16 Nov 2021 18:59 IST

Online learning and edtechs are ripe for growth

New approaches to education opens up possibilities for students to be work-ready, says Deloitte-CII report

The Annual status of Higher Education (ASHE) 2021 report published by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP (Deloitte) highlights that online learning, which finds significant reference in the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP), is likely to complement traditional teaching-learning methods with blended learning and wide application of edtech being the likely way forward. The report also highlights some of the challenges associated with online learning and suggests that the online learning mechanisms are still evolving.

The pandemic, which had suddenly forced higher uptake of online learning globally, has also widened the digital divide. While students with adequate connectivity may have transitioned to virtual learning, a large segment has faced difficulties with internet connectivity and access. Similarly, several academic institutions have been faced with challenges in making a smooth and efficient transition, leaving their students with limited learning opportunities.

Improving interactivity

Online learning is not without its own set of challenges. The completion rate of programmes is low. In case of synchronous online programmes, most teachers and learners miss elements of eye-contact, peer-presence and peer-learning, body language, humour, motivation, enthusiasm, and a human touch although this may sometimes have to do with inadequate leveraging of the functionalities of the online platform.

It is hoped that effectiveness of online and digital learning will improve as online programmes improve their quality and build more interactivity. Going forward, tools like break-out groups, analysis of learner engagement through facial expressions, interactivity through polls and annotations and artificial intelligence-based assessment will be leveraged in online learning for enhancing teaching-learning experience. It is also hoped that as online systems evolve, a different approach to pedagogy, and instructional design suited to this new medium will emerge.

EdTech and the artificial intelligence /machine learning tools it uses have the potential to enhance the effectiveness of online learning by using interactive text, audio and video-based learning, reliable virtual assessments, personalisation, content curation and customised learning pathways. EdTech is also being used by educators to make decisions on curriculum, pace of learning, and designing learning pathways using analytics.

Key enabler

Online learning has the potential to democratise education and learning by bringing these to everyone at a fraction of the costs of traditional delivery mechanisms. It enables part-time education, thereby bringing millions into its fold. The government has created platforms such as NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning), a repository of online courses offered by leading academic institutions in the country andMassive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platform like SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active–Learning for Young Aspiring Minds).

Under NEP, it had been envisaged that National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), a dedicated e-education unit to bolster digital infrastructure, digital content, and capacity would be created. The policy lays emphasis on both in-class and equivalent or similar-quality standard online learning /blended learning to be offered by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), provided they are accredited for offering the same.

The policy provides for the accrual of credits for such programmes at the under-graduate level under the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) if they are not offered in the HEI that the student is studying in. The policy also seeks establishment of an Academic Bank of Credits (ABC), which will make it possible for students to bank their credits attained through different learning modes and combine them to be eligible for certificates diplomas and degrees.

The emergence of edtech and new approaches to education have created tremendous possibilities for students and have the potential to provide work-ready, skilled people who are committed to life-long learning. This is likely to contribute to enhanced productivity and economic growth.

The world needs to come together to support education in the post-pandemic world, and policy interventions and their implementation by the government will play a major role with matching endeavours from the private sector. Online learning can be a key enabler in this effort.

(The writer is Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP.)