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E-learning is the way to go

Vasudha Venugopal
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Tablet PCs and availability of books on the digital platform from across the world have fuelled the growth ofe-learning in the country.

Once a supplementary tool or an assistive technology, online learning now is emerging as a fast, convenient and contemporary tool for students and teachers. “When I was in India, I would opt for a traditional paper-pen test, even if there was a provision to go for an online test,” says K. Seethapathy, who is pursuing his masters in biotechnology in New Jersey. “There is a huge proliferation of digital books here. There are e-book rental schemes, skill refresher videos and online tutorials for everything. There is no way you can escape that here,” he says.

The situation, here seems to be changing too. For instance, Attano, an Educational eBook Store, launched its last-minute preparation packs for the CBSE and ICSE board examinations recently. In fact the company also offers a money-back policy. “We have enough confidence in our product to offer a unique money-back guarantee to those students whose final exam scores are not higher than their prelims. If a student does not get higher marks, Attano will refund the purchase. All a student has to do is email a scanned copy of their preliminary results and their final Board results to us,” said Soumya Banerjee, CEO, Attano said. Many publishers have turned to manufacturing online content for students. For instance, Classle.net, an online learning portal enables students to interact with various institutions and professionals. Once the students register themselves, they can attend online classes; interact with other professionals and experts in their field.

Online learning here involves quizzes, projects, workshops and library and sometimes even simulated group studies, special classes and test activities before exams.

According to the website, nearly 45,000 students and professionals across the country and reputed engineering colleges like IIT Madras, IIT Patna and PSG college of Technology Coimbatore are connected through the company.

To tackle the shortage of faculty members, many colleges are in the process of installing e-learning systems in their laboratories. Many of them are also intended to assist teachers and aid students with extra training. “E-learning might be the best way to tackle poor-quality teaching,” says E. Balaguruswamy, former V-C of Anna University. ICT options such as e-learning and EDUSAT are available for educational institutions but you have lessons at untimely hours. “The strength of online learning is flexibility in learning pattern,” he adds.

E-learning platforms such as NPTEL, a collaborative attempt by IITs and IISc, have been received well by students. The IITs have more than 268 courses, giving anyone with an internet connection access to over 10,000 video lectures. But it is heavily tilted towards science and technology, unlike universities abroad such as MIT, Harvard and Yale University each of which offers over 200 free online courses in subjects including art, humanities, library science and environment, besides sciences and engineering. For the first time now, Anna University engineering syllabus too, is available to students via the BSNL tablet launched recently.

The tablets are loaded with Bodhi Access, an e-learning platform that delivers content to engineering students of all branches. With animation and stylised audio-visual content, the application is meant to keep students engaged via small module. BSNL officials say the demand for the tablets is quite high, at least in private colleges where there is a shortage of good teachers. “An engineering student spends at least Rs. 5,000 a semester on engineering books and that too, mostly secondhand books with outdated content. There are legal options for acquiring them online — Amazon and eBay. But those options are more expensive than print,” says R. Madhusudhan, internet security consultant with Anna University.

Hence, many students depend on coding websites, engineering tutorials and a variety of sites that offer free books and peer-to-peer file-sharing site. Online learning methods are often dependent on what learning tools you normally use.

“Official guides to GRE and GMAT and even course material have been online for a long time. The simulated tests on the CD are the closest to the actual test experience so the preparation is also largely dependent on online tools,” says Roshni Manikandan, an English trainer with a GRE coaching institute.

Online learning is extensively used by many software companies. Besides, improved training costs, decreased material costs, there is a great deal of standardisation e-learning platforms bring into training modules. While, for instance, last year British Telecom delivered e-business training to 23,000 employees in three months, Ernst & Young condensed about nearly 2,900 hours of classroom training into 700 hours of web-based learning, 200 hours of distance learning and 500 hours of classroom instruction, resulting in a significant cost cutting, say consultants.

There is a great deal of discipline that online learning infuses in employees, feels Radhika Shekawat, executive with IBM technologies. “Online learning is the best way to gauge employee’s capabilities and make sure they undergo refresher courses. There are timely tests, evaluations but it is between the employee and the project head. The practice tests are not even monitored which give every employee sufficient time to realise and work on her areas of strength.”

But for all these developments, there are at least some for whom e-learning is yet to be part of life “I will prefer print to online books. I get easily distracted, or not being able to underline the text does not make the process complete for me,” said Aishwarya Gopalan, a final-year MBA student.

To tackle the shortage of faculty members, many colleges are in the process of installing e-learning systems in their laboratories.

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