Tapping India's online learning potential

Wednesday, 25 September 2002, 07:00 Hrs
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BANGALORE: India's share of the online learning pie is just crumbs at present, but the sector has immense potential in this resource-poor but imagination-rich country of one billion people.

To harness this potential, India's National Centre for Software Technology (NCST) has announced plans to host a global conference on online learning called "Vidyakash-2002" from December 15-17 in Mumbai.

M. Sasikumar, senior research scientist in-charge of Artificial Intelligence and Educational Technology Units at the NCST, said online learning in India is "at the edge of a precipice -- immense opportunities, but tonnes of untapped potential".

The NCST conference will focus on learning environments, Web-based teaching methodology, learner support, instruction delivery, learner modelling, faculty development for online learning, virtual universities, course-ware engineering and other related issues, say organisers at the NCST.

"The potential audience would include companies concerned with e-learning (software developers, distributors, service providers), educational institutions interested in e-learning, content developers and faculty," Sasikumar told IANS.

Organisers hope this event will be the "first of many". Papers are being invited from across the globe.

Another goal is to set up a national resource centre, possibly at the NCST, for online learning.

The project was founded in 2000 and has been doing considerable work behind the scenes since then.

Apart from several development projects, there have also been some collaborative efforts to bring together people working in this field from across the country.

Last June, a workshop was held on online learning, and they've also been working with IIT-Bombay on a distance education programme.

"India's non-formal sector, particularly IT, has ventured into e-learning. But the response, as far as I know, has been low," said Sasikumar.

He believes institutions are making available a lot of content on the Web, but not enough for online learning. "These are largely notes and slides. The use of discussion board, e-mail and chat are picking up for technical communication but we have a long way to go."

"What many overlook is that a student in an online learning environment is in a very different frame of mind compared to a classroom environment," Sasikumar said adding that there's a lack of eye contact with the instructor, peer pressure and interaction or even the campus environment.

"There is very little effort to provide a comfortable and practical learning environment, or to exploit the capabilities provided by a Web-based environment (through use of interactive simulations, animations) in the approach most people take to e-learning."

Vidyakash-2002 hopes to be a forum where researchers and practitioners from educational institutions will share their ideas and experiences. It plans to look at a range of subjects -- communication and collaboration in online learning context, to content development and delivery.

"One can look forward to developments in effective content design models, delivery methodologies, software tools and environments, learning models," says Sasikumar.

NCST said the area of online learning is still very much in its formative years, the world over. "It is possible for us to make as much a contribution to this field as anyone else."

Source: IANS
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