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Dimensions of online learning in higher education
5/22/2020 11:37:48 PM

Dr. Rajkumar Singh

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in online learning. Typically, it takes months, if not years, to develop an engaging online platform. For many traditional institutions, particularly those that have been slower to embrace online education, the challenge is even more formidable. Online has become the default mode of education during this long lockdown period in the wake of Covid-19. What does this mean for the institutions and academic leaders, administrators and students in the long run is getting clearer. The COVID-19 pandemic is set to change the world sooner than we know. The way our governments, institutions, organizations, and people think and function, will radically change – perhaps for the long term. Among many economic sectors, the higher education sector is undergoing a tectonic shift right now. What several futurists and education technologists have been forecasting for long, is now happening. In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, millions of students across the globe have been driven out of their university spaces, and professors are confined to their homes. Higher education stands disaggregated, and faculty and students are grappling with the sudden new norm of completely tech-mediated teaching and learning.
Online platforms for learning
For inspiration in creating digital learning plans and communicating them effectively to students and parents, educators can utilise a number of tech tools and digital platforms. 01. Google for Education is a turnkey web-based tool specifically designed for teachers to use to manage their classes online. Educators can add resources, post tasks and assignments, and interact with students as they progress through lessons, among many other convenient features. 02. Brainly is the world’s largest online learning platform, uniting over 150 million students, parents, and teachers around the world, and over 20 million across India, in solving their homework problems and test preparation. Students connect to their peers to help strengthen their skills, from math to science, history and beyond.
The platform essentially acts as the online equivalent of a real-life study group. 03. Byju’s is a learning app for students across age groups with programmes in English and Hindi that make learning and understanding concepts easier for school kids. The subject focus of the platform is math and science, and the concepts are explained using 12-20 minute digital animated videos. The platform recently announced its decision to make its app free for all students until the end of April. 04. Unacademy provides education through video classes, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials to help government job aspirants prepare for competitive exams. Its faculty consists of students who have cleared various exams and mentors who have extensive teaching experience. It has offered 20,000 live classes free for those preparing for the UPSC, banking, railways and other entrance exams. 05. TeachNext@HomeSolutions provides experiential learning through audiovisual content, helping students to learn from the comfort of their homes. The platform helps students clarify doubts, revise concepts, and reinforce their learning through content that can be accessed on laptops, desktops and tablets.
Status of online education as today
The new, total technology-mediated education can be termed as Education 4.0, after the first three waves of education systems that evolved over 2000 years of civilization - the Gurukula system (one master to a few pupils), the traditional university system (one to many learners) and distance learning (one to very many learners across the spectrum). The good news is – the mainstream institutions are willing to move to online, and there’s a possibility of habits changing to enable Education 4.0. Over the past 20 years, this crossover to online learning was happening in fits and starts, in islands across different theatres – colleges, universities, skill development companies, corporate learning centers. Most policy level changes remained half-hearted attempts stemming from old mindsets. At best, old processes were replicated with some modern technology tools for a few courses as an ‘experiment’, or part of their existing classroom courses as ‘blended learning’ About 60 million students across the globe, are limited to home during the crucial months of February to April - which generally see a flurry of curricular and assessment activities. Institutions and students alike are under pressure to not lose academic time and re-invent their teaching-learning in the only possible way – go completely online. What does this mean for the institutions and academic leaders, administrators and students in the long run is getting clearer.
In classical pedagogy, the best of teachers and subject matter experts derive a content-context cluster as a mean of the class’ collective ability and prior knowledge. Then the teaching–learning transaction is crafted according to that constructed mean. This will not and cannot work in online learning. Institutions need to spend as much time on the context for the diverse learner profiles, as on the content, and weave it into the program design.
New technologies including the emerging sciences of artificial intelligence and deep learning models can help us create customized learning plans and methods. Higher education institutions must embrace these quickly to overcome the ills of current digital higher education.
Prospects of online education
The former is teacher-centric, and the latter is learner-centric. ‘Learning’ is about gradually inducing changes in learner’s actions and behaviour. The learning process, in incremental steps, induces change in thinking and mental models of the learner through deep understanding and conceptual strengthening. After each learning episode, the learner will be able to apply the acquired knowledge in practical situations in life, profession, or workplace. Each teaching faculty needs to be massively re-trained and oriented for online teaching-learning mode. While they could be content experts or great classroom teachers, they need to place equal importance to ‘learning sciences in digital media’. With COVID-19 spreading to more regions, state governments are closing down schools, colleges, educational institutions as a precautionary measuring against the disease. Coronavirus/COVID-19 has been declared as Pandemic by World Health Organisation (WHO) and there is a sense of fear and panic all around the globe. Since the first case of COVID-19 has emerged in India, state governments are taking all the possible precautionary steps to curb the spread of the disease and that include shutting down educational institutes, vacating hostels, postponing entrance examinations, convocation ceremonies, and more.
In the wake of this emergency situation, educational institutes around the globe are shifting their operations to online learning. Top educational institutions of India like Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D), Delhi University (DU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Netaji Subhas University of Technology (NSIT), and more have stopped their offline operations ad have shifted to their teaching-learning procedure online.
Coronavirus has fractured a large chunk of India’s education system. In the view of emergency caused due to COVID-19, the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D) decided to cancel all its classes, examinations, and public gatherings. Top business schools like Indian institute of Management Indore (IIM-Indore), Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A), Indian Institute of Management Lucknow (IIM-L), Xavier School of Management (XLRI), and more have postponed their convocation ceremonies in order to avoid large gathering. Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has released an advisory for its students and staff members asking them to cancel avoidable travel outside Aligarh and avoid organizing or attending gatherings of more than 100 people for conferences, functions, workshops, seminars, etc.
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