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Virtual learning environment challenging physical classroom learning

For the last many years, discussions are abuzz about the use of technology in reaching out to the learners for making the education system effective with access and equity. The digital learning environments which were gradually gaining popularity became compulsion during the pandemic in 2020 and came as a savior for around two years for merely sustaining education activities. This has culminated in broader thinking for establishing suitable web-based digital learning ecosystems that are free from time, place, and access restrictions as part of new norms. A number of online teaching solutions, e-content of study material, online evaluation and assessment, etc. have proliferated to facilitate the virtual learning processes. Undoubtedly, these virtual learning initiatives have the potential to fulfill the learning aspirations with barrier-free accessibility, but the cost of using such online learning is still a major concern. The varying socio-economic conditions of society act as a deterrent to online learning particularly due to the digital divide, the cost of accessing internet facilities, and the cost of using web-based learning products & services. This has undoubtedly opened up a new dimension in the formal education system where online education programmes, blended learning, etc. are now put into practice for meeting the teaching-learning-evaluation requirements with lessening dependency on the brick-and-mortar institution campuses. There is no capacity restriction in online mode as the number of users is solely dependent on the limitations of IT facilities laid down for the purpose. This also has the potential to enhance the gross enrollment ratio (GER) in higher education, subject to the affordability of the internet, educational product, and services. In a way, the setting up of the regulations for running virtual education programs ie online Degree/Diploma programs is a panacea for achieving the targeted GER of 50 by 2035 as per National Education Policy – ​​2020. Nevertheless, the introspection of the fast pervading online learning model vis-a-vis conventional face-to-face teaching-learning model may yield meaningful insights.

Concern for Teachers:

Teachers belong to the privileged community with the onerous responsibility of shaping young and innocent minds. They ought to deliver to the best of their capabilities in all interactions with the students in the formal education system of educational institutions. However, the ubiquitous availability of digital learning content through the internet has empowered learners for self-learning and students to have the option to compare the online learning model with the offline learning mode and act accordingly. This has nucleated a new challenge of bringing students to classrooms. Digital content access is gradually creating a perception about the redundancy of teacher-assisted learning in classrooms and enfeebles the participation of students in education on campuses. Undeniably, self-learning through digital content holds great potential to supplement classroom interactions but considering it as a substitute for assisted learning on physical campuses may yield an insufficiency of knowledge base and poor understanding of subjects in due course of time.

Besides this, the prevailing digital divide and digital devices being out of reach of a sizeable population of the country refute the possibility of digital learning for all. This necessitates the strengthening of education processes in classrooms and increases the responsibilities of teachers to make classroom and laboratory interactions worthwhile.

Technological concerns:

The education system is one of the major domains in which technology has been extensively leveraged for improving learning experiences. Technological solutions for effective connectivity have enabled virtual collaboration and knowledge sharing, online class interactions as per student needs, interactive simulations, real-time chatting, polling, student progress monitoring, assessment tools, digital storage of all activities, and fast retrieval of stored information for corrections and improvement have opened new views. Looking into the facilities embedded in the digital learning platforms and its fast augmentation and customization as per specific requirements is evolving into a virtual education system that does not need any physical campus. Also, the flexibility, repeatability in its use, objectivity in evaluation and assessment, expedient processing, etc. is likely to offer a parallel education system which can perform all tasks as carried out by educational institutions with a lot of interventions of the human being. With the available technology, there is a feasibility of virtual institution of learning with digital course content, online content delivery/mentoring/assessment/examination/evaluation/certification and other associated processes for remote education delivery programmes.

Artificial intelligence and data analytics using machines can perform excellent analysis but it is devoid of the human touch in perceiving the outcomes and assessments which may not be appropriate. Despite attempts to emulate the educational activities as done by teachers using technology, the utility of physical campuses for carrying out teaching-learning-examination-evaluation processes can not be got rid of.

Student concerns:

Students of Generation Z are much more fascinated with the use of technology in learning as compared to Millennial students. There is a visible increase in adapting digital learning alternatives. The time spent by learners on digital gadgets is constantly increasing to satiate their learning desire of knowledge acquisition on their own. Howbeit the poor employability of students due to inadequate competencies points to certain gaps. This calls for comparing the effectiveness of self-learning using digital options with assisted learning in physical classrooms. Unassisted learning has inherent limitations in developing a sound understanding of fundamentals and application of these in real-life situations as compared to teacher-assisted learning.

Also, too much screen time and lessening physical activities have started showing physiological disorders and health concerns are visible. Further, from the wholesome concept-building perspective, the utility of the face-to-face teaching-learning mode in the classroom is the best-provided teachers are passionate and committed to teaching, however, the digital content can always support the individuals in overcoming the learning gaps as needed. Therefore, the learners must carefully strike a balance between online and offline education modes. The Digital learning model is quite hallucinating but has its limitations in ingraining the expected capabilities in learners.

The importance and relevance of formal teaching on physical campuses do not need any more underlining in a country like India which boasts of the ancient education system of Gurukuls and Ashrams where teaching activities were carried out with pupils and teachers living together for longer periods.

It is high time when all teachers must strategize for countering the ensuing paradigm shift in the education system through their committed and creative approaches while encouraging the use of technology for supplementing the learning processes to evolve an efficacious education system. The demographic dividend available to our nation entails stronger education systems with due consideration to access and equity for fulfilling the aspirations of a large share of the youth population. At the same time, stronger education systems will be opening enormous opportunities for providing well-trained, creative, and capable youth in service to the world and help in the sustainability of civilization, strengthen the economy, and bring prosperity.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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