Limitations of online learning-THE HINDU-30-04-2020


The exigency:

There was a great deal of anxiety, particularly about the graduating batches of students, lest the ongoing session should be declared a ‘zero semester’. The transition to virtual modes was relatively less difficult for those institutions that had, even prior to the lockdown, adopted learning management system platforms like Blackboard or Moodle.

Strategy to enhance enrolment?

This statement was clearly meant to prepare the higher education community for the exigencies of a protracted and indefinite period of closure of campuses. However, close on the heels of this, it was also reported that online education was likely to be adopted as a strategy to enhance the gross enrolment ratio in higher education. ” This prompts several questions about the appropriateness of what may well be an effective contingency measure to tide over the pandemic crisis to be deployed as a long-term strategy for enhancing enrolment in higher education. Higher education today has an unprecedented influx of students who are first-generation aspirants.

Access is not merely enrolment. It also includes effective participation in curricular processes, which for those on the margins would mean first, to negotiate through language and social barriers. These students are also from the other side of the digital divide which makes them vulnerable to a double disadvantage if digital modes become the mainstay of education. Unless they receive consistent hand-holding and backstopping from teachers and peers, they tend to remain on the margins and eventually drop out or fail.

It is therefore necessary to think deeply and gather research-based evidences on the extent to which online education can be deployed to help enhance the access and success rates.

What learning involves:

Acquisition of given knowledge that can be transmitted didactically by a teacher or a text constitutes only one minor segment of curricular content. It is this segment that is largely amenable to online and digital forms of transaction. It involves development of analytical and other intellectual skills, the ability to critically deconstruct and evaluate given knowledge, and the creativity to make new connections and syntheses. Learning often happens through osmosis in social settings.

Deconstructing given knowledge in relative isolation is never the same as doing it through a dynamic group process. Arguably, some of this can, to some extent, be built on to a digital platform. But curricular knowledge has a tendency to adjust its own contours according to the mode of transaction and the focus of evaluation. Online learning needs to be understood as one strand in a complex tapestry of curricular communication that may still assign an important central role to direct human engagement and social learning.

As has been argued elsewhere, ODL may also have been considered by governments at that time “as a safe strategy for managing mass aspirations for higher education without necessarily effecting large congregations on campuses” . One wonders whether there is a similar unstated motivation behind the present enthusiasm for online education.

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