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Digital learning is all set for a second wave of technology developments : Dr AK Pani, XLRI

In an interaction with Express Computer, Dr Ashis K. Pani, Dean and Professor Information Systems, XLRI - Xavier School of Management, says that digital learning is all set for a second wave of technology developments, which will address both the supply side and the demand side factors that are currently a bottleneck in higher education not just in India, but globally

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Your perspective of how digital learning will evolve in India’s higher education segment in the next decade or so. Will this help in democratising education ?

With higher education no longer being a “one-time education” and the growing requirements of life-long and continuing education, higher education will evolve into two segments – the traditional higher education segment and the continuing education segment. Digital learning technologies will play a pivotal role in both segments in expanding the reach and availability of high quality education at affordable cost in the future. With more academic institutions making use of learning technologies, the effectiveness of learning can be significantly enhanced. Moreover, it will be possible to standardise the content being delivered so that learners can have access to the same content irrespective of their background.

Democratisation of education has two aspects, namely, the supply side aspects of reduced inequalities in access and the demand side aspects of providing greater choice to learners. Digital learning is all set for a second wave of technology developments which will address both the supply side and the demand side factors that are currently a bottleneck in higher education not just in India, but globally. Hence, it has the potential to achieve democratisation of education to an extent that was previously thought of as difficult or impossible to achieve.

Being a pioneer in adopting Virtual Interactive Learning (VIL) for delivering Executive Education programs, how has been your journey in the last two decades ?

When XLRI started the VIL programs in 2002, we had to deal with a great deal of skepticism on internal and external fronts. With continuing professional education not being as big a phenomenon as it is today, there were doubts as to the financial viability of such an undertaking. However, the management of XLRI was of the view that online education would play a significant role in the future and hence, we decided to start with one program, the Postgraduate Certificate in Business Management. The overwhelming response received by the program gave us the confidence to launch the Postgraduate Certificate in Human Resource Management which started a couple of years later.

Being the first to start off these types of programs in India, XLRI faculty had to put in a significant amount of effort to design and deliver the programs effectively over the online medium. Technology and infrastructure was neither as well developed nor as readily available at affordable rates as it is in present times. We started with providing study-centre based access to programs which required students to attend the sessions from the set of study centers set up by our technology partners in select cities and towns.

Over the last four-five years, technology developments in terms of reduced cost of computer and mobile devices as well as the greater availability of internet at affordable rates has been a significant enabler in expanding the reach of online education programs. Moreover, with newer and more reliable solutions for delivering live sessions direct to student devices, it has now become much easier to have students attending online education programs of XLRI from anywhere in the world. Alongside this development came the impetus and growing requirement of the Indian professional workforce to continuously upskill and reskill themselves with the changing paradigms in management. This has led to an increased demand for both short-duration and long-duration programs that we have addressed by increasing our portfolio of programs to around 30 programs.

Have you witnessed a growing acceptance of these programs from the industry ?

Technology side developments and trends have been the greatest forces on the supply-side when it comes to VIL programs globally. On the demand side, the requirements to reskill and upskill oneself, especially driven by organisational imperatives has been a major driver. With VIL programs maturing in terms of delivery and rigor, there has been a growing acceptance of these programs by industry as well, leading to a virtuous cycle when it comes to virtual programs. In recent times, the growing adoption of LMS-aided internal knowledge management systems by leading corporates has also demonstrated the usefulness of virtual education in enhancing skills and learning outcomes.

What is the role of emerging technologies in experiential and immersive learning in higher education institutions ?

Technological developments in live conferencing and learning management systems have been instrumental in driving the learning experience of students in virtual learning. Effectiveness of student learning outcomes shows signs of further improvement with the use of tools such as gamification, simulations, etc.

However, the next round of technologies that have the potential to enhance learner experience and learning outcomes are definitely the developments in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The challenge is in terms of making the associated equipment and software available at a reasonable cost to reach out to a large audience. This will probably be the third wave of technology change in online education. Currently, the technologies underlying VR and AR also have to improve in terms of their reliability and resource intensity. The implementation of 5G mobile networks by the Indian telecom sector would be another game-changer as it would significantly reduce the current bottleneck of low to average internet speeds in many parts of the country.

Are you looking at any new tech implementations in the near future ?

We have started the pilot implementation of a new learning management system (LMS) that will seamlessly integrate with modern solutions for Flipped Classroom, live classroom streaming, asynchronous courses, and video management solutions. We are also in the process of evaluating student information systems (SIS) and student admission CRM platforms that can in turn help us manage the lifelong learning needs of students and help us move towards as nearly complete a paperless system as possible. Further, we are also exploring potential solutions for the use of Extended Reality (AR & VR) in creating a classroom-like experience for students in our online courses.

If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]


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