Opportunities and Challenges of Online Learning
During the last twenty years internet has influenced every walk of life. The way we conduct commerce, retailing, travel, entertainment, governance, management and everything else we can think of, has been revolutionized. Therefore, there is no reason for internet not to have had profound influence on education.
In my article on Flipped Classrooms, published in this magazine’s August- September issue, I had pointed out that teaching and learning are going through rapid transformation driven by innovations in digital technologies, online courses and broader changes in:
- leadership thinking
- skill requirements of global multi cultural markets and
- lateral problem solving needs
Digitisation and globalisation are converging to redefine school and higher education landscape. For instance, MIT lectures are available free on their websites. Anyone interested in learning can access them. Teaching and learning systems have also undergone radical changes. Leveraging technology for learning is in the forefront.
Flipped Classrooms and blended learning are the new norms. Flipped classrooms are where the classroom/ homework paradigm is ‘flipped’. What is class work (lecture) is done at home via teacher-created videos and what is homework (assignments) is done in class. Converting lessons and lecture into online videos is very simple these days. Standard software preinstalled in computers and a webcam can capture the computer screen, as a short video, and lets you share it instantly via YouTube.
For students without internet connection, teachers can simply copy the videos on flash drives or DVDs and students can view, understand and learn the content at home. In line with this concept, progressive teachers, including myself, have videotaped our lectures and workshops and made them available on YouTube, websites and blogs.
But this is not the only way e-learning is happening. Newer, user friendly softwares are constantly being developed for each specific learning need. For example, a number of softwares are available for Tony Buzan‘s revolutionary Mind Mapping technique for making notes. Mind Mapping is a powerful graphic skill which helps visualise information. Mind Mapping provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain and enables students prepare quality notes which save time, boost memory and boost understanding of the information.
Some of the softwares available for mind mapping are:
- thinkbuzan.com – a paid software developed by the inventor of Mind Maps himself.
- popplet.com – can record ideas, draw, upload texts and videos.
- spiderscribe.net – a cloud based mind mapping tool
- coggle.it – a slightly technical site but can create notes, collaborate, drag and drop images.
- freeplane.org, xmind.net, mind42.com are other mind mapping apps available free online.
Such a wide choice poses a huge challenge of selecting the ‘appropriate’ software. I recommend, wherever possible, go with the software developed by the inventor or developer of the concept or tool. Therefore, for mind maps go for thinkbuzan.com.
To understand the importance of whole brain learning and to develop ‘intelligence’, a huge amount of researched information is available on the web on the functions of left and right brain. YouTube has several ‘video exercises’ to determine whether you are left or right brain dominant. Sites like smart-kit.com provide online mental exercises to practice and stimulate the brain. You can also play online, Sudoku or games like chess, bridge etc. Similarly, to prepare for exams, different types of sample questions, past papers, mock tests are available online. Several softwares provide answers and can score your mock tests electronically. Others like extramarks. com offer paid online learning platforms and claim tuition- free learning experience from home. They promise, students can learn, practice and test at their own pace all subjects from KG to Class XII on their platforms. Students can even collaborate with teachers, peers and parents to aid their learning and monitor progress of learning.
There is practically no learning skill or content which you cannot find online. The problem of online e-learning today is of too much information. One can easily drown in cyberspace and waste an enormous amount of precious time surfing the net. Another problem is that you come across contradictory information and different approaches to explain the same concept, practice a skill, problem solve or learn a subject. Some approaches are professional and time tested but many are outright amateurish. This often leads to confusion in the minds of students and teachers alike.
How do you then choose which online software, site, platform or approach is best for you? Unfortunately, to date there is no credible and unbiased service which is available to guide you. In my opinion, it is very important for teachers to keep themselves abreast of their subject in the virtual world. They must assess the e-learning sites and software and recommend appropriate ones to students. Teachers and educational institutions also need to create a forum where they can share their experiences and rate popular e-learning websites and software.
Till this happens, prescribed books will remain the primary source of learning and e-learning the secondary one. But more and more books are being digitized and available online due to rapid penetration of smart phones and ‘Kindle’. Soon the burden of carrying textbooks will disappear and e-learning will be the preferred model. Another serious issue of e-learning is possible exposure of young minds to undesirable sites. Parents and teachers need to be constantly vigilant about this.
Despite pitfalls and limitations the role of internet technology in e-learning will become more and more dominant in times to come. The new generation teachers and students will have to learn the art and science of sifting through the gigantic amount of information and options available online. They will have no option but to embrace e-learning and e-teaching to meet the challenges of a new world order which will reward talent and ability to apply knowledge as never before.
Ajay Aggarwal is author and master trainer of ‘New Age Learning and Reading Skills’. He also contributes through magazines his views on global trends and how India can leapfrog its education standards. After a successful corporate career, Ajay co – founded Apsara Foundation in 2011. He conducts regular workshops for teachers and students on new age learning skills: mind mapping, long term memory techniques, managing study time, listening skills, whole brain learning, speed reading and preparing for exams. He helps education institutes absorb these study skills into their culture and curriculum. To-date Apsara Foundation has trained more than 550 teachers and 6000 students.For more information visit www.apsarafoundation.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org