Is online education as effective as traditional on-campus education?

Publication: India Today
August 20, 2022

Covid-19 has changed the way we study but the fundamental question still remains in most of our minds — is online education as effective as traditional on-campus education?

The emergence of internet services sowed the seeds of online learning in the early stages of the technological revolution. However, with the advent of digital transformation, the wide acceptance of the internet and its penetration into the daily lives of people broadened the scope of online education.

The education sector is undergoing a digital leap. Learning is no longer confined to the four walls of a classroom.

Rapid technology changes, internet penetration and growing demand for skill-based workforce has led learners to adopt a flexible learning route which allows them to study at their own convenience.

From a being a ‘good to have’ option for educational institutes and corporates, it’s become mission-critical to have an online play.

This has given rise to a range of edtech players across the learner lifecycle right from pre-primary, through K-12 and then higher education and professional certifications.

While these trends have opened doors in the education sector, it has also given the onus to edtech players to do justice to what has been hitherto considered as a noble profession.

At the end of the day, we are dealing with human beings and there is a risk of making the process completely mechanical. We need to be cautious about maintaining the personal touch in whatever form possible, to ensure that the process remains humanised.

Currently, online education is as mainstream as traditional or ‘regular’ education. Classroom-based learning also includes digital technologies or depends on online resources to effectively deliver the content to students.

For example, AR-VR technologies are embedded in the school curriculum to give students a near-real experience of the concepts they learn in textbooks, thereby ensuring immersive and interactive learning.

Online mode contributes to hybrid learning, which ensures uninterrupted education by improving accessibility and engagement.

The National Education Policy has enabled three modes of education — conventional on-campus education, distance education or correspondence, and online education.

The conventional mode is still the most popular one, in which the knowledge exchange takes place in an immersive campus learning environment through face-to-face classroom interactions.

Both students and teachers follow a structured schedule and curriculum that determines the learning pace. Students are also part of the larger campus community enabling peer learning and enhanced faculty/industry interactions.

Distance mode emerged in the last three decades and is popular among experienced professionals or individuals of the working age. Printed self-learning materials prepared by the enrolled universities are the primary source of learning.

Limited interactions with co-learners and instructors are available. Study centres play an intermediatory role among students and the institutions. For taking exams, learners need to go to the centres in the jurisdictions of the university.

Online education combines the best of both worlds — providing the quality and credentials of a conventional campus programme while making it affordable and accessible through modern platforms and digital solutions.

A learning management system (LMS) is the primary channel of learning. Students can learn through both synchronous and asynchronous methods using various self-learning resources available on the LMS.

It includes short and long reading material, recorded videos, online live lectures, short concept videos, and an e-library with e-books. It allows students to pursue their favourite programmes from anywhere, and at their convenient time.

They only need an internet-enabled device a smartphone/tablet/laptop. All of this is well-supported through a host of digital enablers like student communities, online university lifecycle management, career services etc.

The continuous endeavours of online education providers are creating an on-campus learning experience in the online mode. Various methods are devised in this regard.

  1. Gamification: A learner can pursue a programme like she/he plays a game with points in completing each module and a leader board to showcase top performers etc.
  2. 360-degree videos: These 360-degree videos give the essence of virtual reality for more immersive learning and imparting concepts comprehensively.
  3. Micro-learning: Explains concepts in slices so learners can imbibe the knowledge seamlessly, as compared to reading long articles or books at one go.
  4. Mobile-first approach: Smartphones are an integral part of human life, and the mobile-first approach is an effective strategy. Mobile learning applications help students learn anytime, track their learning progress, get notifications etc. Bite-sized content is the primary component of mobile-first approach.
  5. Practical sessions: Online learning curriculum includes practical sessions to give students a deep understanding of each concept and hands-on experience in such subjects.
  6. Adaptive learning: The systems are evolving at a rapid pace to ensure that individual learning paths are customized through different content formats, difficulty levels etc. to suit individual pace of learning. This ensures holistic development of the entire learning cohort.

These are some of the methods adopted to improve the effectiveness of online education to compete with conventional learning.

Students from remotest regions could enrol in online degree or certificate programmes offered by top universities, thus, improving the access and equity of education, especially in the higher education sector.

Digital solutions are being made outcome-oriented to provide objective improvement in learner skills and being able to deliver at scale- thereby making quality education accessible as well as affordable.

Universities and edtech players have different strengths and a different DNA. Both must work together to synergise their strengths for the long haul to offer an affordable and accessible learning experience to students across the length and breadth of the country.

This will propel the industry towards the next big wave of education in India.

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