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The term “online education” is relatively new, but the institution of distance education has been functioning ever since. Distance education came into being in mid-nineteenth century with the development of Postal Service in the United States.

Education Post10 June 2020 10:20


Learning can happen from anywhere. That’s how it should be and that’s how it is going to be! Education is one of the basic rights of any person and also the parameter for how developed a nation is.

The term “online education” is relatively new, but the institution of distance education has been functioning ever since. Distance education came into being in mid-nineteenth century with the development of Postal Service in the United States. Facilitation of reliable long-distance correspondence paved way for commercial correspondence programs in institutions and universities all over the world over the years. With the advent of better technologies and devices for communication, the channels for correspondence kept on getting stronger. Specific departments in universities and stand-alone institutions dealing with correspondence studies went on to be founded. And today, with the proliferation of the digital and web technology, accessibility of the distance education programs has increased by leaps and bounds. As a result, the offerings have become much more diverse. Institutions from around the world, even the ones considered to be elite, have started offering online degrees and classes that popularized, and as a result, legitimized education over a computer.


Like the internet itself, online education is too vast a stream to understand on its own.   Several historical elements including distance learning, computers and telecommunications have been instrumental in making the online education of today possible. At it’s very base, online education constitutes educational theory along with computer technology and legislation.

Tracing the history of the modern online education

Let’s look at the timeline of some of the inventions and innovations that went into making the online colleges, the online degrees, and any form of online education and learning of today possible.

  • In 1957, Sputnik, the first satellite was launched by the USSR that gave birth to a new era of global communications.
  • In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen came up with the Microsoft Corporation.
  • Invention of personal computer and personal web did revolutionize distance education after this phase. Through the 1980s, with increasing access to personal internet, various online programs popped up all over the U.S.
  • Come 1991, and the internet is invented by Al Gore. The World Wide Web (WWW) is opened to public that allowed the usage of internet and online education.
  • In 1998 Google search engine was developed.
  • In 2004, Facebook gets launched by Mark Zuckerberg and his team of fellow Harvard students, originally as a social chat site in the college.
  • In 2005, YouTube domain was registered by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, originally as a matchmaking site.
  • In 2006, iTunes U launched, that offered lectures on a long list of topics at a price.
    Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan.
  • In 2012, Udacity and EdX, two massive online education websites offered hundreds of university level MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses.
  • In 2013, the first online-only public university is launched. University of Florida-online!
  • By 2018, some or the other form of online program is offered by majority of the public universities and colleges.
  • In 2019, the University of Pennsylvania becomes the first Ivy League university to offer a totally online bachelor’s program.

Online education in the Indian perspective:

Although, the breakthroughs happened mostly in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and South Africa walked hand-in-hand in providing education remotely through technology, and eventually it has spread to almost every corner of the world that has internet accessibility.

Correspondence courses in higher education in India started to get offered in 1962 to fulfil an ever increasing demand in education that couldn’t be met by the conventional system. Being one of the nations with exponential technological development, India has come a long way in online education. The second most populated country in the world with over 1.3billion people with the access to smartphones and internet facilities, India could have the most number of people that are technologically driven. The way of life in India has completely changed with the rise of internet. Online education and learning stand second at being the most significant online industry, with Ecommerce having taken the first spot. With the umpteen number of online courses and the ever increasing availability of information on the internet a lot many people in India have gone learning from the internet way.

The growing demand and popularity of digital technology and the underlying potential has driven Mr. Prime Minister to envision transforming our nation by creating opportunities through harnessing digital technologies, and hence, the birth of “Digital India initiative”. Many colleges and universities offer online correspondence courses as a part of Digital India Project.

From $247million in 2016, online education market in India is projected to go up to about $1.96billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate of 52 percent. An estimated rise from1.6 million online users in 2016 to 9.6 million by the end of 2021 would be enrolled for different online courses. Almost 48% of the entire India’s population lying in the age group of 18-40 years of age have high aspirations but fall in the lower income category. The acceptability of the online medium being higher in the younger demographic makes it a good target market. Also, with an estimated 175 percent increase in the cost of classroom education, online education gets much higher preference for its cost effectiveness.

The challenges of online education in India:

Every boon comes with its own unique share of challenges. It is impossible to impart and learn courses online that requires Laboratory experiences and hands-on workshops. One of the most popular courses like Engineering is not possible to study online. In a professional course like MBA, you cannot have the opportunity to network professionally or gain experience overseas; the aforementioned being integral to the courses.

