Understanding the virtual truth

TECH TALK

Understanding the virtual truth

LEARNING BY CONVENIENCE One of the main problems online learning addresses is the long distance barrier.

The very thought of life without the internet seems scary. This, despite the fact that many of us have lived without it for most part of our childhood, back in the 80s. If anything, this proves that both internet and technology have revolutionised the way we live and the way we learn, making e-learning a virtual reality.

Scope for e-learning

ClearConcepts Knowledge Services, a Bangalore-based e-learning firm, started by IIT graduates Sanjay Mansabdar and Deepak Babu  to coach students for the IIT JEE and AIEEE programs, is meant to revolutionise the way children today use the information they find online to enrich their knowledge and learning process.

“We wanted to start this because we saw how stressed students were while preparing for the IIT entrance. And we realised that they were doing exactly what we were doing while preparing for the IIT entrance 20 years ago! Look at how education has progressed overseas. Here, in India, we still haven’t made an attempt to move forward and learn to access information better. We started ClearConcepts as we wanted children to be able to develop conceptual thinking rather than just concentrate on pattern recognition and problem-solving,” they say.

Talking of the advantages of e-learning over regular text-book learning, they added, “An online environment allows you to combine many aspects of learning in a way that regular classroom environment does not. It involves the student thoroughly because the student actually spends time learning instead of just taking notes. Also, through the web, we can actually track a student’s performance and give him just the necessary coaching he needs, which you cannot do in a regular classroom.”

While this may sound rather idealistic to some, it is heartening to note that the trend in our rigid education system has finally begun to change. Students from towns and smaller cities are finding it easier to access the internet in the comfort of their homes, attend classes stress-free and get the kind of individual attention they need. One of the main problems online learning addresses is to solve the long distance barrier.

The way forward?

Kushboo Surana, 22, who is pursuing her degree program online from the Symbiosis Institute of Management in Pune, is positive about the benefits of e-learning.
“It is ideal for students like me who cannot go to Pune for higher education. I could complete my degree online without the hassles of compromises it would entail,” she says.

Deepika Jain, 25, who successfully pursued her MBA degree with the distance education program at IGNOU, from the confines of her home in Chidambaram, is positive as well.
“These courses are stress-free and I have plenty of time to concentrate on my learning, instead of being in class all day and not paying attention. I enjoyed learning the e-way,” she says.

However, there are many challenges that e-learning has to contend with, especially in a country like India where power shortages and low connectivity are still rampant. It is a big question as to how quickly knowledge services will be able to achieve what they promise. Sanjay Mansabdar agrees that there are many challenges on the path to e-learning success.

“If you look at Bangalore, there are two types of people who use technology; the kind who are tech-savvy and familiar with technology and the kind who are skeptical about it. But this hasn’t stopped major players in the market from cashing in on the infant market of e-learning,” he says.

Software firms like Microsoft, Acer and Sify have begun providing training solutions for their employees through e-learning. Recently, CRN reported that there is a clear trend among companies to use technologies that aid in education.

Gopal Swaminathan, director of sales and marketing, Intel South Asia, is of the view that more than 1 million notebooks were sold in India in the last quarter and around 30% of this was driven by a change in the education pattern.

The future of e-learning 

Talking of the future of e-learning, India is soon going to be the hub of e-learning and knowledge outsourcing because of the huge pool of untapped potential in the market. And e-learning bridges many gaps that regular classroom education doesn’t. According to a Nasscom report, the global revenue from e-learning market in 2002 was around $23 million, and India's share in this space was around $5 million. This will see new heights by 2015. Low-cost PCs and the demand for high-speed connections is already sky-rocketing and students, researchers, teachers and educationists are looking for ways to cash in on this availability of knowledge and information.

IGNOU, known for its long-distance curriculum, is rapidly revising its structure to include more students. One of the world’s leading management schools, the Indian Institute of Management — Calcutta (IIM-C) has entered into a strategic alliance with NIIT to develop and provide executive development programs through virtual classrooms. Web-based Tutorials (WBT) and Learning Management Systems (LMS) seem to be a big hit with both educationists and students. Teachers are able to track reports and performance, reschedule classes, and develop niche modules while students are able to access online libraries, schedule their work, and actually spend time learning.

Whether e-learning is the ideal route to bring about educational reforms in the future is unclear. However, India is certainly embracing e-learning in a big way and it is definitely bound to benefit us and help progress towards making education available to all.

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