The rising popularity and spread of online education augurs a transformation in our near future that is sure to render it categorically different from traditional learning, writes Dr Sarika Lidoria, Vice President – Enterprise Technology ITM Group of Institutions, for Elets News Network (ENN).
The theorems of Pythagoras and Apollonius, the histories of the two Wars, the intricate details of the criss-crossing of the Danube and the Rhine, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, the distance in lightyears that separates Jupiter and Mars – these constitute some of the bulk of the intake of a pupil as they enter the higher educational institutions of our country. These have their use and value, but it also bears noticing that an average student would never have seen a tax return, a voter’s ID, a balance sheet, or a corporate legal document as he or she prepares to join the workforce or enrol for further technical studies.
A large-scale change needs to take place in the educational sector to make both the content and method of our institutional learning vocational and market-oriented. Such a sector-wide change, at a cost that could make learning available to increasingly larger sections of the masses, could be engendered only by the rise of E-learning, accompanied by developments in information and communications technology. But so far, the promising advantages that lie at the hands of online education haven’t been reaped to full harvest. PPTs and E-books alone do not fully exhaust these latent possibilities. Mobile and tablet-based learning apps ensuring ‘learning on the go’, interactive boards, animation and video-based training, graphic user interface (GUI) programs allowing for critical and creative engagement of the student with the content, are coming together in recent times to help institutions cater to the unique potential and learning needs of the students. Here lies that unopened window of opportunity where this advanced form of education can join together learning and vocation so indelibly as to transform, in some degree, the classroom itself into a workplace. The rise and spread of Virtual Reality simulation technology allied to developments in Artificial Intelligence technology is sure to place the classroom, the work itself and the market, all on the student’s desk.
As online education is not dependent on a fixed number of employees with appointed tasks and fixed positions, the human material that drives its engine is crowd sourced. It can draw upon a vast network of resources from all over the world. Time and place constraints being here obviated, the ideals long dreamt of by John Dewey in his philosophy of education like one-to-one learning, personal pupil-teacher interaction, democratic participation of the student, experimental and practical nature of imparting knowledge, are closest met by an online education powered by virtual learning environments, video-streaming, webinars and e-conferencing, and other products of a burgeoning communications technology capable of connecting people at the farthest ends of the globe.
The Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai almost gave her life to defend the principle that education is a universal human right. The reach of education to the masses without any compromise to its quality, in terms of the teachers and the methods and means of delivery, can only be accomplished by a massive reduction in infrastructural costs. Recorded lectures, educational videos, electronic books and materials that can be repeatedly used and for as long as one wants, contribute in a unique way to a cumulative reduction in costs in the long run. Meaning, the more they are used, the more affordable they become; and the reduction in cost at this level alone can make possible the economizing of the cost that the student is to bear.
“Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons”, said Malala in her address to the United Nations Youth Assembly. But the ‘pens’ and ‘books’ here stand as metaphors and symbols of technologies much more powerful, much more effective, and, in the long run, much more economical. These ‘Weapons of Mass Instruction’ are what the educational sector needs to arm itself with as it battles for a world in which education would have achieved the impossible trio of reaching the largest number, with the best quality, at the lowest price.