Online Vs Offline Education : Battle Over Or Just Begun?

Prof. Rishi Krishnan is a professor of strategy in Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.  He was educated in IIM Ahmedabad, IIT Kanpur and Stanford. He held the Jamuna Raghavan Chair in entrepreneurship from 2007 to 2010 and completed a five-year term as Director of Indian Institute of Management, Indore. Currently working as the director of IIM, Bangalore, his chief interest areas are strategy and innovation. There are two books written by him in the same field.  Moreover, he co-founded one startup and is the CEO of another.

Online Education Vs Offline Classroom

The battle of online vs offline education has just begun. It is true that the online medium has become increasingly powerful over time. But there still seem to be challenges in teaching some of the things. For example, teaching a typical MBA program.

Let us take a subject like statistics or accounting, where there are subjects that deal with well-defined concepts. These subjects can be taught online easily. There is not much interaction required. You can sign up for a course on some online book platforms, and you can understand the subject easily. But in management education, things are quite different.

In Strategy class, it is one thing to talk about the framework, but it is entirely different to apply it successfully and effectively for a startup or a large company. So if you really want to understand and learn strategy, you need a lot of classroom interaction. You need to ask a lot of questions. It is not that it cannot be done online. But you will realise that even the breakout room of Zoom or other functionalities that online platforms provide for this kind of discussion is nowhere near the kind of experience you can have in a classroom. So, for many of the subjects, the classroom will continue to be a dominant format until we find a good way of doing it online.

Let us now look at behaviour related subjects like organisational behaviour or human resource management. Here, the theory might be easily teachable online such as in the case of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It is easy to depict that and explain it in an online platform, but motivating people in the workplace is much more than merely implementing Maslow’s Hierarchy. Managing the workplace is a lot about experiential learning, subtle queues, situational leadership etc. For all these contexts, online education is not very effective right now.

However, online education, if done properly, certainly has the potential. You need to integrate and match concepts to your methods of teaching and understand what can be taught well online. You also need to use different pedagogies for different parts of a particular subject or topic. A synchronous mode is probably right for most of the theoretical subjects. You can watch somebody explaining a topic to you a few times. But then, you will probably want to combine that with a video discussion where some practitioners are discussing how that framework might be applied.

Then, you might want to have a class where you discuss some of the challenges in applying or using that framework. Some real-time exercises are also important, which might have to be done offline, ideally in a more collaborative mode. Unless we can blend all these methods together in an effective way, we won’t really have effective online learning that we want. So this is the reason why the battle has just begun.

A Long Way to Go for Online Education

Some of the technical issues of online teaching have been addressed. Platforms like Zoom manage effective video streaming without requiring a vast bandwidth. So that is a good starting point. But Zoom, by itself, does not necessarily address all the challenges of online education.

There is a long way to go in terms of making online education a comprehensive solution for people’s learning experience. More research is required on how  people learn online. Is it different from the way people would learn in the classroom? Not enough is really known and understood about this.

Today’s kids are digital natives. They have grown in a digital environment from a young age. Many people believe that these children learn in a slightly different way from children who started with books and pens. We need to understand how these digital natives learn before starting to use the digital medium in education.

Will the Students Benefit from This Battle?

The students have to be adaptable. One surprising thing is that despite the kids being digital natives, many of them seem to be having some reservations about moving classes online. They seem to believe that the classroom experience is better. To make online education acceptable for all the students, we need to do more research on how to make learning online efficient.

How will Collaborative Learning, Social Interactions, Social Skills etc. Happen?

Social interaction is critical. For example, the MBA experience is more than just learning frameworks and formulas. It is a social experience. Most people have very close relationships with their buddies. We have to figure out the ways of replicating the social experience online.

For example, in IIMB, they are trying to form virtual groups of people with common interests. They are hosting games online to get people better connected to each other. They are also trying to organise some online activities so that they bond better. But all of this is still not a complete substitute for offline teaching.

Tips on Making Online Education more Meaningful and Better

Do things in small chunks, if you can. One’s  attention span, when online, tends to be short. So you are probably losing people if you lecture for an hour. You can break your lecture into smaller chunks. At the end of each chunk, have some interaction or testing or some break from the lecture. That is something that would really help.

Moreover, asynchronous and synchronous models need to be combined. Things which are well documented, easy to understand and can be found in textbooks should be done asynchronously. People can watch them multiple times if they want to understand something well. You can shoot your lecture in a studio-like condition to provide a higher quality video. The discussion part must be done in a synchronous mode.

In addition to this, go by the Zoom limitation for the maximum number of people. It enables 49 people on one screen. That is one natural limitation. If you are using Microsoft Teams and some other platforms, they have even smaller numbers.

Will the Blended Learning Model Impact Big Brands and Migration?

It is too early to say this. Big brands will be the last to be impacted because of the power of the brands. People often say that the biggest long term benefit of an MBA program is the cohort with which you study and the social groups you form. That is something which comes along with the brand. Hence, big brand schools are not expected to be impacted negatively immediately.

The migration will be impacted a little bit. People are still considering going abroad for education. They might defer this idea for a while. But the desire to move has not completely disappeared yet.

How will the Students have Access to IIM Online Courses?

One of the most significant advantages of online education is the potential access that it offers. In IIMB, they have been running programs on the edx platform for 5-6 years. There are 50 courses offered on edx which are open to people all over the world. Those courses are asynchronous.

There is a little bit of a discussion forum on it, but it is nowhere near to the classroom experience. But those offerings will continue to exist and will get stronger over time. However, this is a challenge for the students with inadequate internet access. Such students should temporarily move to places with better internet access.

IIMB is looking forward to tying up with companies that provide 4G networks. They are also looking at bundling some equipment such as a laptop as financial aid.

Post-COVID, will Online Education Continue?

The top brands will tend to go back to being physical because that is where their value propagation lies. They are not embracing too much online. Particularly for the students who are coming to their court programs, they might use online education to reach out to a larger number of students outside, but there could be a bit of shakeout. For example, online will be a good substitute for teaching textbook-based topics.

Words of advice for students entering MBA

You should be optimistic. If you just look at the conditions in India, there is a plan to rebuild our whole industrial infrastructure. There is going to be a huge demand for qualified managers who can work in industry. So, be optimistic about the new opportunities that are coming. You need to be patient for the COVID-19 challenge to run its course and provide opportunities. But you will have to work hard to get such opportunities.

- 100X.VC Team

Published on: June 25, 2020