E-Learning programs bring along other side-effects on higher education too. For example, the profile of students has changed significantly. The average age of undergraduate students enrolled is more than 32 years of age. The major population of students taking online classes are female. Traditional colleges have now brought in changes by introducing more number of online courses whose intake go round the year. Major universities from around the world like the University of California Berkeley, Harvard University and MIT offer free open courseware with video lectures and quizzes held directly from the discussion in the class.

Absence of face-to-face lectures and real classmates might make you lose focus easily. In online education losing track of your studies is inevitable unless you keep yourself motivated enough. It might take longer than usual for you to complete the course. Or, you might just end up abandoning the course completely.

It is of utmost importance to stay clear of the fraudulent online programs. You need to choose an accredited program to spend your money on. There are many websites that offer online courses without any accreditation of any educational authority under the banner of fake authorities. And such courses wouldn’t land you any job. While employing the companies accept online degrees as long as it is accredited and approved by DEC, the Distance Education Council of India.

An increased demand for online learning

Companies and employers in India are encouraging their employees to get online education for honing their skills. The massive advantage of learning from anywhere at any time helps working professionals pursue new courses without having to give up their jobs. All that is required is a laptop or a smartphone with internet connection. They can learn in their free time on holidays or weekends, with all of the study material so readily available at their fingertips.

In online education all of the course materials being provided beforehand, you could learn it by taking your own time. Students could clear their doubts on forums or by live online chat as well. A serious disadvantage of traditional education is solved by online education. Because everyone learns at a different pace, many students find it difficult to follow the lessons in a classroom where everyone is taught together. Here they can learn at their own individual pace.

Studying at your own time helps you save time. And since online education is much more cost effective than an on-campus degree, you save your money too. Somebody who cannot afford to spend on a college degree without having to compromise gets to accomplish his or her dream, and that too without having to shell out a fortune.

With the advent of eLearning, more and more people than ever before are able to learn, connect and grow on their own terms surpassing the hindrances which comes along with traditional education on the campus. The traditional experience might never be replaced totally, but you cannot deny how eLearning has not only impacted how formal education was pursued, but also changed how we taught, learnt and perceived knowledge as whole.

The tools of the trade

Apart from flexibility in terms of time and place, online education seamlessly combines many different tools to make it more effective than a traditional classroom. Even online classes are subject to teaching styles and materials used but all the tools available when put to use helps the students learn better.

Audio-visual lectures let students replay the sections that are difficult or confusing to them until they have attained proper understanding of the subject. Mobile technology and media players facilitate the anywhere-anytime concept. All forms of social media networks and apps now help students, fellow students and teachers communicate real-time, seamlessly all over the world and Google Hangouts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram being the most used. Images and audio-visual content in form of animations and interactive presentations help keep the students engaged and in the process facilitates better retention of the content learnt.

The increasing popularity of learning analytics and big data, and the surfacing of cloud computing are major trends that lent to the changing face of e-education market in India. The SaaS-based solutions for technical support, like ERP and LMS, provided by the cloud services brought in the shift. To make the cloud platform prevalent, these companies are effectively working with the governments and educational boards. Learning analytics has been playing a major role in helping the eLearning companies design custom-made courses. Self-regulation of the learners is being ensured. Frequent auto-graded quizzes are being conducted and the students are able to access their grades and learning progress. The evolution and soaring awareness about the latest technologies will shoot up the rate at which eLearning is adopted in the Indian education scenario, hence pushing growth in the online education market.

The implications for the new-age learners

If you are interested in playing a role in the growing field of online education, the study of computer science should help you provide a strong foundation in the theoretical and technical aspects of computer technology, pumping you with the skills needed to create and innovate tools for the same. If you are more game for the business aspect of running a profit churning online institution, a degree in business administration should teach you the different elements which go into running a company successfully. From accounting and finance, to management and marketing. Lastly, if you are leaning more towards helping the e-learning programs to become more effective, you should learn theories and methods to create qualitative instructions by getting educated in an instructional psychology degree program.

Today, in 2020, right when the eLearning companies in India were striving hard to replace the traditional education system by bringing in the latest educational technologies, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a paradigm shift in the education system. Students are having to make bigger adjustments as learning has mostly always been in classrooms which is no more than a far-fetched dream now. Many of them even might not be adequately equipped with the tools and technology to avail remote learning. The Indian government’s vision of Digital India now emerges as a vital instrument to solve the ongoing crisis. This is the ideal time for experimentation, and for new tools to be deployed to make the system more efficient and productive. Also developing improved professional knowledge and skills by learning online and assessing.

