Online Education: A way forward for future learning

Dr. Sujata Sahi
Vice Chancellor- IILM University, Gurgaon

Education sector has forever been expecting the need to pace with technology developments around the world. In the last decade, we have seen the emergence of online education with platforms like Coursera, SWAYAM, Udemy amalgamated by the partnerships with the world’s most renowned universities. The Covid-19 crisis has merely acted as a catalyst for a wider adoption of these enablers by opening a new mode of imparting quality education.

Our education system has also undergone the same transformation at a global level. Education system at all levels, universities or schools has now moved to the online platform.It is, however, very important to distinguish between the already existing online education and moving ahead how we incorporate this new format of bended learning in our education system.

Online education or technological integration has been a part of our education system over a century now. The goal of online education system is to help students add to their already existing learning by providing courses that can develop the knowledge further. Dearth of information available on the sites encourages students to review research and develop ideas that challenge their skills and probe them to develop more, tapping on their curiosity. Further, online education gives access to a plethora of courses that the students utilise to build deeper understanding of the topics beyond their current degree curriculum. Online education casts shadow to the idea of traditional education in many ways- through online education where students are open to choose the learning material of their choice which is beneficial for creative and highly edged students who demand complexity, while it is equally beneficial for the self-paced learners to decide whether or not they would want to understand the concept in depth or in easier manner.

However, the only demerits of online education one faces is the lack of connection, traditional classroom encourages strong teacher-student relationship helping them develop a strong connection guiding and helping students clear their doubts, review performance and grade their learning. Further the teachers act out as an absolute mentor tracking the performance of the student, following up this session-learning through class assignments, home assignments and tests. Teachers also have the opportunity to guide the way students are thinking and the choice of information they should have access to. Even peer learning takes place in face-to-face teaching. On the other side are the online courses and information that provides an access to students through the web of knowledge sans restrictions, checks etc. It is very important to separate online education with technological integration which has now been a part of our classroom settings in the form of introducing smart boards, computer labs etc to increase students engagement and learning.

While it is vital to clear the common conceived misconception, it is important to highlight the format of online learning most education institutions are currently adopting and that is blended learning. Blended learning in its simplest form is referred to as the“learning that can be derived after clubbing the traditional classroom environment and online mode of teaching together”. Understanding the importance of online courses and traditional teaching, blended learning has been introduced, ensuring to cover the challenges student and faculty face at both ends of the communication spectrum. Blended learning incorporates synchronous and asynchronous learning, where students have an opportunity to interact with teachers and clear their doubt during face-to-face teaching and comprehend, strengthen, and reinforce this through self-directed learning at their own pace. While several models have been proposed to explain what and how blended learning looks like including, face-to-face, online lab, rotation, flex etc., but one of the most efficient system that has been widely promoted is the flipped classroom method.

Flipped classroom method of blended learning has enabled the faculty and students to transform online education in the 21st century, which necessitates introducing online education, post Covid-19. Blended learning through flipped learning method demands an online learning management system where the learning material, all or some, can be uploaded for students by teachers much before classroom time, and the face-to-face classroom or class time is based on the discussion and the application use of the concept previously shared by the teacher using the online learning management system. Here the teacher becomes a facilitator instead of being a direct mentor, and the approach is more student-centric than being teacher-centric.

Further, the teacher pays more attention on the application rather than on delivery, choice of material, and the way of teaching. The assigned classes are encouraged towards discussion and classroom activities where learning can be discussed and students get more clarity of the concept application post the concept understanding using the reading material uploaded before the actual class. Hence here the teacher adopts a role of a guide on side which is mostly missing in online courses ones take as they exist or function today. While blended learning is still at the experimentation stage where universities are seeing whether or not it will help the students, its benefits are widely discussed.

While students are expected to benefit from online education, it is very important for us to see whether or not our teachers are ready for this transformation, effectively moving from traditionalistic approach to a more formative approach. While it is not wrong to say that it is difficult to adopt any new mode that fast but institutional support can bring about the real change. Introducing online education will make the job of the teacher much easier than before. Teachers would now be burden-free from preparing the module plan or class lectures or following up with the students since the online mode enables teachers to be prepared beforehand for timely uploading of the material on the static learning management system site. Further, the teacher’s efficiency will be increased and it will give more time to the teacher to involve in honing their skills, working on research papers and coming out of creative ways of initiating discussions and probing new ideas. Further, the student’s immediate feedback and queries can be attended timely and on one-on-one basis. Academic and research emphasis would be enhanced by this mode of learning.

Mindfully dealing with the upcoming challenges?

As exciting as it may sound, online education can further pose challenges that should be reworked at an intermediate level.

Introducing technology in a hassle free manner is essential. Traditional education system demanded technology free lectures but introducing online education will require both the faculty and students to become tech trained to make the best use of it. The most effective way of dealing with this challenge is to teach the efficient way by using technology extensively.

The second challenge that could come up is when the students are not keeping up with their routine work.Online education lets student have complete control over their education and learning materials in hand. Constant assignments, group discussions, in-group activities and assessments can help the faculty to track the student’s performance.

Finally, the teacher takes up a passive role and becomes the side-guide or facilitator without directly controlling the learning that happens for students thus making the student the sole driver. While online education though blended learning is an ambiguous model which though it has been proven to be reliable, the effectiveness of it is still under speculation. The Covid-19 phase definitely demands immediate intervention because of the element of uncertainty,which it carries along its side. Since learning and education does not stop, the modulations and transformations in the system will also enable the sector to take the leap for future technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, whenever they become the new normal.

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