Historically, it has been proven that every media can be put to educational use. Radio, TV, Cinema, Internet and Computers are some of the traditional as well as new media that has created innovative educational programming for masses. Traditional media (Radio, TV and Cinema) has been more in the broadcasting realm, in the sense, the communication is from one-to-many. Communication is orderly, systematic and planned. There are limited feedback mechanisms and almost none other interactive features. The educational and learning opportunities in traditional media have therefore been limited. Computers and Internet changed all that. Computers introduced what we call today as interactivity. Communication became interactive and one to one-like human communication. Internet added even more interactivity to this communication by making it one-to-many and many-to-many. Such communication channels offered huge opportunities for education and learning. As a result, while you rarely find radio, TV and cinema in classrooms; computers and internet are all pervasive in education across the world. Ninad Vengurlekar, Vice President – New Media in Education @ IL&FS Education and Technology Services Limited, talks about the potential of M-Learning in India.
Mobile Learning in Higher Education
Why do you think mobile phones will impact the education sector in India?
In India, mobile phones arrived close on the heels of internet. But their penetration has been nothing short of a miracle. With over 700 million phone users in India in the past one decade, close to 65 per cent of India is connected to this wonder machine. It is estimated that close to 70-80 per cent youth in the country may own a mobile phone making it most preferred communication option than any other media ever. The all pervasive nature of mobile phones makes it imperative for educationists to evaluate its merits and demerits as learning tools or aid.
English Seekho, a spoken English Program on Mobile Phones, provides the user 44 IVR based lessons, recaps, multiple choice questions, SMS summaries and speech recognition to facilitate learning on the go
What is the kind of impact that you envision through mobile learning?
There can be huge impact, if we get learning out of the realm of traditional educational models. A traditional education model comprises of a classroom with a teacher, a blackboard and students. But this model has limited use in a country like India where 200 million youth have no access to formal educational institutions. Traditional education also comprises subjects, theories, exams and rankings. But the 200 million out-ofcollege youth are not equipped to garner knowledge in this fashion. Most of them are at work, far away from their homes, earning livelihood to support their families. What they need is Just-In-Time knowledge and learning solutions in the areas of job skills, government schemes, job search, health and hygiene, family planning, agricultural practices, career guidance, and so on.
Can you highlight the initiatives taken by IL&FS in this field?
English Seekho, a spoken English Program Program on Mobile Phones, launched by IL&FS Education in September 2009 on Tata Indicom provides the user 44 IVR based lessons, recaps, multiple choice questions, SMS summaries and speech recognition to facilitate learning on the go. In its first month of its launch, 50,000 subscribers signed up for the programme and since then over one million subscriptions have taken place. Currently the program is live on four operators with over 300,000 users subscribing every month. However, the challenge has been what we call as ‘mobile absenteeism’. Only 15-20 per cent of the subscribers, who subscribe for the program, actually learn; rest are all just subscribers but do not use the service
Any further step taken to meet and rectify this deficit in people? Which age group is basically your customer?
Now we plan to send voice mails to these users every day, so that we do not have to depend on their constraints to learn. Our users range from college going girls from small villages, job seeking youth, senior managers in leading companies, spoken English tutors, to even the visually impaired. And a majority of them do not have access to formal learning channels.
We have recently launched Sparsh – sex education on mobile phones, Mobile Swasthya – Health education on mobile hones, Margadarshak – Government Schemes information on Mobile Phones, Lakshya – Career Guidance on mobile phones, and so on.
How can mobile learning be of help to traditional teaching styles?
My belief is that mobile lso be used for traditional classroomlearning canmodels. Mobile learning in classrooms can offer lectures on the phone, testing and assessment, SMS summaries of concepts and alerts. In classrooms, mobile learning can act as supplementary educational aid for students and professors. A smartphone today costs between Rs.4-5000 and is easily affordable to students in high paying professional courses. With the advent of 3G, a smartphone can act as a mini computer and can deliver live tutoring to students along with power-point and PDF assessments. Learning can happen on the go.
What are the areas which people actually should explore before using the mobile learning medium?
My personal experience shows that just because people use mobiles may not mean that they can use mobile devices as learning tools. We should always keep in mind certain questions and
points that are actually useful in the process. A lot of questions, which are worth meditating on before we design mobile learning interventions in the future, remain in terms of successful implementation of M-learning in classrooms and outside classrooms. These include:
• What is the rationale for implementing mobile learning technologies?
• Will brevity of expression trump depth of knowledge?
• What course content is suitable for transmission to mobile computing/ communication devices?
• Will the quality of communication and interaction be enhanced or diminished by adopting mobile learning pedagogy?
• Do mobile devices allow students to interact with peers and instructors at the same level and quality as if they were participating using a PC?
• Will the quality of the instructional content be improved, enhanced, or downgraded by transferring to a mobile- compatible format? • What types of resistance to change will faculty and students experience?
• How will the instructor’s role change?