My duties as the Adjunct Professor of Marketing at SPJIMR calls for me to teach a full course to second-year students. And my course was set to start in early April 2020. I had a class of 60 students and 16 sessions to teach. Within a few days of the lockdown, students were asked to return to their home towns. The faculty were put through several sessions on ‘how to teach remotely’. Interestingly, Harvard Business School ran a whole series of webinars on how to teach using Zoom.
My course started as scheduled in early April. The first few sessions were a struggle and I was wondering how students were reacting. After the third session, I decided to stop the class for an open house. I asked the students what they thought of the course and how it was going in this remote mode. The first reaction was a little unexpected: “A lot better than we expected sir”. Not just one but many students chimed in. Though they did say that things are not the same as attending to a case discussion in a real class room.
Let me be clear, those were the early days of remote teaching/learning. All of us were under the mistaken impression that face to face classes would start in a few months. I am sure the same students may have a different reaction today (fortunately, most residential institutes have brought students back to campus and are adopting a ‘hybrid’ model of teaching now).
Many many decades ago, Vladimir Lenin is reported to have said “there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. Coming to our generation, Dean Kamen the American inventor known for the much-touted Segway has said “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turns into an innovation”.
It is not as if we did not know of remote teaching and remote learning. NPTEL, Coursera and Edex have been around for almost a decade. Indian management institutes like IIM Calcutta had visionary professors like Prof Ranjan Das who had created the Long Distance Programme modules with delivery partners like NIIT and Hughes.
But except for these mainstream institutions, K-12, Undergraduate and Graduate studies were largely delivered face to face. In some campuses students were allowed to skip classes and watch the lectures in a recorded format, but this was only if they had something important otherwise like a placement interview.
Now that schools and colleges are reopening, shall we go back to the old ways or will we find new ways of leveraging technology?
As Yamini Aiyer of Centre for Policy Research has observed [Hindustan Times, November 20th November] “…the pandemic experience must be leveraged. The nascent experiments with expanding the teaching-learning universe and parental outreach show that even recalcitrant government systems can innovate”.
Obviously, the new age EdTech companies are seeing an expanding opportunity and don’t expect their business to vanish as schools and colleges open. Ranjit Radhakrishnan Chief Product Officer at Byju’s [The Financial Express, August 26th] has opined that future classrooms will allow for blended and flexible learning. In addition, developments in EdTech will democratize learning and upskilling, will improve adoption of tech-enabled learning at all stages, will provide deeper insights into student learning experiences and open up avenues for new dedicated learning devices and services.
If all this is to happen, it cannot happen without a reset in the kind of jobs that will be available in the education sector. The humble school teacher or college professor will have to be complimented with a whole new array of teachers with new skills. And there are huge hurdles to be crossed.
A whole new set of jobs
As a report in The Hindu [July 14th] says, there has been wide disparity in the way governments have been able to train their teachers with the use of new technology; Gujarat training 57% of its teachers while MP training only 9%. Only 15% of teachers in government run schools have been trained to teach using computers, around 30% of teachers in private and government aided schools have been digitally trained.
Now, with the schools opening up, will all this training go waste? Or will we see new ‘hybrid’ teaching become the norm? For instance, a teacher can tell her students to watch a video and then come to class. In many international universities this has been happening for many years and is often referred to as the ‘flipped classroom’: you watch the video of the lecture and then come to class to discuss the topic.
As Shripati Acharya, managing partner of Prime Venture Partners observed [Business Standard, December 31, 2020], “It is now hard to imagine any education offering without an online component. Classroom education, however, will continue to be important for achieving the learning outcomes. A hybrid model of learning would now be the preferred mode, where students who are unable to come to class, have access to teachers and learning content”.
If all this is going to happen in school and college education, will the training and upskilling sector be far behind? During the lockdown, companies have experimented with Zoom training of their employees with varying levels of success. Talented individuals with specialized skills have been able to create paid-for courses. While there is a Zoom fatigue of sorts, there is also a big boom in curated training sessions. Companies like Upgrad have even been running ad campaigns on television extolling the virtues of online certification courses.
One big advantage of remote digital learning is that participants can attend the sessions from multiple locations. And if a course can be curated into ten 90-minute sessions with some home-work, it can actually work better in the remote learning mode.
Having done several such remote workshops, I know that this is going to be a growing trend. Not that face to face, five-star executive development programmes will go away. But they will get supported by these remote learning sessions.
All this would mean there are going to be a whole set of new jobs in the education sector. For instance in the booming EdTech industry there are going to be job opportunities across multiple domains: course design, course writing, course delivery, video shooting/editing, user interface management, evaluation of participants and marketing of course etc.
Even in a traditional school or college, there will be a demand from students that they may want a recorded session for future reference or review. All educational institutions have to embrace the digital mode of course delivery, archival and usage. In addition, all teachers will have to be trained in digital adoption. It is likely that parents will also put pressure on schools to offer a parallel mode of learning.
If we move to corporate training and what is broadly termed ‘executive or management development programmes’, we should see digital mode of training co-exist with the traditional five-star type of training.
What the pandemic has also done is open up thousands of job opportunities for people with special skills. Right from AI/ML to creative writing, there are a multitude of courses. And many of them cost a modest sum. Several of these trainers have figured out the right fees to charge in order to ensure that the attendees pay attention [what is free is not seen as something of value, in an old marketing idiom].
Sectors like pharmaceuticals have exploited the opportunity by creating lecture sessions for doctors on specific topics. They have even roped in international experts to deliver lectures on advanced topics. It is likely that most doctors interested in improving their own skills are attending a few sessions every week. Something that may not have happened but for the new generation digital learning tools.
At a macro level, our country has a huge education deficit. Pandemic may have widened the divide between the digitally savvy consumer and the not so digitally savvy. But if one were to capture the learning from the lockdowns and the pandemic time learning, we could narrow the divide.
This would mean that thousands of new jobs will have to be thought of and filled in a hurry. At one time, saying one is a college lecturer meant that you could not get any other job. But that is set to change. A college lecturer who is digitally savvy can move mountains. One byte at a time.