COVID-19 pandemic makes the case for digital education more compelling

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for educational institutions all across the world. By now, it is clear that a ‘business as usual’ scenario is unlikely — for any services sector.
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Digital education has been an actionable item for long. But until the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions struck, not many converted it into an action item. Today, with a sense of urgency, every institution worth its salt is into delivering online education. 

In many ways, COVID-19 gave schools and colleges a jolt. There was total disbelief, as the disruption was sudden. And there were hopes that normalcy would return — that normal classrooms could be resumed in full force. But nothing of this sort has happened. It will not, ever.

By now, it is clear that a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario is unlikely — not in education or for that matter, any other services sector. 

It appears that the pandemic has not one or two but several waves in store. Even otherwise, the future is likely to be characterised by outbreaks of one zoonotic disease or the other that could assume epidemic — if not pandemic — proportions. This would mean that digital classrooms and concomitant technologies will be the enablers of ‘business continuity’ in education. 

During the first wave, institutions invested in digital platforms to deliver content. They moved content to the cloud to accommodate the need of the students to consume it at their own pace. Of course, there were many trials and errors.

But as the new academic year begins, amid the second wave, there is a semblance of confidence in teachers and learners. After all, they now have the experience and knowledge of the digital tools they acquired in the past several months. 

However, the opportunity is much bigger. This noble sector can take the time of pandemic to transition to a tech-enabled model of education with a strategy that takes into account both the potential of the technologies and also the scope to leverage the technologies to fulfil the real needs of students — personalised education. 

Innovation roadmap 

Institutions should waste no time in embracing blended learning — call it hybrid learning, and go for the right mix of online and offline classrooms. Creating connected classrooms featuring smart boards and the competency of delivering cloud classes are the tasks cut out for them.

And the innovation roadmap should include AI/ML, which can be a game-changer, as it helps teachers align the delivery of lessons matching the level of comprehension of each and every student. The VR/AR advances, on the other hand, can boost learning outcomes by several notches as they make subjects easy for the students to grasp. Experiments in these technologies are inevitable in personalising education. 

Tech adoption would require teacher preparedness. Hence, training should be offered to the teachers to help them make the best use of technologies not only for teaching but also for evaluating their own teaching competency, and the students learning outcomes. 

Branding that works

As a global “marketplace”, online education is both crowded and competitive. More than ads, it takes new approaches for branding success. Essentially, online branding for institutions as it stands today is just about sampling, the good old technique, now being applied to the new medium.

Institutions of global repute have taken the lead in this direction. They make online lectures or even courses free. This enables students to sample the quality of content and teaching before they commit to investing in the institution for a full-fledged course, deeper level engagement with the faculty and other students, accessing resources, and getting certifications.

The success of sampling explains why people in education are falling head over heels for a strong presence in MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) platforms like Coursera or Edx. 

These trends point to the emergence of student-centred learning. It is a veritable shishya-kul model. Knowledge is freed. It is not an exaggeration to say that the online space has become the learner’s paradise. There are any numbers of different explanations on a concept for students, no matter what their learning styles are: visual, auditory, read/write, or kinesthetic. 

In such contexts, success is possible only for those who figure out the new realities and channel their time, energy, and resources where it would have the best impact in creating value for students.

Despite the pandemic — or because of it — institutions can still succeed. They must, for the knowledge economy and society to thrive. 

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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