Online learning is the need of the hour. The educational institutions in India have been shut down as per the directive of Central and State Governments because of the Covid-19-caused lockdown to ensure social distancing and prevent infection.
If there is a choice between ‘no learning’ and ‘online learning', one would opt for online learning even though it is confronted with a series of challenges and contradictions. Keeping in view the uncertainty of the opening of educational institutions, online learning has been emphatically anchored by the MHRD and State Education departments. The dominant leitmotif of this online learning is to engage the learners in line with the curriculum and to stamp out the mental academic stress and trauma of learners due to the closure of educational institutions.
To carry forward the mission of online learning, the teachers and students are now decisively making use of the instruments of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that are now opening up new possibilities for the process of teaching-learning activity. At present, the teachers across the nation are continuing their academic teaching activities through telephone calls, emails, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Videoconference, etc. The massive use of online learning is quite unproblematic especially among the institutes of national importance like IITs, IIITs, NITs, IIMs, ISI, IISER, NISER, etc. and certain Central universities and private universities since most teachers and students are accustomed to the instruments of online learning.
A survey conducted by Prof Vinod Pavarala and Prof Vasuki Belavadi of the University of Hyderaba over 2,500 students is a case in point. As per the report, most of the students who are having rural-based residents are facing severe internet and electricity connectivity. As a result, the university had to drop the idea of compulsory online learning. That apart, online learning in almost all State-run educational institutions, such as schools, colleges, and universities becomes a frenzied affair. These institutions are confronting with a series of challenges, such as administrative challenge, academic challenge, accountability challenge, economic challenge, infrastructural challenge, connectivity challenge, and ethical challenge. As a result, the practice of online learning becomes no less than a mere slogan.
But, shall we live with these problems? Or, shall we live with certain possibilities? We would prefer to live in possibilities. Then, what could be the possibility? The possibility is online learning, which would move us from a paralyzed state of learning to a possible state of learning.
The term 'online' has become a way of life; we book tickets online, we book food online, we buy products online, and we find our life-partners online. So, why can't we learn online? We know, ‘online learning’ cannot be the substitute of the student-friendly and teacher-friendly offline mode of physical classroom learning, but it can be a perfect supplement or addition to the practice of learning especially during the Covid-19 pandemic situation. We propose a suggestive framework, which will not only help to address challenges but also help to facilitate an amicable ambiance for online learning. This suggestive framework deals with ten suggestions.
First, there is the immediate necessity of improvement in institutional infrastructure for online learning. This will certainly lay the foundation for online learning at the institutional level. Second, instructor efficiency is another important suggestion. Since we are new to this practice, it requires an immediate arrangement of teacher training and orientation programmes, so that the teachers can develop the range of skills required to teach online effectively. Third, the learners should have appropriate access to basic instruments like android phones or laptops for online learning. The Government needs to provide ‘students scholarship’, which would assist them to buy these instruments very comfortably. That apart, these instruments should also be available in subsidized rates to the students. Fourth, there must be a student supportive data pack (SSDP). The network companies should come forward in providing this SSDP, especially during the current pandemic situation. Fifth, there must be a provision for internet connectivity either through wired or wireless. The State should instantaneously prepare an action plan in this regard. Sixth, a low-data consuming online meeting app is another significant suggestion. This app should be accessible in limited internet connectivity. Seventh, considering the technological and electrical glitches especially in inaccessible areas, we can immediately promote educational broadcasts through television and community radio with the help of solar power. Eighth, wise use of open educational resources (OERs), such as e-pathshala, shodhganga, MOOCs, SWAYAM, e-GyanKosh, etc. is another helping resource for online learning. Ninth, adoption of hybrid or blended learning is a crucial suggestion for learning. It integrates online learning interactions with traditional place-based classroom methods. Tenth, change of mindset and teacher-student-parent accountability is another significant aspect of online learning.