Digitization has boosted the prospects of distance learning through online pathways as new avenues of learning./ Representative Image | BL Soni
When the COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world into chaos and disarray, masks were synonymous with safety and sanitizers a necessity. Businesses have moved online and into homes. schools and colleges have moved from classrooms and buildings to virtual.
It took many months of confusion, disruption and discontinuity in education for society as a whole to turn to what was once considered “second class education”, i.e. online learning. Providing online education was a sudden calling in a world where in-person/on-campus education was given the utmost importance.
Digitization has boosted the prospects of distance learning through online channels as new avenues of learning. Most institutions were unwilling to take advantage of this due to public bias to view campus teaching as unequal.
It was not until the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world and threatened the discontinuity of student education that the world wholeheartedly embraced the course of online education.
Even as you read this, the Web and the Internet are evolving, growing, advancing, and giving rise to new interactions, connections, and experiences. Today’s online life has met life on planet Earth on an equal footing. The internet has largely been more of a boon than a curse for more than one reason.
There may still be some ambiguity about the importance of physical and social experiences that differ between online and offline education. Virtual/distance learning has certainly helped bridge the unequal divide that exists in terms of denial of education due to geographical, physical or financial factors of an individual or a child. It has brought classrooms home and expanded the reach of education like never before.
It also changed the way parents and students perceived education and helped them recognize the need for continuity in education.
Online learning has created programs that help in the development of other soft skills for new career opportunities and more. It also proved that distance education is equal in quality and content and could become a major source of education in the future. It has created learning opportunities not only for learners, but also for professionals.
The beauty of the Internet is that today anyone can be taught from anywhere. It made education more convenient and brought learning home when people couldn’t leave their homes.
Online education does not limit students to a single program/board or program. It provides space to explore and learn something beyond the curriculum. Students have unlimited access to learn new skills, languages and topics from global experts. They have the opportunity to discover and experiment with niche topics, which is otherwise not affordable or imaginable for many.
Online education also allows people of different age groups (young or adult) to learn at their own pace, without restrictions or compromise on their other responsibilities. Over the past two years, teachers have tried to make the most of the situation by exploring new methods of teaching and assessment.
Other benefits of online education:
1. Flexible system: Students now have the option of learning from the comfort of their own home or from anywhere in the world. One can study indoors or outdoors, in a bedroom or while traveling by subway. It also saves time, energy or money to travel to a particular destination to acquire knowledge.
2. No language barriers: Since online education is accessible in most vernacular languages, language barriers are not present. Students are not required to learn a particular language or follow a particular text. Online, they can read the language text or watch a related video in the language of their choice, giving them a multiple intelligence-based approach that contributes to a better sense of understanding.
Information technology has become a superpower in these times of sudden curfews and long-lasting shutdowns.
We were disconnected from life but connected online.
However, there is no benefit without a bit of learning, lesson or difficulty. So has the world venturing online to replace learning and working in person.
Going digital is a double-edged sword and using the internet for entertainment is common, but online courses can be a tall order. Teachers may not be well versed in creating digital content and delivering it effectively online. A sudden expectation on their part to upgrade and on the students’ part to adapt can be a bit unfair.
Body language and eye contact, which are important cues for the teacher, are difficult to perceive in an online course. Teachers also do not receive continuous feedback in the form of student feedback during online sessions, which in turn reduces teaching effectiveness and ensuring student understanding.
Some questions that are always on the minds of teachers are – How many students paid attention in a class? How many have really understood what has been taught? These questions arise even in traditional classrooms, but they are more difficult to answer in online courses.
Parents of younger children are generally of the opinion that kindergarten and kindergarten children do not benefit from virtual learning because they think their ability to concentrate is smaller and they are easily distracted.
College students also seem to place much more importance on the physical learning experience in the classroom than on the online one. Many agree that phones can be very distracting. To top it off, science and technology courses often include hands-on lab sessions, thesis projects, and field trips to understand theoretical studies. This aspect of learning is severely retarded due to online education.
Finally, education is not just about understanding the subject, but also developing students’ social skills and sportsmanship, which is integrated with offline education. Relying solely on online education can stunt the overall growth of children, which can affect their professional and personal lives in the future.
Is online learning really beneficial?
To a large extent, we can say yes!
It filled existing gaps, expanded the sphere of learning, and was available when the world needed it most.
However, it is crucial to note that physical isolation affects a student’s mental well-being as it diminishes real-world experience.
As a country, however, it might be beneficial to adopt and preserve another learning path. However, it may never replace an in-person educational experience, but it can certainly help. The future is changing rapidly and we must ensure access, continuity and certainty of education at all times.
(Aishwarya Rao, Director, Vivekalaya Group of Institutions)
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