7 PM Editorial |Limitations of online learning| 30th April 2020

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Limitations of online learning

What has happened? COVID-19 pandemic has imposed nationwide lockdown which has forced universities, colleges and schools to shift completely to online learning. This has exposed the limitations of online learning in our education system.

India is following nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when the lockdown gets lifted eventually, the government may not allow large congregations in restricted physical spaces that largely include college, schools campuses.

Under such circumstances, majority of the educational institutes are having shifted their operations to online learning. This brings us to the question of how effective online learning can be in long term. Therefore, in this article we will discuss the following:

  • What is Online Learning?
  • What Learning involves with respect to higher education?
  • What are the benefits of Online Learning in distress situations?
  • What are the issues in Online Learning?
  • Conclusion

What is Online Learning?

  • Online education is electronically supported learning that relies on the Internet for teacher/student interaction and the distribution of class materials.
  • Online learning is education that takes place over the Internet. It is often referred to as “e-learning” among other terms. However, online learning is just one type of “distance learning”, the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom.
  • The Government of India has launched several programs under the initiatives such as ‘Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ to spread digital literacy, create a knowledge-based society in India, and implement three principles ‘access, equity and quality’ of the Education Policy.
    • e-Basta:Schools books in digital form
    • e-Education: All schools connected with broadband and free Wi-Fi in all schools and develop MOOCs – develop pilot Massive Online Open Courses
    • Nand Ghars:Digital tools as teaching aids
    • SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active–Learning for Young Aspiring Minds): MOOCs based on curriculum taught in classrooms from 9th class till post-graduation
    • India Skills Online: Learning portal for skill training
    • In order to establish digital infrastructure, the government has also launched National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) which aims to expand broadband connectivity and faster network.

What Learning involves with respect to higher education?

  • Higher education means development of analytical and other intellectual skills, the ability to critically deconstruct and evaluate given knowledge, and the creativity to make new connections and syntheses.
  • It also means to acquire practical skills, inquire, seek solutions to complex problems, and learn to work in teams.
  • All these assume direct human engagement – not just teacher-student interaction, but also peer interactions. Deconstructing given knowledge in relative isolation is never the same as doing it in a group.
  • Online learning needs to be understood as one strand in a complex tapestry of curricular communication (teaching-learning and examination) that may still assign an important central role to direct human engagement and social learning.

What are the benefits of Online Learning in distress situations?

  • In pandemic situation like today’s, where due to nationwide lockdown, all schools, colleges, universities were shut down, online learning comes as a savior to students and provided them with an opportunity to continue learning even while at home.
  • There was anxiety, particularly about the graduating batches of students, lest the ongoing session should be declared a ‘zero semester’. There were attempts from individual teachers to keep their students engaged. A few universities made arrangements for teachers to hold their classes virtually through video conferencing services such as Zoom. These are well-meaning attempts to keep the core educational processes going through this period.
  • Many private and government colleges in the country had been conducting online classes. Very small aperture terminals (VSATs) are still used by top Business schools in the country to create a closed user group (CUGs), which offers online classes globally. However, COVID-19 has hastened
  • Online education, a result of the digital world has brought a lot to the learning table at all levels of education, beginning from preschool up to higher level institutions. The move to remote learning has been enabled by several online tech stacks such as Google Classroom, Blackboard, Big Blue Button, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, all of which play an important role in this transformation.
  • With the development of ICT in education, online video-based micro-courses, e-books, simulations, models, graphics, animations, quizzes, games, and e-notes are making learning more accessible, engaging, and contextualized.
  • To ensure that learning never stops, the online education sector, and mobile networks have become the preferred platform. Teachers are preparing lessons using distance learning tools, and parents are learning new teaching techniques at home. Providing aid are the entrepreneurs offering online learning apps like BYJU’s, Adda24x7, Duolingo, Khan Academy, Witkali and several others.
  • Universities like World University of Design, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Amity, IP University, Lovely Professional University and Mumbai University are offering online classes across different subjects.
  • Schools in 165 countries around the world have closed due to the Corona virus outbreak, according to UNESCO. And, according to the International Telecommunication Union(ITU), more than 1.5 billion school children around the world are using online education, following the global lockdown.

What are the issues in Online Learning?

  • The UGC Chairman said that to maintain social distancing, e-education was the only way out. He was also quoted as saying that online education was likely to be adopted as a strategy to enhance the gross enrolment ratio in higher education.
  • This leads to questions about the appropriateness of what may be an effective contingency measure to tide over the pandemic crisis to be deployed as a long-term strategy for enhancing enrolment in higher education.
  • Higher education has an influx of students who are first-generation aspirants, who have no support to struggle their way out of college.
  • Access is not merely enrolment. It also includes effective participation in curricular processes, which includes negotiating through language and social barriers.
  • These students are also from the other side of the digital divide which makes them vulnerable to a double disadvantage if digital modes become the mainstay of education.Unless they receive consistent hand-holding and backstopping, they tend to remain on the margins and eventually drop out or fail.
  • Cyber securityremains a concern with extra use of online education, telemedicine and e-commerce. An ITU report raised an important question about online safety that students, especially those who are new to these online tools have been informed about how to identify fake news and avoid phishing when researching for school projects at home.
  • Online learning is not for everyone. Schools located in remote areas of the country with limited availability of electricity and internet is making restricted use of WhatsApp to stay connected with their classrooms.
  • Online classes are not feasible for students with research as an essential component. Though the students are able to keep up with the theoretical lessons, practical training held in the laboratories is suffering.
  • According to a report by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), infrastructurein terms of technology in India has not achieved a state of quality so as to ensure sound delivery of online classes to students across the country. It is seen that both the state and the private players have not yet managed to overcome technical challenges, for instance, in providing adequate power supply and ensuring effective connectivity.


Open and distance learning (ODL) institutions established during the mid-1960s to 1980s were a consequence of explorations for less expensive models for provisioning access to higher education. ODL may also have been considered by governments at that time for managing mass aspirations for higher education without necessarily effecting large congregations on campuses. E-learning has become an education equalizer but it’s still not a replacement for the traditional classroom. Sure, the technology is advancing, but it’s not flawless. Just like any new, burgeoning innovation, e-learning faces its own challenges. And direct human engagement is a crucial component of education.

Source: The Hindu

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