The Future of Online Education

When we thought everything was going right, an invisible virus has completely changed the way the world was operating — the education system, the working styles, the family dynamics, and personal routine.

While a lot of sectors are impacted because of the pandemic, one of the most crucial changes is in the delivery of content between the teacher and the students. Schools, colleges, tuition centres are now conducting their classes on Zoom, Google Classroom, and other mediums, as found convenient. These platforms were new, and now, they have made the lifestyle of kids and their parents super comfortable. A six-year-old kid is able to operate Zoom and a nine-year-old can easily do her homework on Google Classroom. This lockdown has taught us one thing — the situation will be back to normal in some time, but whenever it does, young kids and parents will continue to find all these applications very handy.

These changes in learning patterns have been furthered by the fifth package under Atma Nirbhar Bharat. India is now focussing on technology-driven online education supported by TV channels to reach those who do not have access to the internet. A provision has been made to telecast the expert sessions live on 15 channels, with the focus on providing educational content.

In addition to this, to drive education with equity post-COVID, the government has initiated PM E-Vidya programme — a scheme for multi-mode access to digital/online education that has content for school education in states/Union Territories. For the first time, higher education institutions have permission to start online courses.

As the classroom size gets reduced to computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones, the future will see a surge in online content being delivered through multiple channels. Where learning apps like Byju’s have already made their mark, we will see many more such start-ups building online content. According to the Google Trends Report released in April 2020, there has been an exponential growth in searches on the e-learning segment. An 85 per cent growth was registered in Google searches on the phrase “learn online”, 148 per cent growth on “teach online”, 79 per cent increase in searches for “at-home learning” and a whopping 300 per cent increase in searches for “classes online”. This is an opportunity that should also be utilized by schools and tuition centres to deliver the basic content online and use the school hours for mentoring, facilitating, and skilling students.

Learning for the elderly has also become convenient. People are now learning new recipes on Facebook and WhatsApp. There are EduTok channels on TikTok to teach users basic English, Math, and Science. Some even prepare candidates for entrance exams on such apps. The success of such initiatives is yet to be seen. However, the point to note is that content is now available everywhere. From Google to any of the social media applications, learning is right at our thumb now. What we need is sound judgment, as it will be a major challenge to assess the quality and reliability of the content.

Does the future of learning look free, convenient and easy? Definitely. As many of us spend nearly a third of our day on our phones, learning has now become free and accessible to everyone. But the bigger question is, what is there for our future generation? These apps will give the students flexible learning patterns — learn at their own pace, at their own time. There will be a lot of scope of personalizing learning strategies, moving the focus from rote memorisation to understanding complete concepts. 

Project-based learning with a focus on the process, rather than on the results, will further enhance learning. Students can now choose to learn the subjects that they are most interested in. As routine tasks are taken over by computers, workers will be valued for the creativity and intuition that only the human mind can offer (for now). Effective communication, the ability to collaborate, manage time, critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, are all valuable assets going into the future of learning.

However, these new styles of learning come with their own sets of challenges. While the future of work is about being more creative and empathetic, online learning can teach the content. However, moral values can only be taught by people. And thus, the structure of the schools, the training of the teachers, and the content have to be modified and developed accordingly. Schools will have to shape up to enhance the creativity of their students and design their critical thinking.

The places will also be structured to accommodate multi-disciplinary peer-learning. A good example of this is a SuperLab in London. With 280 individual workstations, this SuperLab is considered one of the largest and most advanced educational facilities in Europe. It is the first open-plan SuperLab in the world to enable scientific research and learning to be carried out simultaneously at such a scale. Just like Finland, the schools should prepare for phenomenon-based learning with an emphasis on communication, creativity and critical thinking, and better prepare students to apply their knowledge in the 21st-century workplace.

Spending too much time on the screen also has its limitations. This needs to be neutralized with offline workshops, worksheets and smart games. The focus should be on practical understanding, internships, and certificate-based learning to act as a promising tool for career readiness.

We are in a fortunate situation to have the technology, resources and opportunity to experiment with the ways education is delivered. It is essential that we prepare the next generation to create an impact on society. With technology in hand, and the amount of exposure that comes with it, it is important that we keep the students rooted and give them the wisdom to choose what’s right for them.

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