Is online learning redefining education? A discussion

Ananya Pathak

There is nothing more life-affirming and fulfilling than having a group of like-minded people come together and share their experiences, challenges and perspectives on an issue of shared concern, because such discussions not only enrich one’s own understanding, but also present one with a perspective that one may never have thought about so far.

Teacher Plus, in partnership with Wishwatalk, held an online discussion on the 10th of July, 2021 to address the many educational challenges, possibilities and issues that a shift to digital teaching-learning, necessitated due to the closure of schools because of the pandemic, brought in. The theme for the discussion was chosen with immense care and thereby resonated with a widespread audience of teachers, educators, parents and researchers in the domain of education.

Nuanced questions addressed by eminent speakers

We all know that the pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges ranging from the social, political, economic and medical to the educational and vocational. While the lockdown compelled many of us to witness the sudden shift from physical classroom spaces to digital classrooms, it erected several challenges, such as adapting to such a drastic change and mastering the know-how of accessing online learning resources besides deeper pedagogic educational concerns like anonymity, alienation, anxiety and loss of physical human interaction. How does a teacher make an online class effective and make the best use of the available digital technologies to reach out to her pupils in a more enhanced manner? How can parents and schools collaborate to reduce anxiety levels among children and does this call for a revised looked at our burdensome curricula or assessment strategies? How should we prepare our children for the future, where digitized classrooms will become the norm? What kind of new life skills, intellectual capacities and emotional strengths should we help our children discover so as to adapt themselves better to the reality? To address these and many more important questions, a panel composed of eminent and experienced speakers was invited — Neerja Singh (Speaker, Mentor, Generational Mediator), Sheela Ramakrishnan (Educationist and Psychological Counsellor) and Simran Luthra (Researcher, teacher-trainer and curriculum developer) with Usha Raman Editor, TeacherPlus moderating the discussion.

Digging into their own experiences of helping children learn better online, the panelists threw light on various important issues on digitized learning experiences, the new possibilities opening up before us, the challenges that have come up and what we as teachers, educators, policy makers and parents can do to make this transition to digital learning smoother and pleasurable for our children.

All the panelists made unique points addressing the various new realities that a shift to the digital mode of learning has brought about– effectively managing the online learning space, the skills and strategies that we should be focusing on and the ways in which the teacher and the student can be enabled to grapple with the new reality at hand. 

Speakers highlight issues of importance

Sheela Ramakrishnan laid out many important issues and one of the key takeaways from her presentation was that there is an inevitable change in the schooling/learning ecosystem today and we have to acknowledge and adapt to this change as quickly as we can. She spoke about how the educational landscape was triangular pre-pandemic and how it has become circular in the age of digital learning. 

Earlier it was the school, as a physical entity, that was at the centre of the learning ecosystem and the learners, parents and educators rotated around it or where exclusively dependent on it, but now our learning-teaching horizons had been amplified and magnified manifold to include innumerable online resources, digital technologies, tools, games, resources and other aids that could be used in the new reality of digital learning spaces.

 She also stressed on how this called for a complete change in the attitude and orientation to learning in a post-pandemic world. She repeatedly underlined the need for a bare bone curriculum, modifying learning outcomes, experimenting with methods, customizing and innovating, creating a community of like-minded individuals to share the best practices and talk about challenges and also to indulge in quality ‘me-time’ whenever possible. The presentation spoke effectively about how these unprecedented times demanded mental agility and eagerness to adapt from us, how we as parents, teachers and educators ought to come together to make learning joyful and meaningful for children.

Neerja Singh introduced the participants to fresh new points and spoke about the need of the hour being trifold- self-directed learning, SEL (Social Emotional Learning) integration and Adaptability Quotient(AQ). Here again the focus was on how we have stepped into a completely new era as far as education and learning are concerned, and it is in these times that we have to continuously be ready to adapt to the changing times and become flexible and open to transforming realities and leave behind our addiction to certainty.

Simran Luthra talked about what the new form of education would be like. She said it was high time that we gave up our collective obsession with memorisation, rote learning and with covering the entire syllabus. She underlined the need for restructuring and revisiting the curriculum in accordance with the aims of education and the possibilities offered by technology for making classroom interactions effective.

She also warned against two major frequently encountered fallacies –mechanically trying to replicate the physical classroom space online and unmindful usage of technology where it is not needed.

She highlighted the need for schools and teachers to be more compassionate and empathetic, open to experimentation and change and the need for schools to reduce the burden on teachers. She spoke about how important it was for all the stakeholders, i.e., schools, teachers, parents and children to work as a team and collaborate and extend aid to each other to make the learning experience more worthwhile.

After illuminating and heartfelt presentations by the speakers, the house was opened to questions and discussion. All in all, it was a wonderful and exhaustive discussion.

The author is Associate Editor, The New Leam. She is also the Co-founder of Shiksha Swaraj, a library and resource centre for children from the marginalized communities in Bihar’s Madhopur village. She can be reached at [email protected]

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