Dr. Sridhar G, Founder, Deeksha

Thirty years ago, learning that happens over a screen might have been considered part of a sci-fi plot. But the last decade has seen an unprecedented spurt in online education. The pedagogical landscape has been transformed worldwide and has brought about an ever-decreasing difference between blended and hybrid learning.

Although these terms are used interchangeably, there once existed a subtle difference between the two. Blended learning supplements in-class teaching with online material like podcasts, videos, quizzes and the like. Therefore, technology is a tool but not a replacement to physical lectures. A hybrid learning model offers a mix of both in-person and online teaching – where the instructor often conducts both simultaneously by using tools like videoconferencing or live recording. MOOCs sometimes follow the hybrid method.

Another distinction is that while blended learning applies to the same group of learners, hybrid learning can cater to heterogenous groups of learners i.e. those who can attend the class in-person vis a vis those who can avail the material online. Additionally, some course components can be completed offline whereas the rest can be fulfilled online. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the educational industry has been compelled to function entirely online.

Sharing insights on educational trends of the present and future is Dr Sridhar, Founder of Deeksha and thought leader in the educational domain.

Incorporating technology into pedagogy is now the norm rather than the exception. Could you shed some insights on the benefits and potential of digital aids to enhance learning?

We strongly believe that nothing can replace a teacher in a classroom. However, the teacher needs additional tools to ensure a more effective learning outcome. The traditional chalk-and-talk method of instruction would often become cumbersome and exhausting after 6-7 hours of continuous lessons. Since everyone has different learning styles, this method was not ideal for maximizing assimilation and understanding. Starting off by using audio-visual technology — the easier low-hanging fruit — makes it easier for both teachers and students to optimise the knowledge exchange. Therefore, technology enriched the classroom experience and made learning more engaging.

From being just a supplement, technology has now become the driving force of education. How has blended and hybrid learning changed over the last couple of years?

Due to COVID-19 and the realisation it has brought in, there has been, and there will continue to be a massive transformation in this space. Prior to the pandemic, educators world over were skeptical about the incorporation of online tools into mainstream academia — and learning outcomes were suspect. But given the current scenario, the resistance to online learning has drastically weakened.

It’s now a given that contact hours will be reduced and replaced in favour of online instruction. We have come to appreciate the benefits of a hybrid model — namely personalised learning, the ability to learn at one’s own pace, and select one’s medium of instruction. It wouldn’t at all be surprising (especially in higher education) if students are expected to attend in-person events to boost social and communitarian skills — and engage only with 30% of the coursework — while completing the remaining 70% online. In schools, this division might be a 60-40, but the principle remains the same. Kids may attend school from 8 am to 1 pm — where they also benefit from peer interactions and extracurriculars — and complete the rest of the classes online from their homes. These radical disruptions will now be a staple feature of pedagogy, worldwide.

App-based learning is now on the rise. What makes them so popular and accessible?

The idea that drives several of these learning apps is enabling the child to take the classroom home. The effective ones not only have entire lectures within them, but also the key ideas or the highlights of the chapter delivered in short bytes. The child can then immediately home in on what he/she didn’t grasp and get familiar with it. It also helps teacher perceive problem areas and identify learning gaps through analytics — and devise remedies accordingly. Finally, AI algorithms give the agency back to the children as it helps them understand where they stand. This is how the learning becomes personalized for them. This empowers a child to learn, literally from anywhere, anytime.

Many students are often attending their first semester or year online. How are they adapting to the online ecosystem? 

We must understand that many youngsters these days are “digital natives”: they have been brought up in the screen era. So several of them have been able to seamlessly adapt into these virtual ecosystems. Further, schools have set up dedicated training sessions to familiarise children with controls and navigation before the term begins, and refresher courses throughout the academic year. The only challenge we have with the batches that have completely learnt online is assessment. At the moment, the verdict is still out.

Are there any visible differences in the student-teacher relationship in the virtual domain? How can also we ensure that students dont lose out on valuable peer-to-peer engagements?

It has become far more critical now that teachers keep a close tab on their children. It is imperative to ensure that the teacher reaches out to the child at least thrice a week to not just check in on academics, but also look after their socio-emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, online learning severely hampers peer-to-peer interaction, so we need to employ digital tools to recreate classroom spaces. Perhaps breakout room activities are a good way to help children keep in touch with each other and solve challenges together. Including more group projects is another way to help children stay engaged and develop social skills.

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