COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact on all spheres of human life.
The most visible change and perhaps most impactful has been the disruption in education and online learning. The impact has been across 190 countries as per a UNESCO report, in India 320 Mn learners have been impacted.
While government bodies, institutions, schools and colleges have responded to the situation with quick deployment of web portals, apps, online text and so on, but it did bring to the surface issues surrounding the Digital infrastructure. Issues of people with and without connectivity, the hardware availability, the resources trained online to handle the sessions and finally the intrinsic bias against the existing pedagogical approach based on textbooks.
Relying on 100% online is very tricky given the limited access and pedagogical aspects like skill-based learning which require regular feedback and support from the trainer or the facilitator. In essence a 100% reliance on self-paced learning which requires upload of content on a portal, app or cloud server is not something which is likely to produce the desired outcome especially in schools or skill-based learning institutions requiring regular trainer feedback and monitoring.
While wholly online learning is probably not relevant for most pupils except those in remote areas, blended learning certainly offers promise, Face to Face instruction with technology mediated instruction seems to find favor across the spectrum. A system of accessing learning at home or in the public library during the morning with activities and discussion relating to that learning at school in the afternoon is certainly one schools might wish to experiment with.
At the policy level, local and national government needs to develop structured local and national policies for online and blended learning from schools. At present governmental thinking is not sufficiently informed by the evidence base. It may be that teacher unions will be concerned by the suggested shift in teacher practice, but there is no suggestion that fewer teachers will be needed; if anything, more (but better trained) teachers will be need of the hour.
Online learning has become commonplace during the lockdown and will play an increasing role in curricula in future as teachers seek to harness digital technology to deliver an efficient and effective 21st century education for pupils and students, the blended mode, where some of the material will be delivered in a physical classroom and some in the digital space is the more sustainable and impactful option. We must embrace this change and leverage it for improved experience and outcomes. A combination of face-to-face teaching with some amount of material delivered asynchronously. Video conferencing technology to be used extensively to mitigate some of the challenges we have faced due to the health and distancing norms.
From a teachers’ perspective, a digitized set-up offered through blended learning solutions provides a rich repository of print and online resources that allows the teachers to collaborate with students to create a more interactive and engaging learning environment. A blended approach to learning and teaching also makes it possible to do justice to the concept of inter-disciplinary teaching.
Some models are amenable to blended learning, any shift to a 100% online self-paced model would only be sub optimal.
Skill driven Model which combines self-paced learning with instructor or facilitator support to develop specific knowledge or skills. Similarly, we have attitude driven and competency driven models which require developing new attitudes and behaviors or capture and transfer tacit knowledge. All these models require a blended approach of sharing online content followed by short frequent interactions with the trainers and facilitators to create maximum impact.
Another study carried out by the University of Dundee found that the majority of studies carried out in this area found blended and online learning better than traditional instruction. Educational games and CAI were also shown to be very effective and, while these are not yet widely used outside school, they could be made available for this purpose. Blended and online learning were shown to have positive effects on performance when compared to traditional classroom teaching at both primary and secondary schools. Science and Math were the most popular subjects, but positive results were shown across a wide range of other subject areas, including reading and writing, critical thinking, art and music, and health.
The past six months have been hugely disruptive for the education of children, but it would be a mistake to pivot back to the status quo without pausing to consider what benefits online and blended learning can bring in the long run.
The recently announced NEP, 2020 emphasizes the inclusion of technology in the learning pedagogy to provide more holistic experience to the teacher and students. The NEP 2020 strongly recommends the usage of a wide variety of digital resources to strengthen the learning of students in not only understating the theoretical aspects of the subjects, but to also strengthen the cross-curricular connects, and drawing a connect between the home experiences and school-life experiences of students. The underlying structure is clearly skewed towards a blended learning approach rather than a standalone, self-paced learning.
On a concluding note, Carpe Diem: “Seize the opportunity, Blended learning will become the new normal so online learning and in-person learning will coexist on your campuses. Now, the whole country knows all too well that the ability to teach online is a core competency that all teachers must possess”.