The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have heralded a new change in education systems across the world. While digital learning has been the modus operandi of professionals looking to upskill in an increasingly automated world, e-learning found a place in the curricula of schools and universities amid the lockdown to ensure academic continuity.
With many edtech platforms experiencing a significant upsurge in learners in recent weeks, does that signal a new era for education in India as we know it?
Perhaps not, given that merely shifting pedagogic practices online amid prevailing challengings cannot serve as a long-term solution. Co-founder of edtech firm GreyAtom, Shweta Doshi, ably summarises it:
“While learning online has become inevitable, we will not be successful until we understand that teaching online doesn’t mean taking the entire classroom on Zoom and continuing with the same delivery approaches. This may be a subtle point, but has deep implications.”
What are the challenges stymying a more widespread adoption of online education in India? Let us find out.
Producing Content Without Context
It is difficult to practice restraint in a wide and expansive canvas like the internet, and this is a trap many edtech companies fall into. Their excessive focus on content, without little attention on context and learner engagement indicates that online learning – as it stands today – cannot by itself offer a fitting alternative to traditional education.
“Our problem is not content, but aggregation,” says Doshi. “It is important to filter content through the context of whom we’re trying to connect with and teach. This comprises their pain point, learning style, etc., and these should be understood well before putting together an online learning module,” she adds.
This is where mentoring plays a key role – a feature that many online courses have begun to integrate. Not only do they add context to learning, but mentors can also act as a guide to students and professionals as they navigate the dynamics of education in today’s world.
“If they hit a roadblock, a mentor belonging to an industry the learner wants to transition into must be available,” says Doshi. “If online experiences are delivered with high engagement from both mentors and learners, they can definitely create similar outcomes as physical learning,” she adds.
Concurs Ashutosh Kumar, co-founder of Testbook.com,” Although online courses afford various means to make learning just as engaging and interactive, a lack of personal interaction and assistance in e-learning can be a challenge and may come in the way of completion of goals,” he says.
A way to ensure that learners are making the most of online learning is by assessing their engagement quotient. Engagement gives an indication of the time, energy and resources learners spend, and thus, can be a good metric to measure their overall learning.
“If we are continuously able to monitor and measure a learner’s adherence to the tasks assigned, their interactions with other learners on online channels, their connect with mentors in sessions, etc. via tools such as CleverTap/Netcore’s Smartech integrated with one’s LMS, a significant impact can be made,” feels Doshi.
Socio-Economic Challenges To Online Education
Despite BARC India’s report stating a 30% rise in the Indian edtech market, the challenges plaguing online learning remains consistent. Elaborates Ankush Singla, co-founder of Coding Ninjas:
“Despite quality content and native advertising tools, the edtech space is multiplying by numbers, but not in the market size in tier II and tier III cities,” he says. “The reason is not the content by itself, but socio-economic challenges, which include lack of infrastructure and deployment of internet facilities, leading to limited or no internet connectivity for learners,” he adds.
What is more, the gap for new users who have little to zero understanding of technological devices and methods leaves many hamstrung. In addition to this, lack of digital literacy and knowledge on how to navigate digital payment methods to subscribe to online programs is another challenge.
Although e-learning can potentially enable many useful life skills, the lockdown has exposed the digital divide in Indian society. And not just students, many teachers are also facing the brunt of this and struggling to effectively relay information to their students, who are also grasping at straws to understand.
“In a developing country like India, relevant infrastructure to support a total overhaul of education online is inaccessible,” says Randhir Kumar, founder of BasicFirst Learning. “In addition to lack of proper electricity and internet connectivity, many do not have the financial resources to invest in expensive tablets, laptops or PCs and are eventually left on their own to navigate through complex subjects and topics,” he adds.
Though edtech is one of the flourishing domains in India, the full spectrum of ecosystem around digital content creation, delivery and consumptions still need to be matured in India.
“Teachers still need to be trained in online learning to get accustomed and comfortable in creating and delivering digital content,” says Ashutosh. “Also, in addition to user-friendly product experience, personalised interaction through mentorship programs should also be included to make it more holistic,” he adds.