. Also, no matter what your desired field of study, you can almost find an online program.
Value-Add – Whether you are still in college or a working professional, an online degree especially taken to complement your existing qualification looks great on your resume. An online degree from a prestigious university improves your chances for an advancement in your career. You will be self disciplined by managing your time and tasks. You will learn to use time management tools like scheduling time and tasks in an online calendar, which is a skill that will help you all your life.
Increased opportunities for discussions – In case you thought, you would miss out on deliberation with your course mates if you take a course online, you are pleasantly mistaken!! Online learning offers many such opportunities. You can talk about class assignments using chat forums or live online discussion sites. You can join virtual study groups using platforms like zoom, google meet, WebEx, Avaya spaces and a host of the Videoconferencing modes. You can take online quizzes and tests and know your score immediately. You can add diversity to your learning with peers learning with you not only from different countries but also different continents
Broader, global perspective – Students in an online program are from across continents. Students get an opportunity to enhance their sensibilities of diverse cultures, which is an important trait that employers are looking for. It also gives students ideas to innovate because ideas come only beyond your immediate world and gives you the spark of creativity. Most importantly, digital content can adapt to the context. Here it is important to mention that with use of Artificial intelligence, it is even possible to facilitate suitable personalized learning too.
Benefits for teachers– It’s a big opportunity for teachers as well. To reach to a larger audience, to use the online learning tools effectively, to have access to global knowledge themselves, and have better chances of meaning interaction with a more engaged student.
Adding technical skills, refining critical thinking skills –Getting that coveted online certification equates to having strong technical skills. As part of your coursework, you are likely to need to utilize digital learning materials, get familiar with new tools and software, and troubleshoot common issues. This is a skill every employer will look out for. That lays ground for the doing skills or the experiential learning. A lot many edutech tools are being developed the enrich the e-learner with doing skills like break-out rooms in the e-class where participants can get together in smaller groups in order to discuss real life/ simulated cases.
Speaking of challenges, Schools and Colleges haven’t really had a chance to set up systems and protocols of deciding the mode of imparting education because the disruption happened just in a matter of 3-4 days. If we see the statistics of impact of Pandemic on education, it says that in around 186 countries, about 1.2 billion students have been facing a disruption in their education in various ways. About 59% college going students were provided with Online classes whereas 41% were given no online classes. Among those who had online classes, 60% had fewer than 3 hours of class per day and in a survey these students, 81% mentioned that they preferred physical classes to online classes and 65% found online classes to be boring; to the extent that 70% found home environment to be non-engaging From these statistics, we can safely presume that Online learning does not come without its challenges. Some of them are:
Connectivity: One of the biggest hurdles to online accessibility is connectivity – Internet Connectivity and devices to access the online classes. Added to it difficulty faced sometimes in downloading the material. This will create a disparity between students who have access and those who do not. So even when schools and colleges open up, some kind of orientation and induction will have to be conducted to bring all students up to speed.
Inculcating values, beliefs and attitudes: Prof. Shrikant Datar from Harvard Business School, Author of “Future of MBA Program” is a supporter of peer learning and according to him one of the biggest learnings come from being in a learning ecosystem where a student deliberates and discusses with classmates and faculty. Incidentally, Harvard Business School is also known for the famous case study method of learning where a case study is a simulation of real life facts interwoven to result into interdisciplinary learning outcomes. If we classify these outcomes, they consist of the knowing, doing and being skills. While the first skill which consist of facts, frameworks and theories can very well be imparted virtually, the second skill is also facilitated by virtual mentorship. But the being skill wherein the learners are expected to be in a certain milieu of values, attitudes and beliefs is still a domain which cannot be instilled without the human touch.
Training of the learning facilitator – This is another big challenge, the teachers might not be equipped or skilled in dealing with online learning.
Stress faced by teachers: With eye contact, no personal access, very difficult to maintain discipline. Body language and non verbal cues are something which inspires a teacher to keep going. Unfortunately, these are conspicuous by absence in an online class.
Screen time: If there is one villain in this whole story of online education, it is screen time. How much is too much is anybody’s guess.
Every crisis offers us an opportunity and Post the lockdown, there will be greater synergies expected between online learning and classroom learning. The teachers, students, parents and policymakers can come together and create something that’s more innovative and efficient for all stakeholders with technology as an enabler. The most important skill will be the skill to unlearn, learn and relearn. Hard skills and soft skills will have their own place and shall not be replaced. Online learning has to become a habit for the future learner and Blended learning will be the new normal of education post this pandemic. Students will be knowledge seekers and teachers will become mentors and the world of education will be very close to an imagined ideal.
About the Author:
Dr. Meghna Dangi
Ph D., F.C.A., A.I.C.M.A., B.Com
Associate Professor, AURO University, Surat, Gujarat
With around two decades of experience in academics and corporate sector, Dr. Meghna Dangi is a Chartered Accountant, Cost Accountant and a PhD.in Behavioral Finance. Her domain areas of teaching include Finance and Accounting. She has various publications in the field of Behavioral Finance and presents research papers regularly at National and International Conferences including IITs and IIMs. She also consults and trains in the field of Personal Finance and Financial Planning. Presently, she is the Program coordinator of the Post graduate diploma in Financial Markets, where she is instrumental in enabling learners in developing skill sets required to succeed in the financial market industry through curriculum development, pedagogical design, industry-integrated sessions and as convener of National level Seminars in the field of Financial markets.