Are we truly ready for open learning?

Online courses

As a lawyer, interested in learning more about cyber law, digital marketing and intellectual property, 24-year-old Keshav Maheshwari decided to pursue an online course in cyber law in 2012. But those six months of the self-paced course didn’t leave him satisfied. “I had attended many online courses and it was one of them.

Though the experience was decent, it wasn’t great because the knowledge was generic, and also, a HR will never value the certificate provided as the examination process is very elementary and no proper evaluation method is followed,” rues Maheshwari, who took the course from Leapcourses.com, a MOOCs (massive, online and open courses) or online platform which provides courses in law, security, forensics and fraud control.

India is opening itself to a new trend in higher education which uses the cyberspace as a medium of communication. The growing need for training and more returns on it is driving various institutions to open its ambit towards such knowledge-enhancement courses. But are they good enough, and valuable, compared to their Western counterparts?

Gurgaon-based software engineer, Vaibhav Jalan, took a computer networks course from NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning- an initiative by seven IITs and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) for creating course contents in engineering and science) in the fourth year of his B Tech degree. “Though we, in India, still lag behind in courses which focus on overall development, the science courses offered are improving. For instance, NPTEL gave me an opportunity to redo the entire computer networks course, a week before my final exams,” he recollects.

As courses are designed for large number of participants, the videos initially were small classroom sessions put on platforms like YouTube. Now, they offer class notes, lecture syllabi and tests that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere as long as they have an internet connection; and offer a full/complete course experience, usually for free.

“It’s a decent tool to learn something basic, but if you think that it will give you an insight on the subject or maybe you will get something dynamic, then it’s not a perfect call,” Maheshwari tells Metrolife.

However, many feel that possibilities for rich mentor-learner and learner-learner interactions are unlimited in the courses offered abroad and can’t be replaced by their “Indianised versions”.

Siddharth Begwani, 37, who has taken more than 20 courses from western universities feels audio-visual learning is more organised there. “Discussion forums are a vibrant supplement to audio-visual learning. For each of the modules, grading is based on periodic quizzes along with a mini-project,” says Begwani, referring to a data science course from Johns Hopkins University, US on Coursera platform. He adds, “As I am interested in advanced analytics, this course provides a fairly solid foundation for that. The course difficulty is intermediate, and to truly specialise in this area, one needs to work on practice problems and further augment knowledge through advanced courses or self-study.”

Following the lead of top Ivy League universities abroad and much sought after portals like Coursera, the Indian government started Swayam (Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds) in November 2014 which offers courses in areas of management, social sciences, engineering and energy. Indian faculty from renowned institutions like IIT-Bombay, IIT- Chennai, IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Guwahati, University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and IIM Bangalore along with certain foreign faculty are the brains behind such courses.

Dr K S Kusuma, in-charge of one such collaborative effort being taken by Jamia Millia Islamia University and NCERT mentions that while the idea is noble, there are “inherent roadblocks”.

“Teachers teach, students learn, teachers assess – and that is not how we view MOOCs. The idea is to offer a wholesome experience of a variety of courses from the best mentors from all across the world. But there are infrastructural issues including net connectivity. Also, even if the registered people are 1,000, only 100 people relentlessly pursue it, out of which 50 successfully complete the course. So, it’s a long way to go before we can say that India is ready for knowledge-enhancement courses,” says Kusuma, a professor at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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