Can edtech replace classroom learning in times of the coronavirus pandemic?
Let us first answer the question of the hour – what is edtech? It is technology that is used to deliver education. In other words, online education. But, is it really possible to enjoy learning online, with the kind of engagement you would experience in a physical classroom? The short answer is yes, but it needs further explanation.
Like any new experience, it is mostly a question of getting used to. The sage on the stage model is what we have been used to for decades. But, is it practical in the times of coronavirus? Students are now forced to study from home. Suddenly, the stage is a 13-inch digital screen.
Think back to when you started watching movies on Netflix. The gigantic cinema hall screen that gave way to your 55-inch TV and you got used to it. Why? Because sitting at home streaming content on Netflix is so much more comfortable and we have all weaned away from cinema halls.
Different types of online education
Online education is not online education. What this means is that there are several types of ‘online’ education. While some are expensive and offer the full classroom experience, some are incredibly low-cost and naturally, offer a low-cost experience. Like most things in this world, you get what you pay for. No free lunches.
At the top end is a new Engaged Learning Online (ELO) technology by S P Jain Global, Harvard’s HBX, Oxford’s HIVE, and IE Business School’s WOW Room. These are high-end online delivery systems that pretty much replicate classrooms down to the last detail. It’s live – a professor moving about like they would in a traditional classroom, making eye contact, and giving a student their full attention.
Most of these technologies come equipped with state-of-the-art engagement features like real-time polling, virtual breakout rooms, and much more. A huge advantage, especially at in today’s uncertain time, is that it can connect and engage with students no matter where in the world they are. It is no wonder then that these technologies are witnessing a huge jump in the number of students using them.
At the next level, there are technologies for video conferencing that double up as a means of education. While this is also live, it doesn’t have the same level of engagement as a traditional classroom. The professor is seated in one place and there is hardly any eye contact. But it is reliable and offers colleges a low-cost solution.
And, at the lowest end, there are asynchronous (or recorded) lectures. These are economical or even free. They are fine as long as you’re signing up to learn a short topic, which is mostly content-based.
For example, MBA classrooms are about developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which cannot be done in this method of learning.
But edtech goes beyond just delivery. There is a growing area called Learning Analytics. This is the use of learner-produced data for predicting and advising students’ learning behaviour.
An example is segregating students based on learning styles or learning preferences. Some students like to read before coming to class while others like to read after class. The most exciting part is the ability to make predictions based on the background of the student that includes academics, type of education, and even gender and race. These get validated after a few classes.
All of this is done in the most sophisticated online learning systems, but it will soon become the norm as universities would be forced to move online, reduce tuition and enhance the learning experience. Exciting times ahead.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)