The article has been authored by Beth Caldwell, Head Blended Learning, British Council India. [As appeared on Hindustan Times, 20 September 2017]
The education system in India, and across the globe, has undergone many transformations. It has evolved from community sessions in open spaces to classrooms with blackboards, to being truly online and on-demand. Today, technology is at the heart of everything that we do, including education and learning. The proliferation of gadgets and access to the Internet has democratised education and given a level playing field to anyone who wants to improve or enhance their level of proficiency in any subject. As per a recent Google-KPMG report, the Indian online education sector is expected to grow eight-fold to a USD 1.96 billion industry by 2021, owing to increased smartphone penetration and increasing data speed.
These statistics and estimates are impressive and promising, and there is no doubt that millions of individuals are inclined towards online courses given their multiple benefits such as ease of access, flexibility, personalisation etc. The demand has given rise to a multitude of online course providers and the development of MOOCs designed by faculty members from prestigious universities the world over. Hence online course seekers today, especially working professionals, have multiple courses and provider options to choose from depending on their schedule, the current level of subject knowledge, additional skill requirements at the workplace and course content and budget, among other considerations.
Given the complexities of modern-day lifestyles and growing workplace skill demands, the popularity of such courses in the long-run seems very promising. The only question now is if learners benefit from such courses and if these online courses are delivering the promised value. It is time to assess all online courses on one key parameter – effectiveness! Are the learners who have enrolled for such courses getting the maximum value and learning what they expected to or were promised? Are these courses simply cashing in on the need or are they actually delivering results? Or, at least, ensuring progress? Yes, technology has enabled access and provided more tools – e-classrooms, e-books, video tutorials – and facilitated greater collaboration through connected workplaces, remote working, virtual presence and annotation capabilities. But there is a need to utilise this all-powerful platform in the right manner. There is a need to ensure that the AR/VR headsets, e-classrooms, etc. act as tools that truly foster and catalyse learning rather than going down in the history books as ‘disruptive ideas that had immense potential’.
Hence, the real success of online courses should be measured by learning outcomes rather than just access. On how many students learnt vis-à-vis how many students enrolled. How much the students remembered and applied vis-à-vis how many modules they attended. Effectiveness and end result must be the parameter for both course providers as well as the customers. For instance, there are many online courses for improving one’s English proficiency, but do these courses ensure effective learning? Are these courses designed and structured in a way to ensure the desired learning outcomes for the learners? At the core of this discussion lie the basics of teaching. All our experience and research in the area of English language teaching proves that student-centered learning is catalysed through techniques using a communicative approach, such as classroom discussions and guided discovery, so that learners develop their independent learning capabilities and learn from and interact with each other, rather than passively receive information. Guidance and regular feedback ensure that learners progress and achieve their learning goals, and meaningful tasks based on real-life situations help consolidate what has been taught. Just as in our physical classrooms, this ethos is also behind the design of our online English course myEnglish.
Given that the platform, the experience, the environment and the tools are all relatively new, especially to the majority of the learners taking up such courses, the real magic of technology lies in creating a user-friendly and interactive environment that learners can relate to and are comfortable with. The onus also lies on the course developers to include effective teaching and evaluation techniques in the delivery structure and ensure that technology is effectively utilized to ensure success. Looking at the example of an effective online English course – yes, it must be available on demand and across devices – but should also offer an environment conducive to learning and a methodology that replicates effective classroom pedagogy, using techniques that enable progress. Hence, an online course is only successful once the learners effectively recollect, not when they simply connect (to the Internet)!
Find out more about our English courses and resources to help you improve your fluency, accuracy, and confidence: www.britishcouncil.in/English