Several innovations are taking place in the realm of on-line learning. This edition of NetSpeak discusses some of the latest trends in this exciting segment of cyberspace.

Though a multitude of educational resources are available, the road to learning through the on-line route is not filled with roses. Learning a new subject involves several components and access to content is just one of them. For instance, let us take the case of a student attempting to learn programming with the help of on-line resources available from a prestigious academic place such as IIT. With lots of enthusiasm she gets into the relevant page of the NPTEL site and starts viewing the first part of the video series. However, it is likely that she stumbles on a difficult part and the whole process could come to a grinding halt.

One solution is to refer some relevant on-line locations and attempt to clear the doubts. For instance, consult a question answer service like Quora or Stack Overflow or Aardvark. Though these solutions may help, the whole process could turn out to be a tiring and cumbersome one. So, this built-in solitary nature of the on-line learning process could disappoint the learner and ultimately she may drop out of the course.

For the successful completion of a learning endeavour, the learner needs real-time support. On-line learning is no exception to this general rule. Hence, hosting high-quality course content on-line is not enough. Alternatively, this warrants an environment similar to the real classroom, where one can ask questions and clear doubts immediately. Along with rich content, a student taking an on-line course requires a platform that helps her engage with experts and fellow learners. This is certainly not an impossible task, given the availability of tens of hundreds of people willing to share their knowledge on the Net. What is required is only a mechanism that can funnel people with similar interests under one umbrella that facilitates real-time interaction. This is exactly the service ‘Open study' strives to realise.

OpenStudy

‘OpenStudy' wraps around open content and offers a platform where students taking an open course can interact and raise queries in real time. For instance, OpenStudy is connected to the MIT Open course ‘Introduction to computer science' . The significance of this integration is that when a student accesses this course, she will get automatically connected to a community of learners of this course and computer science enthusiasts. This will enable her to obtain live help from them by simply clicking on the open study icon ‘Get Live Help'. When one clicks on the ‘Live Help' button, she will get transported to the OpenStudy platform where she can raise questions to other members who are currently on-line and obtain answers almost instantly.

Apart from the group connected to an open course (mentioned above), OpenStudy features several groups for other topics too for subjects such as Mathematics, Biology, History and so on. As per Preetha Ram, one of the co-founders of OpenStudy, any content provider can connect to any of these groups by inserting a snippet of HTML codes.

Udemy

Though a plethora of educational materials are available on the Net, most of the offerings are for a handful of mainstream or popular subjects only (for themes with higher demand like Engineering, Science, Mathematics and Economics). It seems a kind of 80/20 rule, where 80 per cent of the courses address 20 per cent of the subjects, operates here too. This means many subjects — we can call them topics in the ‘Long Tail' of the demand curve, the ones with less demand — are not represented in the open learning landscape. So, if your intention is to learn a very niche subject (say, writing poems), you may find it difficult to locate a suitable on-line course.

Udemy stands for the academy of you and it enables anyone on the Net to build a course and deliver it on-line. The delivery could be free or priced. Similar to a blog that helps you publish text content, Udemy allows you to publish a complete course on-line. The main goal of the service is to democratise the course content creation, observes Gagan Biyani, a co-founder of Udemy. Here, you will find courses on a wide array of topics that include ‘Learn Chinese”, “Chess for beginners”, “Introduction to bridge' and so on.

J. Murali

e-mail: jmurali@gmail.com