The use of technology is making it more student-centric than the previous teacher-centric system. Various online tools and virtual classrooms are making the teacher-students engagement as close to real classroom experience as possible. These tools can also provide the necessary interactivity by facilitating parent-teacher meetings and staff meetings at much less costs consuming less time than earlier.

The important link between course-content, teachers and trainers, technology and the students form the pedagogy in digital education. While the private schools have adapted to regular live Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp classes, even for their dance and taekwondo classes,the urban government schools are depending on course material circulated on WhatsApp. Exchanging notes, submitting assignments, clarification of doubts and talking to friends- everything is being getting done over WhatsApp.

Avanti, a social educational enterprise, has launched a free app for the students from 9th to 12th classes in Hindi medium government schools. It conducts free live classes on social media platforms also. Sankalp application offers recorded content in video format, solved examples and quizzes in NCERT topics of Science and Mathematics. More than 1000 users have already installed it from the Google Play Store. It has partnered with the state governments to make its free content accessible to over one million students.

Government initiatives towards online education in India

Avanti says “students from urban areas and from private schools are able to access digital learning of great quality but they aren’t able to help the masses from economically weaker sections of rural India.” Due to the current lockdown, millions of students from Government schools in rural India do not have access to online education. According to the statistics, less than 15% households in rural India has internet and out of the meagre 13% people aged above five surveyed just 8.5% of the females could use internet. The poorest of households cannot even afford a smart phone or a computer.

Some of the state governments have started broadcasting pre-recorded lessons on television. Pedagogically strong teachers are picked up to deliver these lessons that are aligned to the curriculum, in a staged classroom setting.

Democratizing the entire system that includes stable supply of electricity, high-speed internet connectivity at affordable prices, telecom infrastructure, subsidised phones, subsidised phone-data, availability of the hardware, software, tools for education and online assessment etc. is a challenge. But technology-based education is much more transparent in treating all the students equal.

Various initiatives have been undertaken by the governments and private players like SWAYAM online courses for teachers, UG/PG MOOCs, e-PG Pathshala or e-modules on arts, fine arts, social science, natural and mathematical science , CEC-UGC  YouTube channel, Vidwan- a database of experts who give information to collaborators and peers, NEAT -by AICTE in collaboration with Education Technology Companies and NDL, is based on the PPP model and helps enhance the employability skill in the students, Spoken Tutorial, FOSSEE, e-Yantra, Google Classroom and so on. Government of India along with the state governments have created infrastructure to deliver e-education through their departments and ministries. These are NKN, NPTEL, NMEICT, NAD amongst others. All of these enhance the connection with the institutions and accessibility to resources. For instance, high speed network to institutes is provided by NKN. The agencies are also trying to improve the product considering the social distancing aspect and available limited bandwidth.

Think Zone, a start-up from Odisha, is reaching out to households with no internet by using SMS, IVR and radio. It is broadcasting learning modules in English, Hindi and Odia for students from three to ten years of age, in partnership with a local radio channel. They are believed to have reached more than five thousand families through SMS and IVR.

The way forward with online education:

Going further, the use of technology in education shall bring in a new era wherein the best of faculty will be available from across the world to the students. The quality shall not be gauged just by the quality of the faculty but also have familiarisation of the faculty with digital technologies and the quality of IT infrastructure available as the judging parameters.

The physical infrastructure of the institutions will have less importance, and so should become more cost effective. Review meetings, conferences and PTMs wouldn’t be location dependant. A new education policy for liberal education emphasizing the real vision shall get executed. In the times to come, it might so happen that a student is allowed to take up courses from any school, college, or, university depending on the quality of the faculty and so the course-fees irrespective of her or his location, finally getting a degree from the university where she or he has completed maximum number of courses from, creating a balance of economics of good education. Focus could shift from majors to just goal-oriented learning. Emphasis could be on more gamification of learning to make it fun and app-like. Digital field trips could be implemented using virtual reality. There could be classrooms interacting with all other classrooms around the world.

For all of this to turn into reality, the mind-set of the educationists, students, authorities and policy makers has to undergo a radical change. The thought process has to be re-aligned. Technology friendliness and adaptiveness should be an important criterion in faculty selection. On similar lines, the parameters for accreditation have to be reconsidered. All these steps should help the country in strengthening its digital learning infrastructure in the long run. The current COVID-19 situation has just been instrumental in accelerating the adoption of technologies to deliver education to the masses. We hope that it soon gets completely integrated into the system, giving access of education, to all. Where ever there is a student, there should be a classroom!


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