Leveraging technological advancements in the online education space

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Published: June 15, 2015 12:02:04 AM

We can look at the engagement index of messaging apps and the personalisation of social media platforms like Facebook to arrive at a new model of online education

In January 2015, it was revealed that the 700-million-plus users on WhatsApp were sending out 30 billion messages every day. In 2014, the messaging applications grew at a rate of 148%, adding 900 million users. The instant appeal of messaging apps is simple—they are faster and cheaper to use than email and they allow you to send text, links, videos and photos.

Once the plain-vanilla messaging has been mastered, these apps are differentiating by offering additional services.

For example, using Snapchat, users can send money to one another, and users can pay for things at retail stores using Line, the most popular messaging app in Japan. Facebook has introduced instant articles, news and media companies can now publish directly to a Facebook feed—how much longer before they start pushing media to messaging apps is anybody’s guess.

Facebook has a far better understanding of its user as compared to what educators and educational institutions know about their learner. The Facebook Graph API gives a mind-boggling array of parameters on which any user can be tracked and the best part is all these parameters are tracked dynamically in real time using all the interactions that the user has on Facebook. Nobody has to sit and make entries, there are no assessment tests, no forms to fill, a rich user profile gets created automatically as the user interacts with the system—more the usage, better the profile. A Facebook page or a WhatsApp group gets created and instantly users can get onto the page, the content on the page or group is constantly shaped by the user interactions. What content is liked, what is needed, all this is evaluated, created and curated in real time.

On the other hand, online education today looks so contrived and static—a course takes time to create, the whole course has to be created and then the learner goes through the course in a fixed sequence and structure. The lack of engagement and personalisation in this approach is categorised by the 95% dropout percentage in the MOOCs. We just need to look at the engagement index of messaging apps and the personalisation of social media platforms like Facebook to arrive at a new model of online education.

Online education will become as ubiquitous as messaging and social media apps; irrespective of whether it is a pure e-learning model or a blended learning model, technology will make it unobtrusive, dynamic and in real time. The content for online education will also become user-generated and curated; there has been a 75% increase in the number of  Pinterest pins, it has gone up to 50 billion pins. The ease of creating multimedia content will ensure that teacher-created and curated content can easily replace proprietary content that is paid and licensed.

With all these changes, the only challenge that will remain is how to record, quantify and certify these kinds of learning interactions. The Experience API or the Tin Can API is a step in this direction. It aims to create a standard which, if adopted, can record the learning of an individual through a game, a news or media site being browsed, a collaborative document, views and opinion shared on social media etc. All the learning experiences are recorded and collated in a repository. This could help in measuring and certifying online learning as well as aid adaptive learning platforms. Online education platforms working with the ease and convenience of a messaging app could be used to communicate, share, discuss and collaborate over open educational resources. As the learner accesses, reads, shares and comments on the resources, a detailed user profile is captured dynamically. The system could assist the educator to personalise the learning experience of each learner or it could directly put the learner on a path of personalised learning.

The other area of interest is the certifying of learning experiences; the layperson needs to make sense of the humongous amount of learning data recorded by each individual. A lot of work is happening in the area of certifying learning. Digital badges earned from a number of institutions and online interactions can record the learning history of the individual, it can also highlight the outcomes of the past learning interactions.

What we need are an interface like messaging and social media apps to share personalised learning resources and to collaborate and engage; a uniform standard for recording learning experiences; and a global standard to certify the learning experiences. All this put together will ensure that educators and educational institutions will finally begin to see online, self-study and face-to-face as parts of one whole educational experience, rather than as separate channels of education.

The author is the founder & CEO of Flinnt.com, a B-school that aims to provides holistic education

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