In 2018, 19-year-old Anita moved from her hometown in Veraval to Mumbai to study at a prestigious undergraduate college to chase her dreams. In 2020, she moved back to Veraval to live with her parents at their farm due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her college tried to continue operations online, but consistent internet access for students like Anita is hard to find in their small hometowns. The digital divide that we all keep hearing about is a ground reality for Anita.
Professor Tarak is a faculty member at a prestigious college in Mumbai. He is used to working from his office on campus. He is not very tech-savvy and mainly uses his office computer to prepare educational material for his students and do some research. In 2020, he too had to work from home, which was very difficult for him because he could not assimilate the wide range of online teaching platforms and tools. He has struggled with conducting assessments online. The difficulty of adapting to new technology because of complicated design is not talked about enough. Tarak is a prime example of that.
35-year-old Nidhi is an administrative executive at a prestigious college in Mumbai. She is used to operating a computer from her cubicle, where she mainly works on student and institute data, exam management, and schedule management. Now she is working from home entirely. She struggles extensively with scheduling exams and managing all administrative tasks due to the lack of an easy-to-use platform to do the same.
The Covid-19 pandemic, in hindsight, will act as a catalyst for solving the difficulties faced by Anita, Tarak, Nidhi, and the whole education industry with digital transformation addressing their critical pain points. Ideally, we’re in grave need of a platform that allows students to partake in learning and education irrespective of the devices they use or the network connectivity they have; can help professors prepare educational content and assessments on easy-to-understand software, and can help administrators with institute and exam management with the click of a button.
However, nothing about the current times is remotely ideal. Anita, Tarak, Nidhi, and a million others just like them are trying to work with multiple platforms that solve just some of their problems in bits and pieces. They are struggling to adapt to this new way of education, one which is inspired by the idea of digitization but impeded by long-running habits that are hard to break.
Digitization in Other Sectors
Before we jump into how digitization can drive education, let’s have a look at another long-standing industry that has seen a digital transformation in the recent past – banking. Banking has evolved from branch banking in the 1970s to phone banking in the 1990s, to online banking in the 2000s, to today’s mobile banking facilities. Earlier, banking was driven by brick-and-mortar branches, which users had to visit to get work done. This was replaced by telephonic banking, where the users could call on the telephone, which was eventually replaced by online banking during the dot com boom.
Today, mobile banking has improved operational efficiency per transaction by 40x as compared to branch banking. That means, if the cost for a particular operation in branch-banking were 10 dollars, it would cost 0.25 dollars for the very same operation to be executed by mobile banking. Mobile banking has also enabled analytics and data-driven decision-making, giving early-adopter banks an edge over competitors. Personalized user analytics has dramatically enhanced customer retention.
The companies which did not adapt to digitization when their counterparts were doing it failed to sustain. Kodak, one of the most iconic companies of the 20th century, filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of the 21st century. The right lessons from Kodak are subtle. Companies often see the disruptive force affecting the industry. They divert considerable resources to participate in emerging markets. Their failure is usually not adapting the new business models born from the disruption. Kodak created the digital camera, invested in the technology, and even understood that photos would be shared online. They failed to realize that online photo sharing was the new business, not just a way to expand their printing business. This is where Fujifilm beat Kodak.
Digitization in Education
Education over the last six centuries has organically evolved without any technological disruption. But in the last couple of decades, the availability of education has been rising. Education has seen technological disruption with the rise of online platforms, making content accessible for everyone, and providing consistent and quality content anytime, anywhere. These platforms also guarantee the availability of academic experts for doubt resolutions throughout the day. This ensures that students’ preparations are never held back at any point in time. This begs the question: Is the distribution of useful educational content the only problem that can be solved by leveraging technology?
Every student’s educational journey can be tailor-made, thanks to data analytics on student data, which can be quickly gained using digitized platforms. Digital transformation of educational assessments will encourage and support professors and subject experts to dedicate more time to innovation. A commonly used term in the industry, BAU – Business as Usual – is defined as the opposite of innovation because you spend more time doing the same things again as usual. Lower BAU means more space for innovation. Digital transformation will reduce BAU considerably for the whole education sector, which in return will help educational institutes to cater more wholesome and more convenient learning experiences for their students.
