The impact of technology on skill development.

AuthorPaul, Santanu
PositionBy Invitation


Have you heard the myth of the silver bullet? A prized weapon with magical powers that can slay demons? We believe that technology can be the closest thing to a silver bullet that can combat the intractable demons of un-employability and joblessness. It can overcome the digital divide and bridge the income disparities in our midst.

Anytime-Anywhere Learning

14-year-old Sudhir Chowdhary smartly manoeuvres his mouse with the fluidity of a seasoned pro. He has just finished a presentation on nuclear energy as an alternate source of clean fuel for the next generation spacecraft and submits it to a NASA student program online. The student and his assessor are separated by a distance of several thousand miles, yet everything gets accomplished in a jiffy and Sudhir makes the grade, ready to fly to the NASA headquarters in Florida in July 2014.

We are living in exciting times, where technology is the biggest enabler and social leveller. Opportunities fly equally and democratically to the most deserving; resources are more equitably distributed and power flows from bottom-up, not top down!

Video conferencing and satellite uplinking have made it possible for students in Pakistan to swap information with their peers in Kazakhstan, and their instructor could be sitting somewhere in South Korea. Thanks to the rapid technological leaps made in recent years, the pedagogy, delivery, the approach to instruction, everything has changed for the better.

With the development of multi-platform delivery capabilities, such as Windows, Mac, UNIX, PDA, wireless devices, easy updating of content, quicker turnaround of finished product, billing options, increased control over access, date and time of access or the option to link to other training systems, even vocational learning or skill development can become more interactive and exciting than conventional classroom learning.

The strongest argument in favour of technology-assisted learning programs is their cost-effectiveness. Tech-enabled learning models are front-loaded, i.e., there is a lot of investment upfront to develop the technology and tools, but once that hump is crossed, there is very little requirement in actual deployment.

In contrast, classroom-based learning is back loaded. Another way to establish the cost-saving aspect of distance learning programmes is to quickly compile the average or cumulative time spent to complete an online program--a very easy task for a central computer-and compare this with the time away from work to complete an equivalent classroom course. In the latter case, a lot of productive time gets wasted in commuting to and fro.

Not surprisingly, a distance learning programme often costs just one-third of an on-campus programme. With bandwidth expansion and satellite unlinking, delivery and student engagement are also getting better with time. Because programmes delivered over the web require very little physical infrastructure (in term of schools and libraries) it holds tremendous potential for adult literacy drives and vocational skill development in the developing part of the world.

Following is a lowdown on some of these changes that we must instrument and orchestrate over the coming years to promise more benefits of technology to the largest population, especially the disempowered.

Adopting Click & Mortar Learning

Chalk-and-talk classrooms are in their death throes and the reasons for this are not difficult to guess. The availability of high quality instructors is at an alltime low. Second, trainees that have grown up in the era of TV shows, interactive computer games and SMS texting genuinely lack the 60-minute attention span required for a classroom lecture in which they are expected to play an ultra-passive and non-interactive role. Third, with low trainer-to-trainee leverage, it is impossible to reach speed, scale, cost, and quality across hundreds of millions of trainees that are needed.

Click-and-Mortar learning, we firmly believe, is the model of the future. The big advantage with high-touch instruction is that it can create intimacy and bonding between instructors and trainees, which is critical for inspiration and motivation. At the same...

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