On March 16, when I was told by my Program Leader that Universities all over the country would be closed to curb the spread of the ongoing pandemic, I went through all stages of shock. Sadness, denial, confusion, anger. Earlier, I had little to no faith in the caliber of online education that I was promised to receive. Three months in, my skepticism has counterbalanced.
Apart from me, more than 260 million students are experiencing educational mayhem, fashioned by the virus. Yet, this wreaking havoc in the face of COVID-19 has navigated us to make whopping changes in all walks of life. After all, this is what we do as humans - we adapt, we learn, and we keep treading further.
Just like Nostradamus’ predictions, in 2015, Bill Gates envisioned that “not missiles, but microbes” will bend the world to its knees. Fast forward to 2020, most industries in the world have collapsed. Unfortunately, one such landscape that is beholding this kind of change is education.
To get back on its feet, we have found refuge under the all-embracing umbrella of online education, which is gaining traction at an astounding rate. Not just in India, learning is experiencing an accelerated turn to online formats throughout the globe. As more and more universities, schools, and training institutes are catching on to e-learning, how can one tell if it's helping or hurting? Let us find out whether e-learning is a revolution in the making or just another hype.
How is e-learning dominating the current scenario?
There’s no denying the fact that India is not a newbie in the legion of online education. An array of private and government universities have already been conducting online classes for many years.
The leading B-schools of India have been resorting to very small aperture terminals (VSATs), to frame CUGs (closed user groups). These provide online lectures to users on a global scale. However, while COVID-19 has advanced online education, various networks such as Zoom, MS Teams, and Google Meet have become the most preferred platforms.
As colleges like Ashoka University and DU have shuttered their campuses, they have migrated their courses to online formats in a rapid motion. This has incited many to wonder about the terminal impact this period may carry on the students.
Furthermore, the World Economic Forum has reported a hike in the use of virtual tutoring, language apps, online learning software, and video conferencing tools in the past three months.
Taking the current situation into account, while individuals stand on e-learning largely depends on where they currently sit. In essence, the utility of online learning will boast both - positive and negative impacts.
The positives of e-learning
e-Learning has transformed the conventional ways of attaining education. Here are some positives to this approach:
1. Effective learning
E-learning has helped students to reinforce those corners of education, which eluded them the first time around. This new, fuzzier world has allowed slow-learners to catch up and thrive. This highly-effective learning environment has certainly proved fruitful for many.
Moreover, many schools and universities have inaugurated e-programs to meet their students’ high academic standards and needs. Because, if virtual programs incur success, it will call for upgrading learning methods, course materials, and the curriculum at large.
Also, in many situations, online education may not even alter student learning or behavior. Studies show that medical aspirants perform and learn evenly with recorded lectures. Such results are indeed heartening during the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is also quite evident that every student learns in a distinctive form. However, little has the traditional teaching methods taken these diverse styles into account. Therefore, if students today are able to reap benefits from cloud-based learning programs, they can decide how they want to mesh with them.
2. Comfort amid chaos
Especially in overcrowded cities like Delhi and Mumbai, students can now resume their participation in lectures without riding in public transports for 2 hours. Subsequently, this helps them to dodge the anxiety of reaching out to public transits or staying at other incubators, such as public spaces and classrooms.
Rather, students can just “sit-in” for a lecture while cradling a cold that befalls this session. Personally, I have found tremendous relief in avoiding onlookers gazing at my runny nose or using dozens of sanitizer bottles after holding the platform poles.
3. Advancement in the face of e-learning
The internet as a communication platform has been no less than a wartime invention. The crisis has forced us to manifest new technologies that have now become an absolute essential. Since any staggering advancement in technology is always seen as "development," many are taking e-learning as a successful discovery that helps to battle with a halt in education. Although such pedagogical approaches and online technology were already prevalent earlier, it has now caught attention due to the pandemic.
4. Upskilling has taken center stage.
Education has been cast on an accelerated timetable because of the pandemic. This has instigated an ocean of questions among students who are looking for learning beyond the confines of university courses.
Is education limited to landing a degree, or is it also about continuous learning? Does it expect a student to be well-rounded, or does it provide a roadmap to self-exploration? Moreover, has the pre-existing education setting been too rigid? Is it finally time to change? All these questions take the frontline as I explore digital learning courses, and I’m not the only one.
I cannot pretend that until the past few months, education only revolved around the sphere of constant learning and winning. The sheltered time at our homes, away from universities, has enabled students to think out of the box. They are now paying heed to their own interests, instead of running in the rat race.
In fact, established enterprises like PricewaterhouseCoopers have also invested in reskilling and upskilling. If the population develops ardency towards e-learning, it’s going to bring upskilling to mainstream education. Although, learning platforms like Coursera have always fascinated students, yet, a certain preconceived notion comes into play when one thinks about going digital. If, and only if e-learning is here to stay, this notion will dissipate in the upcoming months, with students expanding their horizons beyond universities.
The negatives of e-learning
Following are the negatives of e-learning, that one must take into account, to safeguard the legitimacy of the education industry:
1. Students are catching up, but compliance is uneven
The Enterprise Development Agency says, “We have an opportunity to see how quickly the world can change.”
While e-learning is like living the dream for many of us, some students in India are still struggling to adapt. I can think of two reasons behind this inability. First, many face digital inequality, wherein they lack the devices and connections required for remote learning. Second, they are stuck in the whirlwind of the complexity of university systems, e-learning platforms, and communication tools. This also highlights another prevailing issue - class divide, where e-learning is a silver lining for one, but an unreachable destination for another.
Dr. Debashree Sinha, a professor at Amity University, Noida, asserts, “The idea of e-learning and online classes can only be a stop-gap while we adapt to the crisis of the pandemic. It cannot, however, replace the dynamism of the classroom space. Making e-learning “the norm” will disrupt the egalitarian approach of an egalitarian society, and, subsequently, marginalize the underprivileged sections of society.”
2. It’s not just about learning
Many students feel that e-learning is a tough grind. Education is not as simple as talking to the laptop or speaking into the microphone. Rather, it accompanies a broad spectrum of challenges which both - the students and the faculty fall victim to.
According to my observation, a significant share of learning is lost when education leaps online. I think education is not just about attending classes. Instead, it involves the broadening of ideas, open discussions, free-flowing ideas, and mentoring of every individual. While students grapple with e-learning, a lot gets lost amidst the revolution to the online platform.
3. Technological nightmare is a thing
Technology has taken us to the Moon. Yet, the pixelated video screens and weak internet connections are something every student and faculty has grappled with. While attending online classes, I found it extremely taxing to take proper notes, considering my professor’s audio breaking after every five seconds.
The problem is, as appreciated e-learning is, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. While staying at home makes up for the ideal environment to focus on learning, the vehicle horns and gushing winds made it difficult to put my best put forward in the virtual world.
Sometimes, students may hesitate to speak up or clarify their doubts. The other times, they’re just a bad internet connection away from missing the most important part of that lecture.
The implications of school and university closures in India are not just confined to education. Rather, they are manifold. The abrupt transition to e-learning doesn’t compensate for the lack of in-person classroom experience. However, this is certainly not the time to bury your academics and educational expectations. I believe the current global crisis calls for accepting the open doors of e-learning to reach greater heights. While Education 2.0 is here to stay, it's best to gear up and grab every single opportunity to learn!