Digitized assessments and management on both teacher and administrator levels will help reduce the education sector’s carbon footprint. Some school notebooks, copy paper, and filler paper come directly from rainforests in Indonesia, temperate Boreal forests in Canada, and other sensitive ecosystems. Digitization helps us save these ecosystems as the need for paper within education reduces directly in proportion to the digitization that education has seen.
What are the possibilities?
Using technology, we can enable adaptive practice sessions, assess student’s strengths and weaknesses for each topic, and provide them an efficient way to progress in academics. Assessment, an essential aspect of education, is ripe for disruption. Even though the ways in which transfer of knowledge occurs has evolved over the past centuries, the way students are assessed practically remains the same. It has been paper-based assessments ever since the beginning.
If the distribution of educational content can be digitized, why can’t educational assessments be digitized as well?
I believe that digitizing assessments within education can be directly compared to e-KYC in finance. The impact of e-KYC in finance has opened many doors for the complete shift to digital finance in the EU and the US. Similarly, digitizing assessments will build a bridge that will provide long-standing support for completely digitizing education.
Gamification within education has shown a positive impact on student achievement. A study conducted at the State University of Turkey highlighted that gamification-based teaching practices enhance student attitudes towards learning lessons. Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual reality (VR) will help students experience careers first-hand, contribute to more inclusivity, and eliminate the language barrier.
Gamification goes beyond just making user interfaces more colorful and animated. A significant part of gamification revolves around measuring metrics that matter, tracking progress, demonstrating trends, and using these tools for driving more student engagement. Gamification ties in very closely with educational assessments, which in turn nudge us to think towards questions like “what should we be measuring” and “how should we measure it.”
The future of assessments within education is bound to be digital, decentralized, mobile-first, data-driven, and ubiquitous. I believe that mobile-first support is an essential factor in achieving this future.
The Case for Mobile-first Education
Before we explore the case for mobile-first education, let us get some things out of the way. Mobile-first learning is not the sole solution for educational digitization. There are still many specialized skills that will require a computer setup. For example, AutoCAD, a computer-aided design and drafting software, cannot be mobile-first, simply because of the limitations of mobile devices in terms of screen size, hardware requirements, and – most importantly – the use-cases for which a person might use AutoCAD. Similarly, other specialized skills such as software design and development, game design, applied sciences laboratories cannot be built on a mobile device, at least yet.
Why mobile then? According to the ‘India Lockdown Learning’ report by Vidyasaarathi, an NSDL e-Governance scholarship management portal – the smartphone is the primary mode for online learning for 79% of students in India, while only 17% have access to laptops for learning purposes or attending online classes. Only 11% of households possess any computer, including desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, or netbooks.
We at Cerebranium conducted market research in education. We saw 77% of our participants – both professors and students – agreeing that there is an impending need for a mobile-friendly interface that works well with all kinds of internet connectivity levels. The device penetration of mobile versus laptop/computers in the life of Indian students points towards mobile-first as the way to go.
If we combine digitized educational content with mobile-first assessments, we solve problems for millions like Anita, Tarak, and Nidhi. The portability of mobile devices and their deep-rootedness in our lives makes it almost natural to leverage them as educational tools. The idea of having quality education in your pocket is both promising and realistic. It quite simply is the future of education.
In conclusion, the mobile platform has the potential to solve the majority of our problems, and it does it with some style. It enables both teachers & students to reap the benefits of digitization from the most comfortable devices. As we move towards mobile-devices becoming identity management devices with cryptographic and biometric authentication, it naturally ties in with educational assessments, a crucial part of the educational journey. Pre-demonetization, mobile banking was an option, but post-demonetization, it was a necessity. Similarly, digital education was an option before Covid-19, but post-Covid-19, I envision the paradigm shift strongly towards mobile education and learning.