Open Knowledge: How Students Can Acquire Skills Online

Education tips

We are living in the middle of an education revolution. We are no longer dependent on schools and colleges to impart knowledge. We can now get access to the world’s best educational content right from our homes. In a chat with Nitin P Khanna, the Director & CEO of Aantrishti Skill Network and Prakash Bindu Foundation’s Bharat Learn (formerly Sarv Shiksha Academy), we learn about the future of education in India.

1. Tell us about your initiative.

Film Based Teaching Methodology (FBTM) is at the core of both our key initiatives: one in skills training and the other in school education.

Aantrishti Skill (http://www.aantrishti.com/index.html) is an innovative initiative for imparting employable skills through need-specific, multi-lingual, film and technology based training solutions. Over nine years, our unique methodology has been successfully tested and ratified for achieving the defined objectives.

Bharat Learn (http://sarvshikshaacademy.org/) is a not-for-profit initiative dedicated to making quality school education freely accessible to every student in India. We want to convert curricula into multi-lingual, learner-centric, film-based content and offer it for free on the Internet and other platforms for the benefit of students and teachers alike.

2.  There is a definite gap between our education system and the industry requirements because of which the students suffer. How can that be filled?

Fundamentally the main reason is that our education system does not encourage understanding and application. It recognises and rewards rote learning through the marks system.

While many policy level and systemic changes are being contemplated in the Indian education landscape, my advice to students is to take responsibility themselves and focus on:

(1) Deepening their conceptual knowledge/understanding in various subjects.

(2) Building on practical work and professional skills like communication, teamwork, problem solving, basic computers/Internet literacy, etc.

Fortunately, students today have easy access to some quality material on all these areas on the Internet.

3. Since you strongly advocate open skill exchange, how can this be brought in as a change in our education system? 

We need to understand that:

(1) Irrespective of where you are in your career, your success depends on your ability to continuously learn new and relevant skills. Knowledge without skill is pointless and is just an ego kick.

(2) Everyone has some skill or knowledge which can be of value to someone else. Hence, we can all be teachers and learners.

(3) Fortunately, mass technology—affordable smart mobile phones with video, camera, recording and other smart features coupled with easy access to the Internet—allows us to share our knowledge/skills. Free sharing has already begun on YouTube and many other platforms, and will continue to grow in variety, quantity and quality of content.

This will reduce our dependence on institutions and teachers. Open knowledge/skill exchange is an idea whose time has come. It will grow, come what may. The only choice we have is to facilitate its growth and leverage its benefits to our own specific situation.

Unfortunately, in India we are still living with the last century’s mindset on education, although the future demands a complete overhaul of our institutional and delivery models.

4. There are so many platforms like Khan Education and Coursera that are enabling online education. Do you think these are beneficial? How much do you think students can really learn from online courses and videos?

I think they are great initiatives and can be of huge benefit provided we understand what they are offering and align our expectations correctly. For example, they focus on conceptual knowledge. The advantage is that you can access them again and again at your own pace and convenience. However:

(a) They may not be directly aligned to your formal curricula/syllabi and may create confusion for younger and more inexperienced students.

(b) They may not directly help you in your never-ending quest for higher and higher marks.

(c) They are, by design, knowledge-focused and not skill-focused.

5. A lot of institutes impart inferior education and focus on making money. How can students figure out which are the genuine institutions/platforms? 

Unfortunately, that is true and may even be rampant. My suggestion to students would be to have clear goals and articulate what you expect from the institution/platform. Then check how the institution has performed in the past on those areas. You may also independently want to connect with some past students through social networks and take their feedback. Haste, panic, lethargy and peer pressure often make students gullible, and they succumb to poor choices. In any case, the answer is in being responsible and thorough.

6. How should they go about choosing the right specialisations and courses?

Specialisations and courses are only stepping stones to the career. For example, you might want to be a corporate finance professional. You may get there through an MBA Finance or a CA or a post graduation in Economics or some other route. Going one step back—you might have opted for the Science stream (MBA Finance) or the Commerce stream (CA). It does not matter. In our country where seats are limited and competition is insanely high, focusing on courses creates a lot of unnecessary pressure.                         

7. How can students truly benefit from technology?

As I said earlier, have your goals and expectations clear, and make the Internet your friend. There is a lot of fantastic educational stuff out there, and it is only getting better. You have to take responsibility and show initiative. Plus, you don’t have to be a passive recipient of knowledge. I would strongly encourage you to contribute to the body of knowledge. I am sure each one of us has our unique value to add. Please remember, knowledge of the future is democratic and collaborative, and so is technology.

8. Can you suggest a few ways through which students can sharpen their skills?

There is only one way and that is by practice. With practice, you can be a Messi or a Tendulkar or a heart surgeon or a carpenter or a programmer. The more you practise, the better you get at it. You produce better results more consistently, and that eventually leads to success. Here is what you need to do—learn the nuances from a video, a manual or a book, find a mentor or a coach who can guide or supervise you, and then do it. The best practice is to create projects with clearly defined outcomes, and where you need to use that skill.

9. What will be the key trends in the education and training space in the coming years?

Companies and societies don’t care how much you know unless you can produce results and outcomes which they value. I can see a shift to contribution-centric learning. Education and training will become a conscious, voluntary and life-long pursuit, which will be driven by flexible, accessible and language-neutral content. Some fundamental changes I anticipate are:

(a) We will all learn through the Net and through each other. The role of teachers and institutions will transform.

(b) Institutions will be there mainly to assess and certify competencies/proficiency.

(c) Content will be the king. It will be interactive, open-source and collaborative.