Some thoughts on the Evolution of Open and Distance learning and its foreseeable future:
The story of distance learning is the story of the ugly duckling who with the blessings of modern technology has morphed into a swan.
The recent advances in technology based pedagogy of self-learning ( auto-didacticism, flipped learning, mastery learning, social learning and personalisation of the learning experience coupled with the potential of Big Data and learning analytics have left the traditional formal system way behind like the ‘ Bade Bhai Saheb’ in Premchand’s story with the same name.
The formal system is stuck with the following assumptions, which were perhaps true at some point of time but are not true today and in fact there has been a paradigm shift which they refuse to acknowledge. These are :
Knowledge is scarce, and we need to bring that precious ( because of its scarcity) knowledge only to deserving students ( hence limited seats)
Teachers are scarce, and we need to bring the students to the teacher in very small teacher:student ratios; hence the highly competitive nature of admission tests
All education needs to be standardized, and controlled by the Regulators ( read Government)
But the future is about providing everyone who wants to learn with an opportunity to learn, and MOOCs have amply demonstrated that. If we want to achieve the new goals , especially Goal 4 to ‘ ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all’ set out in the UN resolution of 25th September 2015( http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N15/291/89/PDF/N1529189.pdf?OpenElement ) then there is no option but to give the highest priority and thrust to technology empowered ODL by whatever name called and use it to meet the targets for 2030.
We have already created the Open Learning Infrastructure and Institutions to support this, and we now need to spell out the ‘ calls for action’.
The first thing is to create a R&D centre for Technology enabled learning, where we draw upon the research already done elsewhere and through a ‘ learning observatory’ share that with practitioners to improve their teaching-learning practices.
The second thing is to develop educational tools and products to support handheld learning with Tablets and mobiles, and new learning experiences with Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and holographics. For this purpose an Educational Apps development centre, an educational VR development initiative for Oculus Rift and Google cardboard or Samsung Gear needs to be supported. A similar development project for Microsoft Hololens which will bring Augmented Reality for vocational and skill training on a massive scale. These will provide a clear cut leadership to this model over the next 5 years, and would help India take a global leadership position with reverse innovation in education.
The third is to develop and share new protocols for personalisation, mastery and social learning. Social learning transforms the large number of learners into an asset rather than a liability, because Metcalfe’s law becomes applicable. This is akin to how the much feared ‘population bomb’ transformed into a ‘demographic dividend’ over the last decades.
The tools to access learning are already in the hands of the prospective learners, as mobile phone penetration is already very large and will be enhanced by the ‘ Digital India’ initiative.
We recently ran a few cohorts ( with a total number of about 500) for a course on ‘ Diabetic Awareness’ entirely on whatsApp and it clearly demonstrated the potential of this tool for life-long learning of Goal 4 in the recent UN resolution.
So a combination of MOOCs run on platforms such as edX or WiziQ for massive dissemination of information and whatsApp groups for interactive social learning are clearly good tools to solve the challenges of numbers, quality, relevance and costs.
All the elements are in place. We need to take up the challenges, lead by example, develop capacities and empower both the educators as well as the learners, thereby strengthening the Institutions also.
A well co-ordinated plan of action can really accelerate the pace of educational reforms. And as a corollary the pace of economic reforms in a ‘ knowledge economy ‘