B L Razdan
The internet and digital infrastructure with a significant penetration is a boon for education. The Pradhan Mantri e-Vidya Programme was launched in May to amplify the efforts for a better shift online. The top 100 universities in the country were permitted to start online courses in May, without the need to seek approval from education regulators. However, challenges remain. Remote learning has not only changed how students are taught, but has also significantly altered the methods deployed by teachers and parents. A fundamental enabler is the infrastructure, which includes high-speed internet and supporting devices such as desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phones. These prerequisites may have expanded the gap between upper- and middle-economic sections, as well as urban and rural populations of our country on account of the digital divide, even so it may not mean much in multicultural and diversified society like India, where there is already a grave educational divide. On the other hand, it may be the only way to narrow down the yawning gap between the literacy rates of various sections of the society beset with the ills of illiteracy, poverty, deprivation, backwardness and the like.
Distance education uses technology to empower student learning. Distance education students become responsible for their own learning. Technology makes learning more immediate. Learning can be fostered through strategic uses of technology. Access to hardware and software for development and use of educational applications, both on and off campus, are essential for success. If sufficient care is taken of the digital divide, remote learning could be a blessing in the disguise and may prove even fortuitous for India in removing many ills afflicting us. In fact, remote learning may be the only way to hasten our development on various fronts, including education, on which we are lagging behind.
The pandemic set off a race for schools to launch remote learning efforts to keep children from falling behind. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that 463 million children worldwide – about one in three – lack access to the tools they need for remote learning. And as the pandemic grinds on, experts worry that disparities in who can access school now could have long-term consequences for children in the future. “The educational divide and the digital divide are so tightly linked,” Peter Cookson, a senior researcher at the Learning Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera. “The biggest fear that I have is that the educational divide will be deepened by the digital divide, especially because it will continue for some time,” said Cookson. “This COVID crisis, the health crisis, the economic crisis, the struggle for racial justice – these things are not going to go away any time in the next month or so. This is going to be a long-term struggle, so we really need to address this problem in a deep way.”
Remote learning is the future of education and has thus come to stay. There is no going back. Online learning has been on the rise in recent years, largely due to the convenience, cost, and accessibility the system offers compared to traditional learning. This growth has only been fueled by the coronavirus pandemic that forced down the shutters of universities and schools worldwide. Even so the state of Kerala in India could conduct successfully the 10 and 12 standard public exams amidst the pandemic because it had ensured smart phone and internet access to every school going child. As time goes on and social distancing rules become more concrete in everyday life, it’s expected that web-based learning will experience a surge. Web-based learning includes a variety of setups including live streaming, video-on-demand, seminars, webinars, talk shows, interviews, and much more. Regardless of what mode is chosen by the communicator, it’s a given that the convenience and flexibility of web-based learning will make it more popular in years to come.
The meaning of traditional classrooms has changed over the years, especially with technology permeating some, then all, domains of the classroom environment. From projectors to smart screens and everything in between, technology has changed classroom learning as we knew it. And now, online learning serves to switch up what we expect from learning environments, processes, and experiences. Many of the perks offered by traditional classrooms are now being provided by eLearning platform services, with a few additional features. The public’s appreciation for online learning has only increased over time, with 46% of surveyed recent graduates having taken an online course already. The variety of eLearning platform features, accessibility, lower costs, and access to high-quality education from all parts of the world have contributed to this rise. While the question of which online learning platform is best is still up in the air, all learning platforms offer distinctive benefits to those who enroll in their courses. According to the most recent survey from Babson Survey Research Group, over 30 percent of higher education students in the United States are taking at least one distance course.
Remote learning is flexible and convenient. Online education enables the teacher and the student to set their own learning pace, and there’s the added flexibility of setting a schedule that fits everyone’s agenda. As a result, using an online educational platform allows for a better balance of work and studies, so there’s no need to give anything up.
Online education offers a wide selection of programs. In a space as vast and wide as the internet, there are infinite skills and subjects to teach and learn. A growing number of universities and higher education schools are offering online versions of their programs for various levels and disciplines. From music composition to quantum physics, there are options for every type of student. Studying your program online is also a great option for getting an official certificate, diploma, or degree without physically setting foot on a university campus. Online learning allows for better quality interactions between students and tutors. This is because tutors have various teaching methods at their disposal. Additionally, they can focus on individual students a lot more than they would in traditional classes. Most online learning courses that rely on live streaming have a cap on the number of students who can enroll, ensuring that each student gets adequate attention and advice from their tutor.
Online or remote learning is easily accessible inasmuch as it enables you to study or teach from anywhere in the world. This means there’s no need to commute from one place to another, or follow a rigid schedule. On top of that, not only do you save time, but you also save money, which can be spent on other priorities. The virtual classroom is also available anywhere there’s an internet connection, and a good way to take advantage of this is to travel. For example, if you are studying abroad and want to get a job, online education is a great choice. There’s no reason to give up on working or studying while exploring new and exotic places. Online learning classes that depend on pre-recorded videos and tests can have an unlimited number of students enrolling. So many popular courses today have thousands of students simultaneously enrolled, and since there is no need for physical classrooms and seats, more students can enroll in a single course at the same time.
Technology can make learning more individualized. According to studies, retention rates are higher in online learning than in traditional university courses. This is likely due to the decrease in stressors and pressures otherwise present in traditional schooling systems. Students are allowed to learn and practice at their own pace; their course material is also available for a lifetime, in case they want to come back and refresh their memory.
Self-paced learning has become possible with computers. Distance learning is not dependent upon time or place and in many ways it can be more flexible than the traditional model. Therefore, it can be seen that technology and distance learning is a good match. “The digital generation uses today’s technologies to maintain social networks and bridge and build new ones in the Web-based social networking sites of their age, via their instant messages” (Harwood & Asal, 2007, p. 162). The new technologies are interwoven into the fabric of today’s society if everyone does not have access to the technology; the ones denied access will be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to education, the job market, and being competitive in today’s society. Every top eLearning platform offers distinctive benefits over traditional classrooms to students. Online learning features in the future of education; if your company has considered exploring how to build an eLearning platform, it’s the most convenient time to start.
There’s no need to discount the skepticism surrounding education through the internet. It is hard to understand the notion of leaving behind the conventional classroom, especially if it is to face this vast space called The Internet. That is, however, no reason to shy away from this alternative, which has proven to be valid and useful for many students. Online education is a sensible choice whether you’re a teenager or an adult. As a student, this can be a useful learning method for sharpening your skills in a difficult subject, or learning a new skill.
Till we are able to bridge the digital divide, on which the governments are lately laying emphasis, it would be worthwhile to blend the brick and mortar system with the online digital system, the emphasis gradually being shifted towards the latter, for that is the future. During the interregnum we should adopt creative and innovative ways to make online learning process more effective and not even think of reverting to the old system even in the post-pandemic times.
(The author is Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.)
B L Razdan