Online Education – Options and Opportunities


The sudden onslaught of coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the inevitable closure of schools and colleges across the country causing education to undergo a dramatic change over the last few months. Teaching and learning is no longer a matter of chalk and talk, with a considerable rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is executed remotely and on digital platforms using varied ways and means. E-learning has become the norm of the day. Hundreds of thousands of students are taking recourse to e-learning using laptops, desktops, and smartphones in a virtual world. Tutorials, classes, and assessments, all are happening online. Though e-learning has its own limitations to both students and teachers over technology and access, it is keeping everyone busy with lectures, worksheets and assignments and now, it has come as the only panacea to a problem which is rampant, worldwide even though before the outbreak of the pandemic, e-learning was growing at an unprecedented pace. According to 2019, Global Learning Technology Investment Patterns report, EdTech companies worldwide pulled an investment of $18.66 billion in 2019, clearly proving the pace at which online learning is gaining impetus

Seen as a new paradigm in education, online competency-based learning has a major benefit in terms of enabling the learner to acquire transferable skills because such teaching is learner-specific and focusses primarily on the learner. It acknowledges that every student has a unique learning style. In a regular offline class engagement, many issues go unaddressed. Students generally hesitate to interact with the teacher, are inhibited due to peer pressure. The online classes offer flexibility and the ability for students to drive the learning of a competency. The major focus is on skills, knowledge, and behavior, tied with strategic objectives. The performance and caliber of learners can be easily tracked in the online mode because data of every student is individually stored and digitally trackable. While digital tools enable teachers to easily track students with online learning, the same cannot be done with regard to face-to-face learning. The analytic platforms help to customize learning enabling the teachers to create online classes according to the learning patterns of students. Online teaching has the advantage of enhanced attendance because students do not commute to the place of learning. Besides, with online learning students develop a range and repertoire of skills.

Generally, the materials used for online learning are very visually stimulating too and elicit a high degree of engagement- videos, Prezi, Edmodo. Edmodo is an educational tool that connects teachers and students and is assimilated into a social network. , Project. .ClassDojo, TED-Ed,cK-12, Storybird., Animoto or virtual whiteboards enhance learning. Learning apps like Idroo add color to learning. Educators are looking to other educators as well as trusted sources to help curate high-quality online learning tools.

Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of visible financial distress, anxiety and work disruption across almost all the sectors of the economy, yet one area where anxiety or disruption is the least visible or talked about is the Education sector. With the onset of lockdowns and the need for social distancing, schools have moved learning from face-face classrooms to virtual classroom. While this has ensured continuity of cognitive learning, it has sounded the death knell for a whole set of social, affective, interpersonal, and physical interactions that are critical for holistic development of our students. Schools are not just institutions of learning; they are the microcosm of societal interactions and have been playing a critical role in equipping students to succeed at such social interactions in work place as well as in life. In a daily school schedule, the rigors of academic life are balanced by the many opportunities to participate in extra and co-curricular activities and enjoy some downtime with friends and colleagues. These opportunities have been very limited, if not nil, in case of virtual learning and thus, students are facing the prospect of endless cognitive drilling and classes without any scope for social or physical distraction.

Online learning has thrown up many challenges for not just students but also the educators and has adversely impacted some key aspects of learning and teaching leading to stress and anxiety for both the pupils and the teachers. Some critical but often overlooked limitations and stress factors of relying on a single pedagogical tool – virtual learning to achieve the objectives of holistic development for all students are as follows:

Lack of differentiation: While online learning with its whole gamut of lecture presentations, online activities, videos has proved to be a boon for most visual learners, it has been a bane for kinesthetic learners who prefer movement-based learning as well as those who depend on individual teacher attention or peer support. The nature of activities which can be used in a virtual environment are limited mostly to cognitive visual learning which is not the preferred mode of learning for all students, nor is it the preferred mode of teaching for all educators. Educators often rely on visual clues or expressions to gauge student’s engagement or understanding of key concepts and often revisit concepts based on these visual cues that they get from their class such as nods, puzzled expressions or boredom. Taking a cue from these expressions helps educators change their ways of explaining or look for alternative methods to get their point across. However, in virtual classrooms these cues are lost as teachers cannot simultaneously teach and monitor facial expressions on videos (that too only if the videos of students are on). This leads to stress for an educator as he/she is unable to adjust his/her approach to meet his/her students’ needs. It also creates anxiety for students who are unable to cope up with online learning engagements such as Kahoot activities or google sheets for typing answers and who need more personalized attention and diversified support such as tactile activities or hands on learning.

Loss of sense of community and team building: Students’ sense of belonging to a community has been greatly diminished in the world of virtual classes. The sense of camaraderie, team building and other instinctive habits, which form part of the growing-up process for any child have taken a serious backseat in these tough times. Education is nothing but a route to character building. The vacuum created by lack of sports and other extra-curricular activities which are a great enabler of these virtues as well as agent of conditioning to handle diverse skill sets, victory and loss, resilience is hard to refill.

