In recent years, schools, colleges and vocational training institutions have turned to information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to overhaul their operations. As a result, India has become one of the fastest growing markets for e-learning-based products and services. According to KPMG, India’s e-learning market, which was valued at $247 million in 2016, is likely to grow eightfold to $1.96 billion by 2021.
The main objective of ICT adoption in educational institutions is to help the students, faculty and staff members to use the required resources during their learning and teaching experience. ICT tools can also help improve the skills of minority language students, especially in learning the official language of instruction through features such as automatic speech recognition, authentic audio-visual materials and chat functions. To this end, educational institutions have set up robust IT infrastructure for not only managing internal processes, but also for disseminating information to students and staff members and interacting with them. Further, educational institutions have been exploring opportunities offered by emerging technologies such as big data analytics, internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).
Some of the main applications of ICT are as follows:
- Digital classrooms: A key technology application that has witnessed rapid proliferation in the Indian education sector is digital classrooms. These classrooms use multimedia content to make the learning process more interactive. Currently, many solution providers actively offer digital services for classrooms in schools and campuses on a build-operate-transfer basis. Taking the digital classroom concept one-step further, many higher learning institutions have started providing online training modules that enable students to pursue a course from the comfort of their homes through interactive web-based platforms.
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP): Another key application being used by educational institutions is ERP, which allows individuals and systems to communicate effortlessly across the campus. Most ERP solutions help educational institutions in automating the admission process by enabling prospective students to apply online through their portals. Further, they help simplify the records management system in schools/colleges and enable greater faculty engagement by giving them personalised access to timely, accurate and institute-wide information.
- Online learning management systems: Many colleges and universities in India are integrating online learning management systems (LMSs) with their web portals. Through these LMS platforms, students can remotely log in to access course material and attend live video classes with teachers. Further, pre-recorded lectures and videos can be uploaded on the LMS platform, making it easier for students to watch them multiple times. These platforms also guarantee the availability of academic experts for doubt resolution throughout the day.
- Resource sharing: ICT is helping campuses across the country to share resources. By digitising research papers and uploading them online, institutions are enabling students to access valuable information and share ideas beyond geographical barriers. Moreover, with the proliferation of smart devices, resources have become more accessible to teachers and students alike. The education sector is also witnessing the advent of personal learning networks, which leverage ICT to facilitate the exchange of ideas by linking students or teachers through online interest groups such as Twitter. These networks provide both students and teachers access to a wide range of perspectives and expertise beyond the confines of a physical institution.
- Cloud computing: Another key application that has been gaining widespread adoption among institutions is cloud computing. Cloud-based solutions help educational institutions in addressing issues related to the reach and quality of their services by enabling low-cost implementation of IT tools. Further, remote classrooms powered by the cloud help in running multiple sessions through a small group of teachers, thereby overcoming the problem of lack of skilled teachers. In addition, these remote classrooms lead to the standardisation of course content and education delivery methods.
Key focus areas
In addition to the aforementioned applications, enterprises are looking to identify use cases of emerging technologies like IoT, big data analytics and AI in the field of education.
- IoT: By adopting IoT, students can interact with their peers, mentors and educators worldwide using connected devices such as digital highlighters and interactive boards from their homes or classrooms. IoT-based digital scanners help enhance the learning experience by digitally transferring content to smartphones. Further, students can scan QR codes through their smartphones to access assignments and knowledge resources, thus promoting a collaborative environment. IoT can also help teachers to focus more on their core teaching function by allowing them to automate tasks that would require considerable time and effort when performed manually. In addition, IoT is beneficial for students with special needs. For instance, students with impaired vision can be given special cards that are detected automatically when accessing computers.
- Big data analytics: Educational institutions can use big data analytics to gain insights for improving the quality of education. Schools/Colleges can use learning software that generates data, which can help them analyse the level of learning amongst students. A major challenge faced by teachers is to adapt to the learning abilities of different students. To this end, big data analytics can help generate intelligent systems for adaptive learning, which can adjust the pace of instructions based on each student’s interests, abilities and prior knowledge. Further, large data sets, including information related to attendance patterns and academic performance of students can be analysed. In addition, big data analytics can help institutions gather information related to the number and type of existing and upcoming training centres. This information can help institutions identify potential areas in the country that require training centres and accordingly build capacity and infrastructure for delivering skill-based educational services.
- AI: Among all the emerging technologies, AI is poised to be a game changer for the education sector. According to industry experts, AI can help in making education more personalised, thereby bringing about a transformative change in the way education is delivered. AI can help teachers understand the learning patterns of students. Further, it can help identify factors or indicators that give deep insights into the learning curve of students and hone their skills. Besides, AI can be used for digital test assessment. For instance, it ensures that the chances of a student receiving a similar question twice are negligible. This would increase the transparency of conducting tests.
Challenges in ICT adoption
Although there are many advantages of using ICT in the education sector, the path ahead is not devoid of challenges. One major challenge retains to the integration of new technology and its acceptance and proper implementation across all branches of an educational institution. Further, training teachers to use the latest technologies and honing their skills is a Herculean task. Another challenge faced by educational institutions is the effective implementation and maintenance of ICT solutions, which require huge financial investments for hardware and software installation and management. Meanwhile, in less developed areas such as villages, institutions often face issues such as frequent power cuts, lack of adequate power backup and poor internet connectivity, which hamper the smooth functioning of ICT-enabled educational institutions.
The way forward
Although there are certain challenges that hamper the smooth adoption of ICT in educational institutions, India is rapidly heading towards establishing an ICT-enabled education sector. To this end, the emergence of digital platforms in the Indian landscape will help eliminate the barriers to quality education and lead to a brighter future for students.