Digitisation is making e-learning simple

Though the computer literacy in India is low, some companies are effectively spreading education using digital contents riding on the Internet.

The business of education is all set for a transformation in the country as the government, recently, announced that it will purchase some 100,000 low-cost Aakash tablets from Datawind, the Canadian company that has developed this equipment.

These tablets would then be distributed to schools and colleges in India, where students would get them for free. This move of going the e-way and the limitations the low cost tablet has revealed has seen a lot of criticism all over, however, the e-learning industry in India is going to be one of the biggest game changers in recent times.

E-learning service provider Tata Interactive Systems (TIS) CEO Sanjaya Sharma recalls his experiences when he began his company in 1990. “There was no e-learning then. It was computer-based training along with multimedia training that existed,” says Sharma. However, times changed slowly as TIS began getting clients. One of its first clients was the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) with whom it did a project involving VGA monitors. This product was later sold to 32 other organisations.

Now, the company has many Fortune-500 customers to itself and is also conducting business with universities and publishers abroad. Sharma is very optimistic about the present Indian e-learning market, though he believes that it has just begun to take shape. “Adoption happened much earlier abroad, than in India,” Sharma added.
TIS is coming big on the e-learning in schools with their Tata ClassEdge, a solution for interactive teaching in schools.

Tata ClassEdge is an innovative and comprehensive educational solution from TIS, designed to help teachers deliver quality instruction, with an effective blend of classroom activities and interactive multimedia demonstrations.

For this purpose, the company would be providing its services to partially government-aided schools apart from private schools. Study estimates that there are around 80,000 government schools; 150,000 partially-funded schools and 105,000 government schools in the country. TIS is also going to reach out to government schools soon with a different pricing model within a couple of years.

Through ClassEdge, teachers will have access to lesson plans that they can use to make their classes engaging and memorable. The plans are customised for students and it provides tips to elicit student participation, including reinforcement activities for struggling learners and challenging assignments for high achievers.

Teachers can use animations to explain difficult topics. They can engage children through stories that teach. They could use interactive games to get students to interact with the medium and have fun while learning.

Sharma strongly believes that the education sector in India is going to take advantages of technology in the coming years and will improve in the process. “I definitely feel that technology should be available to every individual,” adds Sharma.
Meanwhile, another institute AVAGMAH (avagmah.com) is making good business with its online learning platform deemed for the higher education space. AVAGMAH offers UGC-recognised degrees for MBA (Global) in sales & marketing, HR management and banking & finance. The education platform is entirely online and the student must attend classes on the Internet.

“The faculty conducts a class and students sit at home, taking lessons. That was my aim and that’s what AVAGMAH offers,” says AVAGMAH Online School CEO Karthik K S. The platform for this online school was developed in 2007 and it had also won an award for innovation from Nasscom, the same year. However, the content generation took another two years and only in 2009, was AVAGMAH ready to deliver education online and commence its first batch.  The institute now has more than 6,000 students to its name and the number keeps growing with each passing day.

The ease of access, they feel, is drawing people towards online education as they can log into their classes after their day’s work and have a quick session with the faculty. “Internet can reach places where prevalent education systems cannot. We have students logging in from places like Palanpur in Gujarat and also from places like Guwahati,” explained Karthik. He also says that the content can be delivered on low bandwidth Internet connections making it easier for narrowband users to access it. On the cost factor of such courses and how viable it would be for the not-so-rich sections of India, he pointed out that AVAGMAH offers two-year MBA courses for Rs 40,000 per year. 

“Online education is going to drastically change the learning space in India as technology becomes more accessible,” added Karthik.

Karnataka, the state with the most developments happening in the IT space, is no doubt heralding the e-learning spree in India with various initiatives to bring this form of education to all. In the year 2009, NIIT had announced a partnership with the Government of Karnataka (Department of Social Welfare - DSW), the Karnataka Vocational Training & Skill Development Corporation Ltd (KVSTDC) and the Department of Employment and Training (DET) to provide e-learning to young under-graduates residing in DSW hostels.

The vision of this project is to enable the students in the government hostels to use their free time to enhance their skill sets by acquiring some of the soft skills and life skills that are required in most job areas, and in the process, providing the latest learning technologies at the student’s doorstep.

IT major Intel India and the Karnataka Government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, last year, launched ‘Computers on Wheels’, an e-learning pilot programme, in five districts of the state.

The pilot programme includes digital instruction materials from ‘Educomp’, an education solutions provider. The programme enables teachers to utilise a variety of learning strategies and tools to cater to the diverse learning styles and abilities of students, making education more engaging and inclusive for all. Under the ‘Computers on Wheels’ approach, netbooks are housed in a cart and can be moved between classrooms as needed.

Not only has the Internet found a newer way in traditional courses, but it has also made advances in supplementary education. Atano, a Mumbai-based company, has come up with a unique idea of providing e-books for vocational courses on its website. Imagine living cities like Meerut, Shimla, Jaipur, Guwahati, Indore, Cochin or even in the metros, one can download a supplementary e-Book at a click of a button. Supplementary education books can be downloaded on the individual’s Windows PC, Android platform, or even Mac (iPads).
 
Cost-effective option

Industry experts are of the opinion that this sector has a huge potential and more so, in a country where education finds it tough to reach remote places.

“The country needs e-learning as it is the best way to reach out to millions and moreover this sector is very promising,” says head of IT & ITeS Practice at KPMG, Pradeep Udhas.

He adds that not only in traditional courses, but also in vocational courses, e-learning will be the trend-setter.

Another initiative by Manipal Global Education Services, EduNxt enables interactive learning environment which includes small group mentoring, virtual classrooms, simulation, self-study content, recorded presentations and shared browsing.
Launched by Sikkim Manipal University-Distance Education in 2009, it helps all the Distance Education students through their online platform.

The university believes that it develops a sense of togetherness among the members and different stakeholders of the huge community within the platform.

The platform has functionality which provides a student to interact with 65 core faculty and 6,500 supporting faculty counselors in order to utilise the varied expertise and vast experience of this community.

“We may have progressed from just computer-based learning to technology-enabled solutions in the classroom, but the objective has remained intact, improving the learning experience by making it more engaging,” said Pearson Education Services COO Srikanth B Iyer.

Iyer adds that in their current avatar, e-learning solutions are not seen as replacements for teachers, but aids which will help teachers deliver lessons better, thereby increasing the quality of the learning experience.

However, Centre for Internet & Society Executive Director Sunil Abraham feels that learning should not be restricted to the Internet and interactive classroom sessions but should be made available on mobile phones through audio files as mobile penetration is much higher compared to Internet reach.

“Audio files can also be productive and a learning experience for people who can’t afford the Internet,” explained Abraham.  

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