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07 Jul 2020, Edition - 1820, Tuesday

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Can 5G and the Facebook take e-learning to new heights?

Ram Kallapiran

You can’t always be too critical about the gazes of pupils meandering over to nearby mango trees fuelled by wandering thoughts during rigorous classroom lectures. But are the days of classroom learning technically over?

Well, it was believed to be so, at least by a cross-section of techno-enthusiasts when the buzzword e-learning first started doing the rounds. But now, we know for sure that it’s not really going to replace traditional practices like a tornado cleaning up fallen leaves. In fact, many universities and educational institutions now use Virtual Learning Environments [VLE] by effectively marrying them to their existing classroom teaching and learning.

Learning Management Systems [LMS], which can facilitate virtual classrooms, on the other hand, can help in tracking learning based on standards, such as e-learning applications SCORM or Tin Can. In simple terms, e-learning can use any of these to deliver learning online to suit the needs of an autonomous learner in a flexible fashion. And we could add the use of modern internet tools to the mix.

The conundrum worth deciphering here is whether e-learning can live up to the hype? John Chambers, executive chairman and former CEO of Cisco Systems, once said e-learning will be the biggest growth in the internet and will be the biggest game changer. Even though the level of usage has increased, one can’t help wondering if better days are yet to come.

The learning needs, of course, have considerably changed of late. Gone are those days when one could complete a graduate programme and settle in a job for life. We now have people who undertake multiple professions within a single career span. We have managers and employees who constantly seek additional skills, training or continuing professional development to keep up with the rest. And then we have the purist, who pursues a new craft for the joy of learning. So we can save surprises for elsewhere if the supplies to meet these demands take more innovative forms and shapes, in future.

For example m-learning (Mobile Learning) is emerging as an important aspect of e-learning with more and more smartphones in operation.

And when 5G eventually arrives at the end of the decade or at the beginning of the next, we could see download speeds going up north big time. They say we could download a movie within seconds. What about a mini library? Perhaps not in seconds, but pretty close to it. So an entire programme of e-learning absorbed through a smartphone appears a reality.

More relevant YouTube channels, educational videos and apps on collaborative, social learning can crop up. We could possibly have a ‘Facebook for learners’ virtually on any topic.

And do we have a downside? A lack of national regulation from the academic, quality assurance and credit framework standpoints could be it. National university councils and boards can come together to resolve this so that the enormous potential of E-Learning can be truly realised.

Education in India has been highly competitive, valued at one end, but with steep levels of illiteracy, at the other. Streamlining e-learning across the nation therefore becomes a bit tricky. However, such examples can be found from programmes offered by national institutions such as the Indian institute of Management [Recall the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam session] and the Indira Gandhi National Open University.

So, in the near future if you come across learners, who instead of looking out at trees from classrooms, actually learn lessons leaning on a mango tree in ancient gurukul style, but with smartphones in hand, don’t be surprised!

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own

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