Disengagement: Long hours of virtual classroom screen time followed by online assignments and enrichment activities can lead to boredom and disengagement. A normal school routine which is marked by a continuous change of classes, spaces and environment contrasts starkly with students being glued to the monitor for several hours. This lack of change of place and orientation can take a toll on students’ ability to focus and can eventually lead to disenchantment with this mode of learning. Learning engagement can be ensured only through a use of diversified tools of learning and teaching and no matter how technologically diverse a set of activities they still need screen time.

Adverse health effects: Lastly, there is a serious threat of children suffering from headaches, poor eyesight, lack of sleep as a result of over exposure to screen time. Earlier screen time for most students was limited to mostly leisure pursuits such as music, social media etc. but now it has been extended to include their learning activities which has hugely increased the amount of time spent on the computer and this can lead to stress for students as their source of relaxation has now been turned into an educational necessity while other sources such as sports, social outings remain a distant reality.

The current crisis has made us acutely cognizant of the limitations of relying too heavily on online learning and while ICT integration is indisputably a very effective way to support and enhance traditional school learning

While the benefits of e-learning are numerous, this overnight shift from offline to online study can also adversely affect students’ learning. Sheer lack of personal engagement can leave students demotivated. Schools offer a structured learning environment, which cannot be achieved when students are confined to their homes. This disrupts their usual leaning patterns, often leaving them weary and confused. Research has also shown that students do not feel motivated to complete their tasks when not surrounded by their peers. This is especially true for those below the age of 10, as keeping them engaged often requires one-on-one contact. Another major challenge that the transition to virtual learning has presented is keeping students stimulated. The comfort of home brings down productivity and many of them end up spending hours procrastinating. Teachers also find it difficult to provide individual feedback through digital platforms and email cannot substitute for a face-to-face discussion between teachers and students. Acknowledging the challenges of online learning is the first step to solving the problem.

What does the ‘new normal’ look like for India’s education sector? For the most part, it includes sets of eyes (sometimes sleepy) glued to the screens of tablets and laptops. Be it grade schools, high schools or universities, learners are adapting. COVID-19 has compelled us to stay away from our friends, but the pandemic has also bestowed an unprecedented opportunity to learn .

Mental health is of paramount importance and students should not criticize themselves for experiencing a dip in productivity or motivation. These are testing times and learning should not be perceived as a chore or obligation. Learning should be kept short and simple

Teachers who advocate long lectures need to adopt the ‘new normal’. Research indicates that students lose interest in taking notes after about 15 minutes. Educators should keep this in mind while designing their curricula. Don’t rattle on lest students lose interest. Cyberstress can be real, if online learning is to continue, without any real interaction. e-stress caused when there are collaborative activities, where students do not want to let their peers down. A lack of real social presence can cause social anxiety.

Many of these stress factors can be overcome, or reduced, through the management of the online working processes. A number of authors have compiled ideas for working in online teams, such as Haywood’s (1998) has enunciated four principles for communicating successfully: (1) Standards for availability and acknowledgment are clearly defined and respected. (2) The team members replace lost context in their communication. (3) The team members regularly use synchronous communication. (4) Senders take responsibility for prioritizing communication. And specifically, in a learning context, Palloff and Pratt (1999) suggest successful collaborative learning: . formulating a shared goal for learning; negotiate guidelines; use problems, interests, and experiences as springboards for learning; facilitate dialogue, encourage inter-group collaboration, sharing and collaborative writing.

Besides, School closures will widen the equity gaps. Over the last decade or so, progress has been made in the number of students who have access to devices and connectivity, making this move to online learning possible. At the same time, not every child has access to digital devices or internet connectivity at home, and we need to ensure those kids get access to learning resources as well. This means that learning resources need to be available on every kind of device and it means, for kids who don’t have access, we still need to find a way to reach them.

Poor experiences with ed-tech during the pandemic will make it harder to get buy-in later for good use of ed-tech.

We know that some students who use ed-tech during the pandemic will have a poor experience because they’re not used to it. Some people will say, “During the virus, we tried the ed-tech-enabled learning approaches, it was terrible, and look at my test scores.” Yes, this will happen. People’s test scores will be impacted. People will become unhappy because the mental health effects of being isolated will be profound. We must be prepared for that. Those poor experiences are important to learn what does and doesn’t work.

So, what is the panacea then? – Blended learning approaches will be tried, tested, and increasingly used in the days to come.

We know that the more engaging teaching styles are the ones that are more interactive, and that face-to-face learning is better than 100 percent online learning. We also know blended learning can draw on the best of both worlds and create a better learning experience than one hundred percent face-to-face learning. If, after having done 100 percent online at the end of this, Rebalancing the mix between face-to-face and online. Teachers will have started to innovate and experiment with these online tools and may want to continue online pedagogies because of all this. That’s exciting. At the end of the day, let us hope that people will realize that schools aren’t just buildings where students go to learn and that teachers are irreplaceable. There’s something magical about that in-person connection, that bond between teachers and their students. Having that face-to-face connection with learners and being able to support them across their unique skills⁠—that’s very hard to replicate in a distance learning environment. Nevertheless, online learning is here to stay and the sooner we adapt to it, the better. Devising solutions with ingenuity, customizing, innovating, improvising should be the buzzwords for us.

/ Navaratan Blog