Thoughts on the future of ODL

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( ) 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 ‘

About mmpant

Prof. M.M.Pant has a Ph.D in Computational Physics, along with a Professional Law Degree, and has been a practitioner in the fields of Law, IT enabled education and IT implementation. Drawing upon his experience in world class international institutions and having taught in various modes of Face-to-Face, Distance Learning and Technology Enhanced Training, Prof. Pant is now exploring the nature of institutions which will be successors to the IITs, which represented the 1960s, IIMs, which represented the 1970 and Open Universities which were the rage of 1980s & 90s. He believes that the convergence between various media and technologies would fundamentally alter the way learning would be created, packaged, and delivered to learners. His current activities are all directed toward actual implementation of these new age educational initiatives that transform education in the post Internet post WTO era.. Prof. Pant, has been a Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has been on the faculty of IIT – Kanpur (the premier Engineering institution in India), MLNR Engineering College and Faculty & Visiting Professor - University of Western Ontario-Canada. He has been visiting scientist to research centers in Italy, England, Germany & Sweden and has delivered international lectures with about 80 papers published. During his association of almost 15 years with the IGNOU, Prof. Pant has served as the Director Computing and has been the Member of All Bodies (i.e. School boards, Academic council, Planning board, Finance committee and the Board of management). With his interest in Law, backed with practice of Law in a High Court, and his basic training in Science and IT, Prof. Pant has been particularly interested in the Cyber Law, Patent & trade mark issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues etc. and has been involved with many activities, conferences on “Law & IT” Prof. Pant is presently; • Advisor to Media Lab Asia - Chairman of working group on ICT for Education, chairman of PRSG handling projects on ICT for education. • Lead Consultant for an ADB funded project for ICT in Basic Education in Uzbekistan • Member of the drafting Group for India’s National Policy on ICT in education • Chairman of the group creating books for class 11 and 12 students on ‘Computers and Communication Technology’ appointed by the NCERT • Preparing a ‘Theme Paper” for the NCTE in the area of ICT and Teacher Training • Advisor and mentor to several leading Indian and Multi-national Companies in the area of education. Prof. Pant has in the recent past been ; • Member – Board of Management – I I T, Delhi for 6 years (two consecutive terms) • One-man committee to create the Project Report & Legislation for Delhi IT-enabled Open University • Advisor to the Delhi Government on Asian Network of Major Cities Project (ANMC-21) distance learning project in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Government. • Chairman Board of Studies, All India Management Association With his mission to create and implement new business opportunities in the area of e-learning & learning facilitation, Prof. Pant has promoted Planet EDU Pvt. Ltd., as its Founder & Chairman, along with a team of highly experienced and skilled professionals from Education & Training, Operations, IT and Finance.
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