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Inclusive Learning: When technology meets education

December 26, 2018

Information and communications technology (ICT) has transformed the education landscape in recent years. The use of ICT in schools and colleges has altered traditional teaching methods, learning approaches, and the means of accessing, handling and exchanging information. ICT-based platforms have also enabled students and faculty members to digitise their learning and teaching experience to make learning more receptive.

Further, the proliferation of digitally powered educational start-ups that leverage cutting-edge technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) has eliminated multiple barriers in providing access to education in the country. These start-ups provide new and improved versions of e-learning modules in line with the changing curriculum and needs of students. As a result, digital learning/e-learning has emerged as a core component of imparting education. According to KPMG, India’s e-learning market is poised to grow to $1.96 billion by 2021.

A look at the key ICT tools that are changing the face of the education industry in India...

Cloud computing

One of the biggest hurdles in the delivery of digital educational services is the lack of infrastructure. Even when infrastructure is available, issues related to the procurement and maintenance of a wide range of hardware and software hamper delivery. Continuous investment and advanced skills are required to support this hardware and software. These shortcomings can be overcome by adopting cloud-based solutions that guarantee that students, instructors, personnel, guardians, and staff have access to basic data by utilising any gadget from any place. By creating a centralised repository of knowledge that students and teachers can access, cloud-based platforms take the student-teacher collaboration beyond traditional classroom interaction. Further, cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft’s Edu-Cloud help classrooms go paperless.

The biggest advantage of cloud-based computing is the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. There are many software programs available under this model, either for free or on a low-cost subscription basis. They substantially lower the cost of essential applications for students. SaaS platforms provide practically unlimited and secure storage for course material and student data. Educators can also share course modules and assignments with learners across devices. Further, the cost of cloud-based textbooks is significantly lower than that of printed textbooks. These can provide lower-income students access to quality learning materials at a low cost. Cloud-based materials are also easy to update in real time, which is important for providing the students access to the most recent learning resources.

Big data analytics

Big data analytics has tremendous potential to transform legacy education methods and develop new teaching methodologies. Educational institutes can adopt data analytics to gain deeper insights into the overall academic growth of students, and improve learning and teaching. Schools, colleges, universities and other educational bodies across the country are swamped with student and teacher data, which can be effectively analysed to uncover study patterns to boost student achievement and improve the operational effectiveness of educational institutions. In addition, big data analytics can provide access to information related to the number and type of existing and upcoming training centres. This information can help institutions identify those areas in the country that require training centres and accordingly build capacity and infrastructure for delivering skill-based educational services.

For teachers, adapting to the diverse learning abilities of students is a major challenge. To this end, big data analytics can be used in intelligent systems, which can adjust the pace of teaching based on each student’s interests, abilities and prior knowledge. Further, it can help aggregate and analyse large data sets related to attendance records and academic performance of students. Professors can deploy more sophisticated analytics software to monitor the different aspects of student performance such as the amount of time needed to answer a particular question and the type of test questions that were skipped. These questions can be answered by the system automatically, giving students instant feedback. Big data tools can even analyse group dynamics, looking at the various strengths and weaknesses of individual students to determine the optimal group arrangement.

AR/VR

The most notable trend in the education sector has been the adoption of AR/VR technologies. AR/VR technologies help learners experience and interact with digital learning objects to support their learning. They facilitate and empower learners to explore and discover things at their own pace, enhancing critical thinking and knowledge building, and leading to increased retention of knowledge. VR creates an immersive virtual educational environment to provide learners a life-like experience in subjects as diverse as science. For instance, VR applications can be used to teach students how a combustion engine works. Children can personally experience the whole activity in real time and in an interactive fashion without having to visit a real factory or a workshop.

Meanwhile, AR is a technology used to present an enhanced version of reality where elements of the physical world are augmented with digital learning experiences. AR-based experiences offer ease of interaction, the main reason for teachers opting for virtual educational experiences within the classroom space. It also makes teaching and learning more engaging, effective and interactive. Further, the use of animation ensures that students understand complicated theories easily. As AR apps are available on mobile devices, they can be accessed by anybody.

In India, Bengaluru-based, SpectraVR Studios has tied up with about a hundred schools in Mumbai to build VR/AR labs for them and create immersive educational experiences for children.

AI

AI enables the education sector to focus on individual learning by enabling features such as personalised learning. It assists in monitoring and enhancing the students’ learning capability. Further, it offers interactive and customised software tools that are integrated with AR/VR and are available across digital devices such as smartphones, tablets and wearable devices for students of all grades. Digitally interactive content accelerates a student’s learning and understanding process. AI can also help teachers understand the learning patterns of students. Moreover, it can help identify the key factors and indicators of the learning curve of students.

In addition, the use of AI in education helps reduce the time required for administrative tasks such as grading and admissions. It also provides opportunities for behaviour management by helping understand the behaviour pattern of students through face recognition capabilities. As a result, AI-powered educational games and AI-based services are likely to find many takers in the education sector. However, the use of AI in education is currently at a nascent stage.

Summing up

To fully leverage the benefits of technology, the education sector needs to work through several challenges. For one, training teachers to use the latest technologies and continually honing their skills to keep them abreast of the recent developments is a mammoth task. Further, the implementation and maintenance of ICT solutions needs to be supported by financial investments in hardware and software installation and management.

Nonetheless, significant efforts being made by the government and private entities have led to the establishment of an ICT-enabled education sector. On the government’s part, the launch of the ShaGun app to track and monitor the performance of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and the SWAYAM app, an online portal that provides study material to students free of cost and conducts digital classes through satellite, have been steps in the right direction. The private sector too has been instrumental in launching innumerable innovative products and solutions to drive ICT adoption. In the future, the government could look at creating an environment that promotes public-private ICT partnerships to improve the quality of education and the learning experience of students.

 
 

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