Online coaching goes interactive, and students are benefiting from it
With the entry of the Internet into all facets of our daily lives, a lot of our worldly functions from shopping to finance have moved to the online arena. The prefix “e” has begun to symbolise the opening up of a world full of possibilities, as does the word ‘e-learning.’ What started off with educational CDs which provided interactive software interfaces for learning, is growing into an entire industry, as well as a way of life.
Online Learning is a new-age chapter in education worldwide. Like any other medium, this too has its limitations. With schools, colleges and universities looking at fresh technological interfaces to make learning effective, private players in the form of coaching centres have also tapped into this market which is growing exponentially.
Starting from Common Entrance Tests for professional courses to the much-talked-about CAT or GRE/GMAT, several learning centres had already been providing a lot of the material in CD format. Of late this seems to have moved to a new level with several coaching centres providing online support to supplement their classroom material and others even providing standalone courses. Students can log on to these websites and access a set of question papers which they can solve online, and find answers and explanations at the end of the programme.
While there are several websites affiliated to coaching centres, a few go beyond this question-answer format. For example, Base Education, a training organisation, and Excelsoft, an e-learning enterprise, have introduced a new interactive platform which incorporates multi-media solutions. Most of these websites will charge anywhere between Rs. 500 and Rs. 2,500 for a course, depending upon the amount of content uploaded.
“E-learning or technology-enabled education is a growing market. At this stage we are looking at test and assessment supplemented by remedial content which is given on a multi-media platform (video content),” says Shivananda Salgame, Head-Operations and Education Services, Excelsoft.
Every student has different levels of comprehension and learns at a different pace. This is where e-learning scores over other methods. In competitive exams time is of prime importance. Online learning helps the students record their speed. “A student can get a test automatically designed to suit his level. The options are limitless. We are looking at working on this software to be able to chart a student’s growth and incorporate such value-added services,” he explains.
There has been a substantial amount of research to understand which mode of working and what add-on effects can supplement the quality of learning. The key word being “interactive,” coaching centres are recognising this medium both as a supplement and a stand alone support system.
With coaching centres having classrooms which are as populated as conventional classrooms, it defeats the purpose of individual attention. “It is not just about passing competitive exams though that will be the primary objective. It is also about making learning fun and blending technology to facilitate better understanding,” says H.S. Nagaraja, Director, Base Education. So, if a student gets an answer wrong, the video pop-up has a teacher coming on screen and explaining with graphic-enabled solutions.
The past decade has seen a host of unprecedented changes in technology including innovative collaboration between students and faculty, simulated environments, programmes to promote use of technology in classrooms, electronic books, digital libraries and virtual universities with a global curriculum in mind. Today more than two-thirds of degree institutions in the West offer courses online and India, though not well-established, is trying to catch up. So, what triggers an interest in learning online?
In a country like India, besides issues that are academic, instructional and technological, there is the larger issue of connectivity and even language. Ours is a very instructor-based system, which is why most of this online content tends to gravitate towards actual video interfaces rather than using more creative media.
The Internet is a viable means to increase access to education. Academicians and universities have to deal with the basic question of how effectively can these new and fast-evolving collaborative technologies improve the quality of the overall learning experience. Can education or even tutoring be completely online or can it only be a supplementary tool at the end of the day?
“It helps bridge the urban-rural divide because through our centres we can provide these facilities in places such as Hubli, Tumkur, Harihar etc. [in Karnataka],” says Mr. Nagaraja. Seeing this an opportunity to make education equitable and accessible, Comat Technologies (which owns the Nemmadi centres in rural Karnataka), in collaboration with Vishwabharati University is launching a CET preparatory course for aspirants in rural Karnataka.
“The candidates would be able to view and listen to the best professors lecturing from the Bangalore studio through our VSAT- linked network. This is part of our vision to take education where people cannot access it. The Nemmadi centres provide the best platform to launch such a programme. We will streamline scholarships for the programme and are looking at providing this service in a big way,” says Sriram Raghavan, President, COMAT Technologies.
Critics often say that the internet may provide multifarious solutions but in a country as diverse and multi-lingual as India it is difficult to reach out. An online tutorial developed by professors of IIT Madras in 2005 has been delivering content to high school and college students in Tamil. Comat Technologies has introduced tutorials as a pilot project in 20 kiosks in Kolar district in Karnataka. “If this catches on we will certainly look at expanding this and will talk to the Government,” Mr. Raghavan explains.
Online learning is not a difficult task considering that children are exposed to the computer very early in life and often are better equipped to use it than their parents. The biggest advantage is that through the net they can learn at their desk, at their own pace and leisure. This is not possible in the broadcast mode of instructor-lead training programme — which is what is growing popular — which is only a replica of the classroom enabled by technology. Here the student can go back to that place, which he/she did not grasp, as many times as possible. With online chat facility as part of the package, he/she can even interact with the faculty concerned on doubts. This is where the e-Learning scores over educational CDs and packages.