How Will The Consolidation Of Digital And Remote Learning Methods Deliver A Comprehensive Learning Experience?

Prof. Niraj Mankad is the Assistant Dean (Programs) and a faculty in the Strategy and Operations Area at FLAME University, Pune. He is part of the Digital Learning Task Force that strategies and implements the Digital Learning initiatives of the University. His interests lie in exploring the Digital Economy, emerging technologies, the Internet and its impact on the changing global business, enterprise and social dynamics and has published extensively on technology, strategy and digital capabilities.

Digital and remote learning methods have rapidly been adopted by educators and learners across different levels. We are witnessing its rise in school classrooms, university courses, corporate learning and self-learning. What makes this medium so popular? Does it really provide the same learning experience as a classroom? Do students learn effectively with digital engagements, or are they silent icons on the screen for the instructor? For someone who has been researching the digital medium over the last 15 years, these questions come across as quite fair.

The digital medium can democratise education by making access available to a mass audience ­ like every digital product. Take music for instance, or movies or news and information. Before the digital disruption, their access to consumers was restricted due to physical, logistical and sometimes, geographical constraints. Today, one can stream, at the lowest possible cost, the most popular global content as per one's convenience. This is, perhaps, one of the most critical part of the experience ­ ease of access. Learners, in the comfort of their homes, are able to partake in the learning process.

Consolidation of the digital and remote learning methods provide an opportunity to make the learning individualised

Digital and remote learning methods have given access to learners irrespective of their locations. In a digital classroom physical distances diminish and learners can simultaneously learn from the same expert instructor. In India, hundreds of engineering students in rural institutions have vastly benefited by the online courses like NPTEL where the top faculty from the best institutions put up their courses.

It is not just the students who get benefited, even the instructors have a lot to gain. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Mecca of Engineering and Technology education has provided their course materials for instructors to use. They have made available videos, tutorial and reading material, evaluation, assignments, group works and projects for hundreds of courses across disciplines. This is being used by instructors across the globe in their courses. Learners, too, use the course materials to upgrade themselves. The effective use of the digital and remote learning has made this possible.

The second aspect of the learning experience comes from the medium's flexibility towards the learning style of the individual. It is well accepted, that every individual has a different learning style ­ a mix of several techniques that enhances their learning ­ the VARK. Some may learn faster when exposed to spatial (using Visual aids), others to an Auditory-musical (using sound) some to Read, while a few may prefer the Kinesthetic (motion or hand-on). The Digital medium provides an opportunity for instructors to create content across these learning styles and in multiple modes. This can provide a more holistic experience to students as they connect to the concept in multiple ways. How does this work? Creative course instructors curate a diverse pedagogy for digital learning. The course is delivered using a mix of videos, live sessions, online games and activities, projects and collaborative work.

A look at some of the courses across platforms like Coursera or EdX is an indication of the use of such pedagogical innovations using the digital medium. Here, the courses are a mix of video sessions by the instructor, self-learning videos, readings, projects and exercises, collaborative project between learners, a course blog and a chat room for all learners enrolled on that course. This varied mix of methods provides the learner with multiple avenues to enrich their learning experience.

The third, and most critical aspect, is about `customization' of the learning. In physical learning spaces, it becomes difficult for the instructor to match up to individual requirement of the student. Customization would refer to the amount of focus the instructor is able to give the each student and provide them with a learning plan that suits their individual ability. Physical and logistical constraints do not allow for much focus on the learner's requirements as much as institutional needs. Session duration, number of learners in a classroom, facilities available, etc. are not flexible. Instructors, too, face limitations in providing customisation. In a digital classroom, tailoring the course to meet individual needs is more possible than ever.

Consolidation of the digital and remote learning methods provide an opportunity to make the learning individualised. Take time-tabling for instance - Instructors can provide customised schedules for groups of students. For a student, this allows a time for the learning to be absorbed. Digital mediums provide opportunities to let students learn on their own pace learn and allow instructors to track the process and to provide support. This helps cultivate the spirit of self-learning that is required today.

To sum up, digital and remote learning methods have expanded the scope of learning beyond the classrooms. Physical classrooms have been extended to social media platforms, Zoom or Team classrooms. Books and journals have moved to digital tools like Evernote, while exams and quizzes have moved to Kahoot (an online learning game platform). It's true potential can be harnessed only when, the institution, the instructor, and the learner make conscious efforts to use the vast possibilities that these platforms offer, much beyond Zoom and Teams. Only then, will all the stakeholders realise the immense benefits that digital and remote learning could deliver.