Technology must enthuse and enable teachers

EducationWorld September 2018 | Education World Teacher-2-teacher

It’s almost a truism that education is now a continuous lifelong learning process. New millennium business and industry professionals have to reconcile themselves to learning throughout their careers rather than accumulate knowledge and master a specific skill during the school and college years. How one adapts to the rapid technology changes transforming almost all industry verticals, will separate winners and losers.

Simultaneously the gap between the speed at which technologies are transforming and the pace at which individuals are reskilling themselves, is widening. This has prompted corporates to increasingly turn to online learning platforms to reskill their employees in revolutionary new technologies. Over the past two decades in particular, education technology platforms have successfully overcome deterrents such as high costs and geographical constraints to enable corporates and individuals to access high-quality content from top-ranked universities and faculty around the world to reskill themselves from within the comfort of their homes. For a short while, massive open online courses (Moocs) were widely heralded as harbingers of new education. But a decade later, it’s clear they have not lived up to expectations. Although public enrolment has soared, course completion rates are abysmal. What went wrong?

Faculty influences technology. For centuries, faculty (aka teachers), have been at the centre of education, supported by two inseparable elements that complete the education process — viz, social interaction and personalisation. But when new digital technologies were introduced into education spaces, they became the centre of attraction and drove social interaction forcing teachers to play a secondary role. This prompted massive resistance to online learning as scholars and students became overwhelmed by technology. But contemporary online education providers are awakening to this situation. They are becoming increasingly aware that teachers are fundamental to the success of online learning, and that technology should be at the perimeter rather than vice versa. For Moocs and other online education programmes to become successful, faculty must continue to lead social interaction and personalisation. In the circumstances, it is imperative for Moocs and online education providers to ensure they respect the primacy of teachers for the success of their programmes and products.

Faculty influences online engagement. Sustained student/learner engagement is the prerequisite for the success of any online learning process or programme. But there’s growing awareness that it must be teacher-driven. True content is king, but faculty capable of assessing the mood of the class and becoming the facilitator within the classroom is the vizier. Admittedly, new technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, machine learning, gamification etc, can become game changers. But faculty/teachers are prime drivers of the transformation required to revolutionise classroom teaching and management. The plain truth is that technology is most effective when it is invisible. It needs to remain at the backend to enable teachers to drive the teaching-learning process using new AI, robotics and machine learning technologies.

The rapid induction of new digital labour-saving technologies in industry worldwide, has brought about an urgent requirement for reskilling and upskilling of employees. The latter are urgently looking for platforms that provide skill-sets which are fast becoming the prerequisites of career progression and advancement. Available data at AEON Learning suggests that 74 percent of working professionals are anxious about re-skilling themselves and sign up for at least one online learning programme. An analysis of 2,800 learners — including students and working professionals — enrolled in our learning programme indicates that 22 percent learn between 9-11 a.m and 5-7 p.m on week days, contradicting the general assumption that students, and working professionals, prefer to learn during weekends. Another common belief contradicted by our analysis is that tier-II and tier-III cities in India don’t have sufficient high bandwidth connectivity to support online learning. The majority of our learners — 52 percent — are from these geographies.

Latest developments in online education technologies have made it possible for online educators to blur differences between physical in-school and virtual classrooms. It would be in their interest to respect the centrality of teachers by facilitating them to prepare the mood and ambience for real learning in their classrooms. Adoption of new technologies should enrich student-teacher interaction and stimulate peer-to-peer learning. In such a scenario, teachers who tend to be fearful of new technologies and online learning would appreciate and welcome it.
The popular belief that online education necessitates a high degree of technology management capability is a misconception. Online education providers need to bust this myth by adopting marketing strategies which highlight that revolutionary technologies are faculty/teacher enablers which enrich content and facilitate interaction, personalisation and communication to enhance the teaching-learning experience in institutional classrooms.

(Karthik K.S. is CEO of the Bangalore-based AEON Learning Pvt. Ltd)

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